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Artificial Grass: 6 Reasons to Avoid Turf

As of August 2021, over 40% of the United States is in a notable drought. If you find yourself in this group and you also maintain a grass lawn, you’ve probably been fighting the internal battle of “to water, or not to water.” If you’re eco-minded, as we are, conserving water is a priority. Still, we know the painful feeling of surveying a crunchy, brown wasteland of a yard and imagining green in its place. If this is you, you might have already begun to court the idea of installing artificial grass.

Artificial grass, artificial turf, turf, or simply fake grass- no matter what you call it, it has increased in popularity over the years. Many homeowners view it as an evergreen solution to imperfect yards. And at first glance, it’s not hard to see why that may be the case. Live lawn maintenance can gobble hours from your week, only to end up fruitless when it fails to rain, or your beloved pooch pees a little too often in their favorite spot. So we get the initial draw to the fake stuff.

However, you may be surprised to learn that aside from water conservation, artificial turf or artificial grass may actually cause more problems than it solves.

Problems with Artificial Grass

Problems with artificial grass, or turf, range from environmental, to aesthetic, to long-term practicality and durability. It seems that for every argument in favor of fake lawns, there is a stronger counter argument against it. That being said, here are some of the biggest reasons to not to fake it til you make it.

1. Plastic, Plastic, and More Plastic

If you’ve kept your ear within 100 yards of the pulse of environmental concern, you’ll know one of the largest pollution problems facing our planet is the overproduction of plastic. Plastic is everywhere. In our landfills, our lakes, our streets, and overwhelming our oceans. What is artificial turf made of? You guessed it. Plastic.

What does this mean? Well, you will indeed save water consumption over the years by forgoing taking the hose to your lawn. But whether your turf lasts you 5 years, a decade, or up to 20 years as is claimed by some companies, it has a finite lifespan. And when this lifespan is over, where does your artificial grass end up? Right again, the landfill.

We understand many homeowners are looking to synthetic solutions to try and compensate for the toll they feel maintaining a lawn has on the planet. Unfortunately, swapping a heavy water consumer for yards and yards of non-biodegradable plastic grass is far from a great solution.

2. Drainage

Plastic is not the only environmental concern when it comes to installing artificial grass. Also at play is the issue of drainage. We’ve discussed this issue before. Whether you’re building a patio, deck, or just hardscaping around your yard, permeability of the material you’re using matters.

Material such as concrete offers very low permeability. This means that when it rains, the material prevents rain water from soaking into the ground. Instead, this water becomes polluted runoff. This runoff makes its way off your property, into the sewers, and into your local waterways. Not to mention, excessive runoff can exasperate forces of erosion in your yard.

3. It’s Not Fooling Anybody

We won’t argue with the fact that artificial grass and turf has come a ways in recent years. What used to look like fare for a mini golf course now does more closely resemble grass. But still, it will be a while before it’s truly fooling anyone.

Seams, wrinkles, and unevenness all plague turf installations. And what you don’t notice from afar, you will certainly notice upclose, or upon touching.

4. Artificial Grass Can Stink

Let’s say you are concerned with the environmental impact of your yard. Maybe you only have a small patch of outdoor space, and you’re just looking for something your kids and pets can hang out on. Unfortunately, artificial grass is still not the best solution. Because it needs to be cleaned, often. And failing to do so can land you in a rather smelly situation.

Think of turf as one large, green, outdoor shag rug. A grass-like carpet, if you will. All carpets endure wear and tear. Simply looking like grass does not protect this carpet from wear and tear, and like all carpet, it will need to be cleaned accordingly.

To dogs, grass translates to bathroom. If your dog does urinate, or otherwise, on your artificial grass, it will need to be cleaned as quickly as possible. Just as accidents indoors can create lasting pet odor, the same goes for your outdoor artificial grass.

Between long hours baking in the sun, chemical smell, pet smell, and the odor introduced by wear and tear of kids, it all adds up. The result is a stinky swath of artificial grass that nobody in the family will be enthused to have underfoot.

5. Upkeep & Durability

Maybe you don’t have eco-related concerns, you don’t have kids, and you don’t have pets. What about then? We still don’t recommend it. Even with few outside factors to contend with, artificial grass is still not a great stand in for the real thing. It's true. You need to water and mow a real lawn often. But you must maintain artificial turf, as well.

Areas can become warped by heat, heavy traffic can wear spots thin, and when this happens repair is more complicated than simply throwing down some more grass seed. Instead, all repairs eventually become a replacement. This makes durability questionable as well. How many times will you replace a spot of artificial turf before deciding to scrap the whole thing and start again?

6. Comfort & Turf Burn

If everything else was enough, artificial grass isn’t exactly the most comfortable thing in the world. Regular grass gives. Sitting on a lawn in summer and wiggling your toes in the grass is pleasant because the earth underfoot has natural give. Artificial turf does not. Artificial turf requires a leveled, flat base, and is most often laid over concrete or packed sand. Neither of these materials is the most forgiving. Not to mention the reality of turf burn.

Ever fallen on an artificial lawn while playing soccer or football? If you have, you can confirm- turf burn is real. Described by Healthline as akin to feeling “as if your skin has been scraped against sandpaper”, it only takes one good tumble on artificial grass to swear off the stuff for life.

Should I get artificial grass?

Our answer? Probably not. We’re sorry to break it to you, but the fact of the matter remains that the best grass lawn is no lawn at all. To minimize your carbon footprint, upkeep, and longevity of your yard, you should let go of the dream of a rolling yard of green grass.

We know this can be heartbreaking to some homeowners. Thankfully, there are beautiful alternatives and compromises. If you’re really committed to having grassy space for kids and pets, try minimizing the square footage. Or, if you’re ready to take the plunge, try an environmentally-friendly lawn alternative. Pollinator gardens, native planting, garden boxes, permeable hardscaping- the list is long. And nearly every other option is better than taking a gamble on artificial grass.

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