Here in Arizona, drought-tolerant solutions aren’t merely a way to create a more sustainable community. They’re a necessity for life in the desert.
One such solution is artificial or synthetic turf – ground cover that has been created to mimic the look and feel of real grass, but without the extensive watering and upkeep. This is a water-smart, labor-saving solution for some master plan communities.
“Synthetic turf is a great solution for small areas,” said Scott Murray, Senior Vice President of Arizona-based Desert Classic Landscaping. “In our hot climate, it’s not a great solution for large areas because it can heat up during the summer months. Plus, if it is used for large areas like an athletic field, remember that synthetic turf must be carefully maintained to prevent injuries.”
Knowing if synthetic turf is a good fit for your community, but there are a few things to consider beyond space and lifestyle. Synthetic turf has been making headlines lately because of anecdotal reports of health concerns. Is it safe for children? How about pets? In this article, we’ll look at the facts as we know them.
So one thing’s for sure: we know it’s not grass. Beyond that, the actual make-up of synthetic turf varies by manufacturer. Originally created in the early 1960s in an effort to create more spaces for outdoor activity, artificial turf was first installed on a large scale at Moses Brown School in Providence, RI back in 1964. Since then, a variety of manufacturers have developed different products. Some, but not all, may contain chromium or lead in the foliage portion of the product. Others forego these materials in favor of plastic polymers. The “soil” portion of the product is often made from recycled tires, which may contain polycyclic hydrocarbons, which can be harmful. Many products have sought alternatives to recycled tires as their products’ infill component. The best policy is to ask your manufacturer for a complete breakdown of what goes into their product – some brands may not include these components at all.
A recent story on NBC News featured some scary anecdotes, where a Seattle soccer coach compiled a list of 38 players who had been diagnosed with cancer. Her thinking was that artificial turf – because of contact with chemicals, specifically in the “soil” filler – was the culprit. This story continues to make the rounds on social media, but although it’s compelling from an anecdotal standpoint, strict scientific studies do not indicate a hazard. Scientists from the government and academia have conducted small surveys of data to explore the issue, and with very few exceptions have found no evidence of harmful exposure. Or, the exposure to chemicals is so low that there is little risk of harm. Some scientists have found that if chemicals are absorbed into the body through synthetic turf, they’re at low, low doses – equivalent to the levels found in the food we eat, or what we encounter in the rest of the environment.
It’s easier to parse the benefits of synthetic turf when it comes to water and cost savings. A good HOA management company can help you with a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, mostly because the turf requirements of specific associations can vary greatly. Generally speaking, however, it’s a matter of weighing the expenses of natural turf – water consumption and maintenance – against the one-time cost of turf and its occasional cleaning and repair. Remember, synthetic turf is low-maintenance, not no-maintenance – patches will need replacement periodically, cleaning will be necessary if activity exceeds the capabilities of any anti-microbial elements, and the lifespan of the product must be considered, too. Again, when you weigh this versus the ongoing upkeep of your natural turf areas, you may find significant savings.
The best thing you can do about synthetic turf is stay informed. Find out what materials the turf you’re considered is made of, and conduct a rigorous investigation into what the costs will be compared to your current natural turf. After all, the grass is always greener on the side with more information. For more, contact FirstService Residential.