Regular Maintenance Ensures Synthetic Turf Performance
By Paul Steinbach
There was something uncommon about the crumb rubber extracted from the football field being serviced last year by G9 Turf, an independent contractor that specializes in the maintenance of synthetic turf sports fields. Using a specialized machine that blasts the field surface with 150 pounds per square inch of air pressure through dozens of oscillating nozzles, the infill was loosened, lifted and steered into white bags by a screw conveyor. “We’re filling the first bag of infill, and the material is coming out purple and red, and the dust is flying everywhere, and we’re thinking to ourselves, ‘What is going on here?’ ” recalls G9 Turf president Grant Hendricks Jr.
Though his company bowed out of the uber-competitive installation market, Hendricks considers all of the infill systems available today to be “varying degrees of good.”
“Everybody has their own twist, but that doesn’t affect us with regard to maintenance,” he adds. “Anything that’s out there gets compacted. Every field, regardless of the infill, needs maintenance.”
How quickly a field gets compacted will depend largely on how rigorously it is used. “There are some high schools where all they do is play football on that field, and if it’s maintained properly, it will last forever,” Hendricks says. “But then you go to New York City, where they have dozens of synthetic turf fields that get 24/7 usage, and they may only last three or four years, because they get so much traffic. Every opportunity is unique, depending on the amount of traffic and what’s actually being done on the field.”
“Most often, maintenance is determined by the amount of use a facility gets and its available resources,” Dorney says. “It differs by manufacturer. Some manufacturers recommend that a field is brushed or cleaned every 80 hours of use, but some owners, if they have a tow-behind unit, are out there cleaning it before every football game.”
How much can field owners expect to invest in the upkeep of their initial six-figure synthetic turf investment? SMG’s SportChamp, which is employed by field owners, manufacturers and contractors alike, costs roughly $45,000 with three front attachments and a rear leveling brush. (Up to 15 attachments, including everything from metal-gathering magnets to snow-removing plows and blowers, are available.) And while the nearest NFL franchise to Dorney doesn’t own a SportChamp, each of the Seattle area’s largest school districts — with multiple fields to maintain — does.
For those who choose to contract with a maintenance service provider, Hendricks says field owners would be well covered by budgeting $10,000 to $15,000 annually for independent G-max testing and four or five maintenance sessions. “The return is amazing. Not only is the field going to last longer, but it’s going to be safer,” he says. “Maintenance is not a big-ticket item, but it’s a critical item. You just can’t afford not to do it.”
COMPREHENSIVE MAINTENANCE OPTIONS
Comprehensive maintenance generally includes the use of specialty maintenance equipment by trained maintenance professionals. Depending upon the situation, the following actions may be performed
- Professional field inspection and corrective action — Assess the field surface, especially heavy-wear areas, identify weak or loose seams and inlays, and repair the damage. Sport performance testing may also be desirable.
- Decompaction of infill — Infill decompaction is important for improving shock absorption and synthetic turf drainage. Use only equipment specially designed to decompact and create loft in infilled synthetic turf systems.
- Redistribution and leveling of the infill — Measure infill depth on a grid pattern, and add and level infill as needed to return the surface to the field builder’s specifications.
- Deep Cleaning — Use special equipment that combines mechanical brushing, suction and an infill-return system to remove surface debris and embedded contaminants.
- Metal removal — Use a magnet attached to your maintenance equipment to remove ferrous metal objects from the field.
- Weed and pest treatment — Treat with herbicides or pesticides, as required.
- Partial removal and reinstallation of infill material — Remove the infill, as necessary, to get rid of embedded foreign matter that has contaminated the infill system, relieve grass fibers that may be trapped in the infill, or improve drainage.
ONGOING MAINTENANCE MUSTS
The basic components of effective, routine maintenance are to:
- Conduct inspections and perform minor repairs to avoid playing hazards.
- Keep the playing surface clean and free of debris and contaminants.
- Check and maintain proper infill levels to provide a consistent surface.
- Brush the surface to preserve appearance, keep grass fibers upright, and maintain even infill levels, making sure to use only approved bristles that will not overly abrade the fibers.
- Maintain a maintenance and activity log.
SATELLITE TECHNOLOGY ASSISTS GROUNDSKEEPERS
Most motorists can’t imagine life without GPS, and some literally find themselves lost without it. It may be too soon to say the same about the professionals and volunteers entrusted with maintaining sports fields, but satellite-assisted equipment has nonetheless made certain turf care tasks easier than ever.
Environmentally Friendly Athletic Field Maintenance
College campuses nationwide are getting greener, focusing on environmental sustainability, from designing LEED-certified buildings to launching zero-waste recycling campaigns and taking "Carbon-Neutral" pledges. College athletic programs are doing their part, increasing energy efficiency through the use of LED lighting and alternative energy sources, reducing water consumption and implementing gameday recycling programs.
Plant-Based Infills Gain Traction in Turf Market
The driving question for synthetic turf manufacturers has long been, "How do we build fields that best mimic natural grass?" But an increasing number of companies — not only turf system manufacturers, but others that don't deal directly in the marketing of turf fibers — are asking a different question, "How do we replace crumb rubber as an infill?"