The Pros & Cons of Artificial Lawns

As we head into our forth year of extreme drought, Californians are seeking alternatives to thirsty lawns. Many homeowners are turning to xeriscaping, while others are resigned to the ‘brown is the new green’ philosophy. But more and more people are considering the idea of installing synthetic lawns. We’ve pulled together some information on the pros and cons of artificial turf to hopefully help you make a decision on whether this route is right for you.

The Pros:

  1. Water conservation
    To keep your lawn a vibrant green, you will use approximately 55 gallons of water per square foot per year. Depending upon the size of your lawn, that could equate to tens of thousands of gallons of water per year just to keep your grass green.
  1. Minimize air and noise pollution
    Since artificial turf never requires mowing, it eliminates the need for gas-powered mowers, which in turn reduces air and noise pollution. A gas mower churns out 11 times more air pollution per hour than a car. The reduction in mowing also eliminates noise pollution, as most mowers tend to be fairly loud.
  1. Simplify necessary tools and maintenance
    No more weeding, aerating, mowing, edging, weed-pulling and reseeding means a lot less time spent on maintaining your lawn and more room in your tool shed, since many tools will no longer serve a purpose. Or, if you have your lawns mowed weekly by a mowing service, you’ve just pocketed some extra money.
  1. Eliminate use of fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides
    Artificial turf doesn’t grow, get yellow spots, die out or sprout weeds. As such, most of the chemicals with which you treat your lawn are no longer necessary.
  1. Always looks great
    Whatever the weather or time of year, your lawn will always be lush and well-manicured. There are many different varieties of artificial grass, with most looking so real they are indistinguishable from the real thing.
  1. Long-lasting
    The lifespan of artificial turf runs 15 to 20 years. When you add up all of the water saved (660,000 gallons over 15 years for an 800 square foot lawn) as well as the cost of tools and other products, that definitely puts it as a competitive, no-maintenence option.
  1. Excellent drainage
    Synthetic grass, when installed properly, offers excellent drainage. No more mud puddles or soggy spots when it does rain.
  1. Durability
    Artificial turf is sturdy and can easily withstand a rousing game of touch football or soccer.
  1. Pets love it
    Most dogs don’t notice the difference and will still use the grass area to ‘do their business’. The majority of synthetic lawns include an antimicrobial component and they won’t get tell-tale yellow areas as does real grass.
  1. May be able to get a rebate
    A number of cities are offering rebate programs for installation of artificial lawns to help offset the cost and to encourage homeowners to employ water conversing landscaping options.

The Cons:

  1. Pricy initial cost outlay
    The cost of labor and materials for artificial lawn can be an eye opener. Most turf runs between $8 and $15 per square foot, plus there are additional materials to prepare the surface prior to installing the faux grass.
  1. Heat hazard
    Synthetic grass doesn’t have that same cool beneath your feet feeling as the real deal. In fact, it can get pretty hot in warm months, especially if it is in direct sun.
  1. Chemicals may leech into soil, water
    Synthetic grass is made of plastic and other components and often a rubber base is used to provide a ‘springy’ surface beneath it. Although companies that manufacture and install fake lawns claim to adhere to all regulations regarding chemical and toxicity levels, there still rages a debate on whether the grass leeches unhealthy substances into the soil, water and air (via microscopic particles).
  1. Not biodegradable
    When your artificial lawn’s lifespan is up in 15 or 20 year’s time, it will end up in the landfill.
  1. No more ‘just mowed’ smell
    Although not mowing is a bonus, the loss of the sweet smell of freshly cut grass is definitely something to mourn.
  1. May inhibit growth of plants or grass in the future
    There are those who believe that artificial turf does inhibit the future growth of real grass or other plants in the future. Significant soil remediation may be necessary if one choses to go au natural again at some point.
  1. May be a turnoff to potential buyers
    This current ‘con’ may fall off the list soon if our drought continues. But currently, there are those buyers who find fake lawns a definite turn-off when looking for their new home.
  1. Some cities don’t allow it
    There are some municipalities that have a ban on artificial turf, especially in front yards. But, as the drought deepens, those regulations seem to be loosening. It is wise to check local ordinances prior to making this landscaping commitment.

More information about artificial grass can be found at the Synthetic Turf Council’s website.

Each homeowner has to weigh the options and make the landscaping choice that’s right for them. Some will opt for going the drought-tolerant plant route, others will choose artificial lawns and other homeowners will ‘watch and wait’, putting off any landscaping altogether.