Synthetic Turf FAQs

In its simplest form synthetic turf is a carpet that is designed to look like natural grass. Primarily used for sporting and landscaping applications synthetic turf is actually specially engineered to not only look like natural grass but to also provide the user and durability characteristics required to deliver safe long lasting surfaces. When used as a sports surface it needs to offer the playing characteristics the sport requires, provide a safe and comfortable playing environment and be able to withstand high use often for 10 years or more. As a landscaping solution, synthetic turf provides a low maintenance surface that does not need to be watered or fertilized, whilst maintaining the visual appearance of a well-manicured lawn.

No, as synthetic turf technology evolves the range of products grows. The first synthetic turf products were actually developed in the 1960s with the first major installation at the Houston Astrodome in 19966 meaning synthetic turf has been in use for 50 years.

The first generation of surfaces were short pile (12 -15mm) dense non-filled surfaces, manufactured using a knitting technique from nylon yarn. This type of surface has evolved and is now used for sports such as hockey, cricket and lawn bowls.

In the 1970s the second generation of surfaces were developed. The piles of these surfaces were more open and longer (20 -25mm) and relied on a sand infill to support the pile and keep it standing upright. Used extensively for a range of sports these surfaces pioneered the growth of community use synthetic sports fields throughout Europe.

The third generation of surfaces were developed in the late 1990s. With even longer pile lengths (50 – 70mm) and even more open constructions, the surfaces incorporate a blend of infills that provide the desired cushioning and sports performance properties. It is this form of surfacing that has seen the acceptance of synthetic turf by sports such as football and rugby and created the growth in synthetic turf that now allows high quality, high intensity use sports fields to be provided in locations and climates that previously could not consider playing on anything that was vaguely like a natural grass field.

There are numerous claims about new innovations creating the next generation in synthetic turf technology, but there is no overall consensus that a significant step forward has occurred that moves the use of synthetic turf into new applications or greatly improves the quality or play. Many manufacturers are trying to develop synthetic turf surfaces that can fully replicate the playing qualities of natural turf without the need for infill; these may become the fourth generation.

Synthetic turf surfaces are manufactured using technologies developed by the carpet industry. Today most synthetic turf surfaces are manufactured using tufting techniques, where the pile is looped through a backing cloth, cut to length and anchored in place. Other carpet manufacturing techniques used include weaving and knitting.

The pile of the synthetic turf, forming the blades on longer pile surfaces, are manufactured from a range of plastics including polyethylene, polypropylene and nylon. The yarns manufactured from the plastics are becoming increasingly complex in profile as manufacturers strive to produce ever more durable and natural looking surfaces.

Increasing demands to play sport seven days, many hours a day and the desire to play or provide green landscaping in climates where natural grass cannot be grown, have seen synthetic turf becoming the surface of choice for many. Demand has grown to the point where more than 10,000 synthetic turf sports fields and courts are now used throughout Europe in schools, colleges, parks and professional sports grounds.

Synthetic grass for landscape, and other recreation applications is the fastest growing segment of the synthetic turf market. Over 4 million square metres of synthetic turf for landscape and recreation use was installed in 2012.

Thousands of homes, businesses, golf courses, municipalities, parks and tourist attractions now use synthetic turf to provide a lush, attractive landscape that requires minimal maintenance and saves millions of litres of water each year.

Synthetic turf also promotes greater use of land, as you can accommodate far more use on an area than with natural grass. A common (but conservative) guide often used by planning authorities is one synthetic turf sports field can be considered the equivalent of three natural grass fields.

As the range of synthetic turf products entering the market becomes ever greater it becomes ever more confusing to the consumer and the risk of selecting a poor quality product increases. Recognising the need to give guidance and protection to consumers a number of sports federations including FIFA (football), FIH (hockey) and World Rugby have developed comprehensive standards that define the playing, safety and durability qualities they consider necessary for their sports. The European Standards Committee (CEN) has also developed European Standard EN 15330-1 that describes the performance and durability properties multi-sports synthetic turf surfaces should have.

To promote high quality synthetic turf landscaping surfaces ESTO has developed a Landscape Quality Classification that sets criteria for the quality, durability, environmental compatibility and appearance of landscaping surfaces.

Like many new innovations synthetic turf has been subjected too much scrutiny about how safe it is. For sports applications, players have wanted to be confident that the risk of injury when playing on a synthetic turf field is no greater than when playing on natural grass. For sports and landscaping applications there is a need to ensure synthetic turf surfaces do not create environmental or toxicological risks.

Numerous studies by various international sports federations (FIFA, UEFA, World Rugby, etc) have all shown that the risk of injury when playing on a synthetic turf field that is constructed and maintained to the appropriate standards are no greater than playing on a well-constructed natural grass field. When synthetic turf fields are compared to poorly maintained grass fields the injury risk is considered to be lower on a synthetic turf field.

Potential concerns about the environmental and toxicological risks of installing and using synthetic turf surfaces have led to numerous robust scientific and academic studies from Europe and the USA that have concluded that synthetic turf surfaces manufactured from high quality materials from reputable sources provide surfaces that cause no public health concerns. Studies include those by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Like any product the life of synthetic turf will be dependent on a number of factors including quality, levels of use and maintenance. Providing the correct type of synthetic turf is selected for a particular application and it is installed and maintained correctly it is not unreasonable to expect it to perform adequately for at least eight years, although it must be appreciated that over this period there will be some deterioration in performance and appearance.

When it comes to landscape applications, synthetic turf can last much longer than sports fields.

Yes, all synthetic turf surfaces require some form of maintenance. On a simple ornamental landscaping turf this may be just a periodic brush and tidy-up. On a high use sports area the maintenance demands will be much more demanding and complex. It is important that when considering synthetic turf you appreciate there is no such thing as a maintenance free synthetic turf and you make adequate allowance for the necessary maintenance.

Increasing concerns about the environment mean that manufacturers of synthetic turf are looking at ways of easing the recycling of the products at the end of their service live. Repositioning of old synthetic turf is now commonly done and as new technologies come on stream full recycling will become the norm.

As the market for synthetic turf expands so do the number of companies entering the supply chain. Many of these are new with little track record. To become an ESTO member a manufacturer has to be a well-established and reputable manufacturer. In addition a number of international sports federations also have licensing schemes that help identify and promote quality manufacturers with proven sports products.

Synthetic turf can have a measurable, positive impact on the environment. Depending on its location a typical grass sports field can require up to a 4.5 million litres of water each year in drier climates. This water use can be saved when synthetic turf is installed. Additionally synthetic turf eliminates the need for harmful pesticides and fertilisers, which has significant health and environmental implications. When used for landscaping synthetic turf helps reduce noxious emissions from lawn movers and reduces grass clippings, which are reported as the third largest component of municipal solid waste in landfills.

Synthetic turf playing fields exponentially increase playing and practice time because they can be used daily and in all types of weather, without worry of damage. Playability is enhanced since the fields remain uniform and consistent, season after season providing they are maintained correctly. High quality natural grass sports fields can only accommodate 6 to 10 years use per week but require extensive maintenance and renovation works to achieve this level of use through a playing season. Lower quality grass fields are often not capable of accommodating even this limited amount of use, but are actually expected to be available for community play through a season; often meaning games have to be cancelled.

A top quality natural turf field installed in a stadium environment can cost in excess of €1,000,000, which is at least double the cost of the highest quality synthetic turf constructions. Lower quality natural turf fields will cost much less than a synthetic turf field but in reality are only able to accommodate a fraction of the usage. Whilst both types of surface require maintenance the cost of maintaining a synthetic turf field is normally equal to or less than maintaining a natural grass field. Synthetic turf fields do have the disadvantage of needing resurfacing periodically but nevertheless when comparing capital, maintenance and replacements costs and calculating the cost per playing hour synthetic turf is the clear winner.