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11 min read

How to Choose Between Natural Grass or Artificial Turf

11 min read

How to Choose Between Natural Grass or Artificial Turf

How to Choose Between Natural Grass or Artificial Turf

Artificial turf is thought to be easier to maintain compared to natural grass and more durable. Myth or fact? How can you settle for one over the other? Also, what are the advantages and drawbacks of these two types of lusciously green surfaces? Keep reading to find out!

Aesthetic Preference: Natural vs. Artificial Grass

Putting green-type lawns are straight out of the United States, resulting from the invention of the lawn mower. At the turn of the Second World War, having an aesthetically pleasing lawn was a sign of community involvement and respect. 

The only hiccup is that to have a flawless, American-like lawn, not only do you need to water it, but you also need to use phytosanitary products. In this day and age, with a significant turn to eco-consciousness, having a so-called “pretty front lawn,” one that’s trimmed to perfection, just isn’t a possibility anymore. 

There just isn’t a debate to have. In this climate change era, artificial turf might be an unparalleled option. 

Choose Your Grass Based on Yard-Specific Considerations 

Grass Tailored to a Specific Yard Type

To help you choose, here are three helpful criteria: 

  1. Usage

  2. Maintenance

  3. Weather

Use-based conditions can be summarized by the following: 

  • Is it ornamental? 

  • Is it meant for sports use?

  • Is it meant to promote biodiversity?

If the lawn in question is purely decorative, you can opt for artificial turf. It’ll remain green year-round and won’t require mowing. Should it be meant for sports use, note that artificial turf allows for an extended period of use throughout the year, devoid of maintenance. 

However, health-related considerations that came about in 2010 are still relevant to this day. Natural grass may be the preferred option whilst studies on the matter reach a consensus regarding the safety of said material. 

Lastly, if you’re looking to promote biodiversity in your neck of the woods, natural grass is not only a leap in the right direction, but it’s also one option that barely requires any maintenance; meaning an overgrown lawn, sprouting weeds, and home to a lot of bugs. However, your yard might end up looking like an unkept field. 

Weather’s Impact on Grass

We’ll cover this aspect more in-depth in our pros and cons section regarding both types of grass, but let’s just say that plastic isn’t designed with extreme heat in mind. The reason for that is simple: it overheats. 

No doubt, in Quebec, extreme heat rarely ever goes above 35°C. Yet, to limit the heat around your property mid-summer, it’s best to stick with natural grass. It’s not a cure-all solution compared to other environments, but it’s always better than a cluster of polyethylene, polypropylene, and latex. 

Planned Yard Use and its Impact on Grass Selection

If your grass is, first and foremost, meant as a decorative aspect, artificial turf is your best bet. However, excessive use of a grassy surface risks wearing it out, requiring regular maintenance. Therefore, it’s best to head the synthetic route. 

How does natural grass age compared to artificial turf?

How Your Lawn Wears Over Time

When laying natural grass—sod—it seems like it’s always striking in its first few days of growth. Typically, no weeds are sprouting through. That is until the wind starts blowing and wild growths start invading your lawn. This marks the first effect of time on grass.

The second effect of time on your lawn shows through its use. If it’s overused by your kids, it’ll quickly show signs of frequent treading or be rendered bare in patches (excessive foot traffic).  

The third and last effect of time is seasonal cycles. Contrary to popular belief, your lawn doesn’t need to be watered. However, during the summer, it’ll fade, turn yellowish in colour, and have a dead-like appearance. Yet, it’s not. After the first rainfall, it’ll sport its nice lush green hue again.  

As for artificial turf, it’s just not a concern; it’s always green.

What’s the lifespan of natural grass versus a synthetic lawn?

Some artificial turf suppliers state that natural grass has a lifespan of five years tops. However, don’t take that statement to the bank. To gain insight into the actual lifespan of natural grass, turn to the Institut régional de développement du sport (IRDS—a sports development institute) in Paris.

Why Paris? Because in terms of heavily used and grass-covered surfaces, European football is of great importance. Under intensive sports use, the IRDS is clear that natural grass has a lifespan of, on average, 40 years. It might well surpass that.

Beyond that, the average lifespan of artificial turf varies, based on usage, between 8 and 20 years. 

Pros and Cons of Natural Grass and Artificial Turf: Side-by-Side Comparison 

Characteristics

Natural Grass

Artificial Turf

Maintenance Cost (dollar amount)

$1

$0.23

Erosion Control

Yes

Yes

Watering

Yes

No

Mowing

Yes 

No

Phytosanitary Products

Yes

No

Heavy Metals

No 

Yes

Chemical Products

No (aside from lawn care)

Over $300

Drainage 

No (exceptions aside)

Yes (included)

Heat Dome Contributor

No

Yes (depending on its composition)

Combustible

No (unless there’s a drought)

Yes

City Authorizations

No

Yes

Environmental risk

No

Yes (limited)

Lawn Care Costs: Natural Grass vs. Artificial Turf

Depending on what you’re doing with your lawn, maintenance fees have to be factored in. Given that such costs entirely depend on the surface to upkeep, let’s take a soccer field as an example (roughly 75,000 sq. ft, so 7,000 m²):

  • Natural grass: $13,000 

  • Artificial turf: $3,000 

For every dollar invested in a natural lawn, it’s twenty-three cents that are spent on artificial turf.

Artificial Turf Hazards

Artificial turf has one major problem: the material used in its infill is made of rubber issued from recycled tires. We already covered this in our article dedicated to the advantages of stair runners, but it’s important to keep in mind that tires contain the following: 

  • 197 carcinogen substances 

  • 52 cancer-causing agents

  • 6 heavy metals 

It may be that frequent skin contact (scratches, injuries) with these recycled rubber granules leads to lymphoma and leukemia. However, studies aren’t unanimous on the matter. Another sizeable issue is the risk of infections. It seems that heat and sweat promote the proliferation of staphylococcus-type bacteria. Thus, the risk of infection is heightened, while natural grass has self-cleaning properties.

How to Drain Artificial Turf 

Unless your natural grass is moisture-dense, you may never have considered installing a drain. When rainwater or melting snow seeps into the ground, it’s then channelled to the phreatic zone, and no one hears about it. 

With artificial turf, things aren’t as simple—the soil is covered by a waterproof membrane. To prevent catastrophes, artificial turf rolls are fitted with drainage holes.

According to manufacturers, the holes are about 0.1 in (3 mm) wide and are 6 inches (15 cm) apart. Drainage holes allow for about 360 litres of liquid to drain every hour, per square metre, meaning 33 litres of water per square foot.

Artificial Turf and Heat Domes

Chances are that since June and July of 2021, you’ve likely heard of the expression, “heat dome,” and are aware that this occurrence is amplified by artificial grounds. We already know concrete is a contributing factor, but what about artificial turf? 

Australia was the first to sound the alarm upon realizing that several third-generation artificial lawns reached elevated temperatures when exposed to the sun. To prevent said occurrence, certain manufacturers prefer to use white rubber granules over black ones, as the latter may reach temperatures 9.1°C higher (temperatures recorded in Australia). 

However, rubber bead colour isn’t the only contributor to this heat dome phenomenon. Studies have shown that weather patterns must also be factored into the mix: 

  • Ambient temperature 

  • Solar radiation

  • Humidity level 

In Quebec, a combination of said circumstances is a rather rare occurrence, but one thing’s for sure: based on the months of June and July of 2021, you may not be spending a lot of time lounging around on your artificial lawn. 

These arguments tend to curtail that of artificial turf retailers that boast this type of lawn as being: 

  • Heatwave-proof 

  • Water-saving 

It’s a bit more complicated than that. 

Do you need authorization to lay artificial turf?

Unfortunately, yes. Turns out, you can’t do what you want in your own backyard.

Every municipality abides by their own set of rules. For example, in Québec City, it’s prohibited to lay grass on your property, aside from around an in-ground pool and over a 193 square foot (18 m²) surface area at most. 

Bearing in mind that artificial turf doesn’t account for “green space,” this can further limit the overall surface area.

Is artificial turf or natural grass best for clay soils?

Both are effective. Having a lawn made of natural grass helps fight against clay soil erosions, especially when it’s installed in rolls and is maintained in an eco-friendly manner. This means that the lawn will have weeds, such as dandelions, nettles, or thistles. 

Artificial grass or turf is an entirely different surface, since it doesn’t promote eco-consciousness, nor does it have a root system capable of mooring soil.

However, just like natural grass, it protects the ground from erosion-causing factors:

  • Wind

  • Rain 

In fact, with artificial turf, the rain will be evenly distributed over the yard’s surface and drained via the perforated holes we mentioned previously. That way, the holes manage erosions and prevent washouts on bare surfaces.

However, in order to be fully functional, you have to ensure that your yard has proper water drainage, meaning it’s devoid of pools of water stagnating on its surface.

Say Goodbye to Mowing and Watering with Artificial Turf

Real grass requires upkeep. Between mowing and watering, you’re wasting a lot of your precious summertime with chores and, on top of that, you’re squandering away loads of water. Once you choose to stop watering real grass, it’ll end up yellowish by the end of summer.

On the other hand, with artificial turf, none of the time-consuming and bothersome factors matter. Winter through summer, your grass will be lusciously green without a single drop of water in the mix. 

The latter allows you to save both money and time since you won’t need to purchase a lawn mower nor will you have to pay to maintain it over time. 

The same applies to installing an automatic sprinkler system in your backyard.  

Devoid of Phytosanitary Products

You most likely have heard of Roundup and its famous active ingredient: glyphosate. If so, then you probably know that it’s prohibited in several cities in the province of Quebec, like in its capital and Montréal.

Well, with artificial turf, there’s no need to use such herbicides to maintain a perfectly manicured lawn.  

In terms of the environment, what’s the difference between artificial turf and natural grass? 

There’s very little difference, and we’re not exaggerating. Why? Because studies prove to be rather clear, grass is:

  • not especially effective in mitigating heat islands (+20°C compared to other low vegetation); and

  • lacks biodiversity.

Using a lawn mower doesn’t fix anything since it practically eradicates all invertebrates found in grass, the majority of which are pollinating insects. As a result, each mower run ends in a complete massacre. 

On the flip side, artificial turf doesn’t hold much in terms of its eco-friendly factor. While natural grass lacks biodiversity—that is in comparison to other natural surfaces, like fields of grass or shrubland—artificial turf doesn’t shelter any sort of living organism, whatsoever.

In fact, on account of its rubber beads (infill), it pollutes over time as the beads break up through years of use. However, this environmental pollution caused by rubber should be put into perspective and downplayed. 

In fact, the presence of polluting rubber in the environment stems from used tire abrasions 97% of the time. Artificial green spaces made of turf solely account for 3% of said pollution. 

Natural or Artificial: Costs of Installing a Lawn

Cost of Sod Rolls

On average, a roll of sod is priced at $0.35/sq.ft. However, some retailers offer deals based on the amount purchased. Note that costs can spike to $0.80/sq.ft.

Cost of Seeding a Lawn

Seeding costs between $0.02 and $0.05 per square foot. However, you can always hire a professional to hydroseed your lawn. In such a case, per-square-foot costs are between $0.18 and $0.22.

Want a clover lawn instead? For an eco-friendly yard, budget between $0.20 and $0.24/sq.ft.

Cost of Artificial Turf

Between $1.99/sq.ft and $8.30/sq.ft. Why such a drastic price range? The lawn’s texture and aesthetic. The more budget-friendly, standard turf versions are what you might expect in your buddy’s backyard, while the more expensive versions are designed for golf courses.

Finding the Perfect Balance: Picking Between Natural Grass and Artificial Turf

Choosing between natural grass and artificial turf heavily relies on personal preferences regarding time constraints and required maintenance, as well as other factors. Therefore, you must consider your needs in terms of outdoor space, lifestyle, and priorities. 

On one hand, natural grass makes for a pleasant surface on which to tread barefoot,  but one that requires regular upkeep. On the other, artificial turf is low maintenance, yet does have its set of drawbacks, such as heat generation and potential health hazards.

Take some time to take into account all the long-term implications of either option to create an outdoor space that’s perfectly suited to your needs and aligns with your personal preferences.


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Last modified 2024-02-27

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