Turf That Lasts
Finding the right vendor to install your new turf field isn’t the only decision that will determine how long your field will last. Outside or under a dome, how you care for your turf could add years before having to raise money for a replacement. A turf field needs two things to survive: Fiber strength and impact absorption. Proper maintenance through infill management can address both and add years to your field’s life expectancy.
Artificial fiber under stresses of weather and cleats will not last forever, but its life can significantly be extended with the right care. Fibers are meant to stand upright to prevent rubber and sand infill from shifting while athletes play on it. Turf fibers are not meant to be the playing surface themselves, but unfortunately due to improper maintenance this is so often the case as the plastic grass starts to lay over. When laid over, synthetic fibers undergo magnitudes more wear from athletes and sun exposure. When a fiber is upright, cleats can bypass it and dig into the rubber for increased traction. Also, standing fibers are not as exposed to the sun when it is most harmful in the middle of the day. Owners of artificial turf fields can extend the life of their field by simply making sure these fibers are upright and protected, but making that happen isn’t as simple as regular grooming. In order for turf fibers to stand tall, rubber and sand infill has to be properly cared for from the beginning.
To understand proper maintenance, we need to understand the infill involved. Rubber and sand infill play different and important roles. The rubber protects athletes and turf fiber, while sand locks the fibers in the upright position and keeps rubber from migrating. When these two materials are working as intended, a turf field could last as long as 20 years. Unfortunately, what sand can do with turf fiber it also does to its rubber coworker, locking it in place. As time goes on and pressure is applied by shoes and rain, sand starts to fill in the cracks between rubber particles. Rubber can no longer absorb as much impact and sand is no longer maintaining the upright position of fibers. The consequence, as only too many field owners know, is a hard field with matted down turf. Once the turf lays over, the situation becomes worse as the infill continues to compact, more of each fiber becomes exposed and players are now at increased risk for concussion. With the right equipment this effect can be mitigated and sometimes reversed.
When investing in an artificial field, nearly every school buys a groomer with which they can brush and decompact their field. This device is intended to mix up the infill and keep sand and rubber from interfering with each other. However, with only so much weight and a lack of operating knowledge, these groomers often will only scrape the literal surface rather than stirring up all of the infill. This delays the inevitable result of the above effect, but does not stop it from happening. Proper infill care requires a complete stirring and may need to be done by a professional with special equipment, but could be a solution that adds 5 years to the life of a turf field. Keeping the infill from returning quickly to its bound up state requires filtered infill cleaning as dust wants to become involved in the infill system. Aside from deep cleaning, decompacting infill can make the most significant impact on turf longevity. Simply put, stir up your field’s infill regularly to make sure it lasts. If you can’t do it completely with your equipment, hire a professional turf maintainer. Artificial turf fields cost $500,000 or more to replace, why not make the one you have last 5 years longer?