With rainfall levels diminishing and water rates increasing, San Diegans are searching for ways to save water, energy and money in these continuing times of drought.
Which is leading more than just a few to consider turning in their water-guzzling, high-maintenance grass lawns for synthetic turf.
It’s a trade-off, with pluses and minuses to keeping natural lawns, as opposed to trading them in for an artificial surface with a large upfront cost that pays off on the back end with huge savings in time and maintenance.
The fact is, turf grass is one of the most water-intensive plants a landscape can have. High-water demand and frequent maintenance make it a time-consuming and expensive yard option.
At a minimum, grass lawns need to be mowed during the summer months. However, a lush lawn typically requires periodic fertilization as well as irrigation during dry weather. Insecticide may also be required if grubs, fleas or other insect pests are present.
Artificial lawns are much easier to care for than real grass, requiring no mowing, fertilizing or irrigation. They also do not attract insect pests. Synthetic grass that gets dirty can simply be hosed off. Artificial grass may also make the inside of your home a bit easier to care for, with no dirt or mud tracked in.
Coastal resident Victor Grigorian made the switch from natural grass to artificial turf and is glad he did.
“I did my front yard in 2009, and then a year later I put it in my backyard,” he said, adding there were three main reasons for making the change.
“I had retired and I wanted to make my life easier and not have to deal with the responsibility of maintaining a yard,” Grigorian said. “I was also conscious about water concerns, and they (turf installers) were offering a rebate.”
Grigorian’s “very satisfied” with the end result, adding, “It looks good. What I lose in it not looking like real grass, I made up for in not having to mow it once a week and fertilize it a couple times a year.”
Although artificial turf may be easier to care for than the real thing, artificial turf does not feel exactly the same as real grass. Many homeowners also struggle with the sound of artificial turf, which makes a soft rustling when walked on. Also, while the feel of artificial grass may not be quite the same as the real thing, the look of a high-end synthetic can easily fool your friends and neighbors.
Grigorian said he can live with his synthetic grass not always looking like the real item.
“I will challenge you to tell me it (synthetic turf) doesn’t look like real grass at certain times of the day,” he said, “especially if you’re driving by (from a distance).”
On the negative side, artificial turf installation costs significantly more than traditional sod.
Statistics show that synthetic grass for landscaping and recreation is growing 10 to 15 percent a year nationwide, which means more and more homeowners are using fakes for lawns, dog runs, play areas, pool surrounds, rooftops, putting greens and decorative borders between patio pavers.
It’s several times more expensive to install synthetic grass than to put in natural grass sod. Studies show it takes about seven years for maintenance-free artificial grass to recoup its initial cost.
The pluses of artificial grass is that it saves water, is easy to maintain and can be environmentally friendly. On the down side, artificial grass is not completely maintenance free, it can’t absorb and break down pet urine, it heats up in direct sun, it can’t be recycled and it has been banned by some homeowners associations and municipalities.
As part of its drought-response efforts, the San Diego County Water Authority has launched a pilot program designed to help bring down the cost of replacing water-intensive grass with artificial turf. More information is available at SoCalWater$mart.com.