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Is it time for a synthetic lawn?

Could save 40,000 gallons of water a year

Posted: May 1, 2009 9:21 p.m.
Updated: May 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Shawn Green stands on his new front lawn, holding a square of the Top Cut synthetic lawn material.

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If you caught my "When plants attack!" column in Escape yesterday, you know I am not a big fan of yard work - especially in the spring, when every plant in the yard seems to be growing at warp speed. At this time of year, maintaining my yard can blow half of each weekend, not to mention the damage it does to my health, sanity and social schedule.

Now, if I could just take one of the larger offenders out of the equation, say the grass, and still have a beautiful, green yard - well, I might just jump at the chance.

Shawn Green, owner of the local franchise of Golf Greens Fore U, can make such a thing happen. As the name implies, the company installs synthetic golf greens, but it also installs synthetic lawns that really look like lawns.

Before you groan and imagine football field turf with little black rubber "junk" all over the place, know that the synthetic grass Green's company installs is actually very attractive and "grass-like" to the touch; surprisingly so. While it isn't quite as grass-like as real grass, whatever it lacks in "natural," it more than makes up for in other benefits. Most importantly, it needs no water, is virtually maintenance-free and always looks perfectly trimmed.

Getting interested?

Needs no water
With California's drought and water shortages, water rationing may be coming soon. At the very least you might have to plan your lawn-watering to a mandatory schedule. At the worst ... who knows?

Why not take watering your lawn out of the equation? It will help preserve a valuable resource and it will save you money, maybe a lot of money, as Green found out when he installed synthetic grass in the front yard of his own Valencia home.

"Our water bill dropped 67 percent in one month," he said. "Typically there is a 50 to 70 percent drop for homeowners who install synthetic lawns."

This can amount to 40,000 gallons of water saved per year in an average household.

It can save you notable money over the long run, and, in the short run, is environmentally friendly. "We have some serious water issues in California, and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better," Green said.

Maintenance-free
"With lawn being about 85 percent of the landscaping of a home, if it's not in good shape, it compromises your property value," Green said. Synthetic lawns are always in perfect shape, and that's without any mowing, fertilizing or edging. Synthetic lawns can't be damaged by insects or disease, drought or heat.

"They are pet-friendly," he said. Pets are completely comfortable with them and, more importantly, can't damage them. Urine passes through the turf and waste is easily picked up. A spray with the hose will finish the job - if that is even necessary. In fact, Golf Greens Fore U sometimes installs synthetic grass for kennels (as well as for school playgrounds and even retirement homes).

Your synthetic lawn will remain great looking for a long time, too. It comes with a seven year warranty against fading, but Green feels that is conservative.

Aesthetically pleasing
"People want their lawn, the look and feel of it," Green said. And he said they get that with his synthetic grass. As you can see from the photo of Green's front yard, the lawn is very natural-looking. And it felt soft and cool to this reporter's touch.

Golf Greens Fore U installs two great-looking types of grass, First Cut and Top Cut. Both are made of polyethylene yarn and have nylon "thatch" that gives the lawn a softer feel and helps the "grass" blades stand up. Top Cut has a thicker base and the thatch is denser, and it costs about $2 more per square foot.

While, of course, a synthetic lawn can't be as cool to the touch as well-watered natural grass, Green said, "On a hot summer day you can still walk on it. It's warm but not as hot as pavement."

Aside from how your synthetic lawn feels, those who are allergic to real grass will have no such problem with synthetic. Even better, the material is 100 percent lead-free.

Homeowners association
While you can usually do what you want in your backyard, if your neighborhood has a homeowner's association, you probably won't be able to put a putting green in your front yard. However, Green says homeowners associations seem to have no problem with synthetic lawns that look like lawns.

"Throughout the whole country, there has not been one HOA that has denied approval for our synthetic lawns," he said. And, while you will have to go through the approval process, he said, "Architectural committees are very receptive to it."

Such was the case in Green's own neighborhood. The approval process went quickly and smoothly and, now that the synthetic lawn is in, several of Green's neighbors are considering doing the same. He said they often stop during walks to admire how real the grass looks.

Other environmental issues
Aside from saving water, synthetic grass is environmentally friendly in other ways.

First of all, Green said his synthetic lawns are made of 70 percent recycled materials. That reduces waste sent to landfills and reduces the need for raw materials.

He explained that, without the need for a (gas) lawn mower, there is less pollution put into the air and less fossil fuel used.

Because there is no fertilizer used, there is no chemical runoff into the gutter and no fossil fuels used in (chemical) fertilizer manufacture. There is no need to recycle green waste from grass clippings, either.

Green said that some people may argue that natural lawns remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a good thing, and that synthetic lawns do not.

But he counters that, if that is your concern, you can plant more trees to make up the difference. They will still use far less water than a lawn.

Cost and installation
Green explained that the cost of installing your synthetic lawn will depend greatly on several factors, such as the accessibility of the area, the grade of the turf and the square footage installed. Usually, for a particular installation, the more the square footage, the lower the final price per square foot. He said the installed price usually ranges from $6 to $10 per square foot.

You can do the math to see that a synthetic lawn isn't cheap initially, but with the savings on water, fertilizer, sprinkler maintenance and gardener fees (or lawn mower maintenance, fuel and your time), Green said a synthetic lawn could pay for itself in five to seven years.

The installation process includes cutting away old sod and putting a sub base of stone dust down. This base is compacted but should be able to drain off up to four inches of rain per hour without being affected. (The water passes through holes in the turf base.)

After that the turf is put down, cut to fit and seamed where necessary. Then sod staples are inserted to secure the turf and silica sand is brushed into it to provide stability and cushioning.

Green said he needs a two-week lead time to order materials, but the actual installation process can typically be done in two to three days. And the result is a maintenance-free lawn that always looks perfect.

Is it time for one at your house?

For more information visit the Web site at www.golfgreensforeu.com or call the company at (661) 284-1598.

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