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Synthetic grass may be the way to go

By the time Central Point resident Oscar Carlson had a synthetic lawn installed last summer, the now 88-year-old figured he'd spent far too many sunny afternoons behind a noisy lawn mower.

Decades into retirement, Carlson received a flier in the mail advertising artificial turf. Though not something he might have considered, other than for a good laugh at anyone who would opt for fake grass, he checked into it.

Much to his surprise, it was a great idea.

Gaining leaps and bounds in popularity, synthetic turf does all the good things grass does — and none of the bad. Consider this. A perfectly green lawn that doesn't require mowing, stays nice all year and doesn't need to be weeded, fertilized or sprayed for bugs.

Carlson wound up having some 2,800 square feet of front and back lawn replaced by Home Country Club of Southern Oregon. Home Country Club owner Doug Norby says earlier renditions of synthetic grass might have been too similar to not-so-real looking sports fields, but new technology offers a range of blade heights, grass type and color.

While grass contributes some oxygen to the atmosphere, it detracts far more from the environment due to water and chemicals used to keep it green, and air pollution caused by lawn mowers.

"It's [synthetic lawn] actually one of the most environment-friendly products. There are no contaminants, no metals"¦ it's a very clean product that you don't have to mow, water or weed," Norby says.

For installation, old sod is removed and trucked away. A layer of crushed gravel is laid and compacted. Rolls of synthetic turf are brought in, rolled into place and staked around the edges.

Once in place, layers of sand — up to two pounds per square foot — or rubber infill are "power broomed" into place to ensure grass stands up straight and to hide the base of the lawn, creating a realistic look.

Homeowners have a range of grass types from which they can choose, from Kentucky bluegrass and fescue to rye. Grass is also available in a range of thicknesses and three basic heights, from "just cut this weekend," Norby says to "needs cut this week."

As far as existing sprinkler systems, says Ynot Lawns, Inc. owner Kevin Williams, sprinklers can be replaced with a drip system for irrigation of flower bed areas and trees. Or, keep sprinklers in place for the occasional spray down of the synthetic lawn.

Aside from the occasional rinse, maintenance duties include blowing fall leaves off come fall and using a push broom from time to time to fluff the grass blades back up.

One downfall, summer sun can render the lawn several degrees hotter than real grass would do.

"If there's any downfall, it's that it gets really hot in direct sun, but if you hit it with a shade cover, or spray it off, it cools right down. You just want to know that it tends to warm up before you let your two-year-old run out and play on it," Williams says.

Costwise, synthetic turf is not an immediate bargain.

"It is fairly expensive to put in. It's not a cheap replacement by any means," Williams admits.

By comparison, real grass costs around $2 per square foot to have installed. Both synthetic turf companies available to Southern Oregon quoted a range of $6 to $8 per square foot for installation, depending on installation requirements and type and height of grass desired. Synthetic lawns last up to 15 years or more. When replacement is needed, a basic foundation is already in place, so rolling a batch of new turf will cost far less than initial installation.

In addition, savings on chemicals and water bills will justify cost of an artificial lawn in as little as five years. Carlson, for one, is already realizing savings in cost and labor. To replace his fairly large lawn, Carlson spent just under $15,000.

"I think it was about $6.50 per square foot between the front and back and we're still really glad we did it," he says.

"There was a city garage sale last year and about 200 folks walked by, we had more people asking us about it"¦ I guess, for $15,000 we can buy an awful lot of water — it's not a profitable deal — but it looks like the real thing and I sure don't miss pushing the lawn mower."

Synthetic grass may be the way to go