The 10 things synthetic turf owners should know to maintain safe fields
1 The most important thing is that these fields are not maintenance-FREE! Maintenance will need to be done daily, weekly, monthly, annually, all depending on when and how much the turf is used. Daily maintenance can be as simple as a quick visual to make sure that nothing is out of the ordinary and that the field is clear of debris that may cause harm to a user. Weekly and/or monthly maintenance may include grooming/brushing, infill needs in high use areas, and closer inspection of inlays and lines that may be problematic and any repairs. Annual maintenance should include all of the above as well as Gmax testing, infill cleaning or deep cleaning, de-compaction of the infill, and a complete field inspection with a infill depth chart covering the entire surface, adding to or replenishing the infill as needed.
2 Understand the warranty and maintenance requirements from the turf manufacturer. Once the owner accepts the field the manufacturer or representative should provide a maintenance manual with instructions. This should include how often grooming/brushing needs to be done, maintaining proper infill depths, how to handle high traffic areas, dealing with loose inlays or seam splits (should be covered under warranty), cleaning the turf, snow plowing (if applicable) and general maintenance of the turf on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.
3 Understanding the Gmax of the field and how often should it be done. Most warranties spell out what the acceptable level or maximum Gmax value should be through the life of the warranty. Gmax testing should be done annually at minimum (the NFL does it weekly) and it should be done by a neutral partied certified tester whose testing equipment is calibrated. The tester should be working for the field owner and not the turf manufacturer or installer.
4 Understanding that synthetic turf is much like natural turf in that if users consistently are on a particular area (goal crease, one end of field, same lines for warm up, same entrance gate or path, etc.), these areas will show higher signs of wear than other areas and will eventually wear out prematurely. Educating the users of this is invaluable when it comes to creating longevity of the turf.
5 Maintain infill depth. Each manufacturer has recommended infill depths and is typically minimum depths for the performance of the turf. Since the number one enemy of synthetic turf is the sunlight to the fibers, it is important to maintain as high a level of infill (without creating performance issues) typically within a ½ to ¾ inch of the tip of the fiber. We see field owners who are left with some infill material after construction and still have the material in storage when the field gets replaced. If infill is not added within the first 2 years the fibers begin to lay over, will not stand up for maximum performance, and so the degradation of the fibers is accelerated. When using a sand/rubber infill it is very unusual to have to add sand as it tends to settle to the bottom allowing the crumb rubber to be displaced more easily. Organic infill material migrates more than sand/rubber or all rubber and the maintenance requirements are much higher.
6 Understand the maintenance equipment that was purchased/included/acquired with the field. Depending on the type of equipment you own it is important to understand what its purpose is, how to set it up for maximum results, what is the piece of equipment expected to do to the turf or the fibers, how often should it be used, and most importantly, how long should it take to complete the task (how fast should you go). Change the direction of grooming/brushing each time to provide maximum performance of the turf; grooming/brushing in the same direction will promote the fibers to lay over in the direction of travel and can eventually hasten the degradation of the fibers. Also, by grooming/brushing in different directions the infill will become more evenly distributed. Grooming/brushing should be scheduled by hours of use of the turf.
7 Cleaning the turf. One thing to remember about synthetic turf is that you usually don’t have microbes within the profile like natural turf, so anything that falls on the field remains with minimal breakdown. Dust, dirt, pollen, body skin cells, human hair, bird droppings, leaves, branches, metal objects, etc., can be found unless it is removed. Having the field professionally cleaned or obtaining the proper equipment to do this is imperative to the life expectancy.
Purchasing a good magnet to use on the turf is highly recommended. These magnets can be mounted on the grooming/brushing equipment, cleaning equipment or used as a standalone.
Think of it like this: Synthetic turf is carpet and you, the owner, grooms and brushes and removes surface debris similar to when indoor carpet is vacuumed. The infill cleaning needs to be like bringing in Stanley Steamer—or another professional cleaner who has the equipment to clean more than just the surface.
8 Weeds and pests within the turf can exist and need to be treated early. Most weeds/grasses are there because organic material available that they can thrive in. Removing the weeds when young is fairly easy but the organic material needs to be addressed as well. Pests can range from beetles, bees, moles, etc., and should be treated as early as possible.
9 Use paints approved by the turf manufacturer; follow the paint manufacturer’s recommendations on thinning and rates as well as equipment. At some point it will be necessary to allow the paint to breakdown or be removed to prevent it from causing a buildup on the fibers and within the infill. Paint buildup typically has a higher Gmax value than the surrounding turf areas and would not be a warranty issue. There are many paint companies who claim to have paint that works on synthetic turf and may be cheaper (cheaper is not always good) make sure you are using paint by an approved manufacturer.
10 Prepare for replacement. Although this may not seem to fit our “keep the field safe” theme, it definitely is that indeed. Synthetic turf slowly degrades and rarely is it overnight but it is the one thing many turf owners don’t plan for. Once it reaches the end of its life the field needs to be replaced. If the warranty has expired and the Gmax is over the limits or recommended maximum values (ASTM currently is 200g) are too high, or the fibers no longer hold the infill in place causing players to slip and slide, or seams and inlays are experiencing glue wear out and failure causing trip hazards, these are all safety issues, and there are others as well.
I recommend to customers that when the turf is in the last year of the warranty they should begin to budget a replacement. Now this doesn’t mean that turf only last as long as the warranty but it makes the process of replacement a reality. With proper maintenance and care we have seen turf fields exceed the warranty life; in some cases they have doubled the life expectancy and still provide a safe playing surface as intended. Ironically my former employer, a public school district, replaced their turf fields at 15½ years old not because they were unsafe but because they didn’t like the color from the fading fibers and the aesthetics.
Jim Cornelius, CSFM, is services manager for TurfAssist, Exton, PA, www.turfassistpro.com