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Cost Comparison

Cost Comparison: Natural Grass, Sod vs. Synthetic Grass, Artificial Turf

The total cost of ownership of a natural sod lawn far exceeds the cost of a synthetic grass lawn over the warranty period of the artificial turf grass product. Most manufacturers’ warranties are 10 years for synthetic grass by U.S. manufacturers of the product. Expected life is 12 to 15 years for polyethylene based synthetic grass products made by quality U.S. manufacturers. To begin, most people underestimate all that is entailed when installing a desirable quality natural sod or specialty turf grass lawn, such as Bermuda, Paspalum or Zoysia. This document will analyze the quantitative and qualitative costs and benefits between the two alternatives — natural sod vs. synthetic grass — for a lawn.

Let’s start with identifying the required tasks, variables and criteria associated with installing a natural grass or sod lawn.

  • Preparing the site area where the sod will define the lawn areas of the landscape. Whatever is growing there now needs to be removed. This can be done using chemicals to kill the undesirable grass or plants so they can be scrapped from the soil using machines or hand raking. Another method is using a sod cutting machine and/or skid steer (Bobcat) type machine.
  • Haul away and disposal of all the debris generated in Step 1.
  • Grade the existing substrate soils to level the area and/or slope appropriately for drainage purposes. Add yard drains or French drains where needed.
  • Install new irrigation system or retrofit and replace existing irrigation system to adequately water the lawn areas.
  • Add soil, fill dirt and/or soil treatments to prepare the soil for new sod. Soil treatments range from pre-emergent chemicals to prevent unwanted weeds or grasses from popping up to fertilizer nutrients to enrich and balance the soil to support healthy growth of sod to be planted.
  • Finish grade and compacting of sub-soil for sod installation.
  • Delivery of pallets of sod.
  • Installation of sod by landscape contractor or property owner.
  • Rolling and top dressing of sodded yard to fill in gaps, seams, etc.
  • Heavy watering and care to ensure new sod “takes” to the soil.

Next comes the ongoing maintenance associated with natural grass lawns. Upon consultation with quality landscape contractors, the following regime is required to adequately care for a quality natural grass lawn.

  • Weekly mowing.
  • Four (4) days per week watering / irrigation.
  • Quarterly fertilizer (weed & feed) treatment.
  • Bi-annual (every 6 months) insecticide, pesticide treatment as well as fungicide treatment.
  • On as needed basis, additional fungicide and pesticide treatment to deal with inevitable “outbreaks of fungus or insects” that are attacking the lawn.
  • On as needed basis, re-sodding of dead or diseased lawn areas. Another contributing factor for re-sodding is active use by pets, kids, sports or social events that simply “wear out” the natural grass areas.

*Additional frequency of service may be required for specialty turf grasses such as Bermuda, Paspalum or Zoysia turf.

**In Florida, most landscape contractors charge 2 to 3 times as much to maintain specialty natural turf vs. common Floratam St. Augustine grass.

As you can see, the amount of work, service and expense is significantly more than most people think when one takes a comprehensive look at the whole cost of ownership of natural grass.

Let’s take a close look at how the numbers pan out in these case examples. The following assumptions were made for this analysis:

  • Mowing, Fertilizing, Pesticides applications, and Sprinkler/Irrigation repair costs are based on the average paid to maintain a certain size lawn by a professional lawn or irrigation service contractor.
  • The cost to maintain different TYPES of sod varies dramatically. In Florida, the cost to maintain common Floratam St. Augustine is about one-third as compared to Bermuda, Paspalum or Zoysia. If you want that “country club” looking lawn grass, expect to pay at least double in overall maintenance costs.
  • Calculations are based on what it takes to realistically keep up a HEALTHY, LUSH, NATURAL grass lawn; not a neglected one full of weeds, dead or worn spots, disease and bugs. What it really cost to have a lawn looking great year round the result gained with a synthetic grass lawn.
  • Conservative life span to compare to expected life of synthetic grass is set at 10 years.

What are the one-time, startup costs of installing natural grass?

  • Site prep of the designated lawn areas. Removal of unwanted weeds, grasses, or plants. Installation of drainage and additional soils. Soil treatments.
  • Irrigation system: installation of new system or renovation of old, existing system. Automated irrigation system cost vary on a per sq. ft. basis depending on the size of the job and unique characteristics of the site. A comprehensive irrigation system includes pumps, timers, control valves, PVC pipe runs, sprinkler heads, labor and materials. A well may need to be dug if using well water for irrigation.
  • Sod installation: delivery and installation of sod.

Analysis based on 12,000 sq. ft. Burmuda or Paspalum natural grass lawn

Item Description Expense Annual Year 1 Year 10
Site prep of existing grounds $3,000 One-Time $3,000
Sod installation of quality Paspalum sod, materials & labor $16,800 One-Time $16,800
Irrigation system (new) capable of supporting 12,000 sq. ft. lawn $12,000 One-Time $12,000
Total Startup Costs $31,800   $31,800
Mowing and Edging $14,400 Recurring $14,400 $144,000
Fertilizer applications $1,800 Recurring $1,800 $18,000
Pesticide, Fungicide applications $1,200 Recurring $1,200 $12,000
Re-sodding work (one pallet per year) $700 Recurring $700 $7,000
Watering cost $1,200 Recurring $1,200 $12,000
Irrigation system repairs $600 Recurring $600 $6000
Total Recurring Maintenance Costs $19,900   $19,900 $199,000

Total cost of ownership of 12,000 sq. ft. Bermuda or Paspalum lawn over 10 year period equals $230,800! ($31,800 one-time + $199,000 recurring) Of course, this is understated as we assume no inflation! It is reasonable to expect maintenance costs to increase at least 3% to 7% per year compounding annually over the 10 year period.

So let’s now evaluate the cost comparison if installing synthetic grass.

What are the one-time, startup costs of installing synthetic grass?

  • Site prep of the area to receive base materials (crushed rock aggregate, compactible)
  • Installation of base materials.
  • Delivery and installation of synthetic turf materials including seaming, shaping and securing of the synthetic turf.
  • Infilling the synthetic turf grass with silica sand (dust free, sterile) to perform the function of supporting the turf fibers, adding ballast (weight) to the turf, cooling the turf, and protecting the backing that holds the turf fibers in place.

Assumptions used in analysis of case example of synthetic grass are:

  • Quality, mid-grade synthetic grass with specification of 1 ¾” pile height, 60 oz. sq. yd face weight, urethane backing, 10 year turf manufacturer warranty turf product.
  • 4 inches of crushed aggregate base material being installed.
  • Same site prep scope of work as used in natural grass case example.
  • Top quality synthetic turf contractor with 10 plus years experience pricing with 2-year installation warranty.

Analysis based on 12,000 sq. ft. of installed synthetic grass, SWG 60 Bolt by Southwest Greens. http://www.swgreens.com

Item Description Expense Annual Year 1 Year 10
Site prep of existing grounds $3,000 One-Time $3,000
Installation of base materials $24,000 One-Time $24,000
Installation of turf system, all materials & labor $72,000 One-Time $72,000
Total One-Time Cost $99,000   $99,000
Blowing off turf with leaf blower, hand rake heavy debris $600 Recurring $6,000 $6,000
Total Recurring Maintenance Cost $600   $600 $6,000

Total cost of ownership of 12,000 sq. ft. synthetic grass, SWG 60 Bolt by Southwest Greens, over 10 year period equals $105,000. ($99,00 one-time + $6,000 recurring) Savings is $125,800 as compared to natural Bermuda or Paspalum lawn!!!

Key Quantitative Conclusions drawn from the analysis are:

Total 10 year cost of natural turf $230,800
Total 10 year cost of synthetic turf $105,000
Total RIO of synthetic turf investment 20%
Breakeven point of synthetic vs. natural grass 3.5 years

The numbers speak for themselves. There is significant savings, $125,800, earning an ROI of 20% when installing synthetic grass instead of natural grass. The numbers used in this analysis are based on South Florida market rates. Specific market rates for services, water, materials and labor vary depending on location. However, the framework for comparative analysis is here for you to use should you need to plug in your own numbers for your specific location.

Let’s now consider the Qualitative Benefits of installing synthetic grass instead of natural grass. They are:

  • Landscape design possibilities expand greatly when synthetic grass is part of the plan since synthetic grass doesn’t mind being in the shade. Natural grass needs sunlight to grow and remain healthy. This limits landscape design architects on what types of plant material can be designed into a landscape plan for a property. Alternatively, poor landscape designs where natural grass is perpetually stuck in the shade results in dead lawn areas that have to be replaced repeatedly.
  • 3rd generation synthetic turf grass products are remarkably realistic looking and replicate the look of “country club” grass lawns. Many variations of color blends exist with thatch layers and varying pile heights. Specialty turf is available for dogs and pets and rooftops.
  • Synthetic grass can withstand heavy use for many years and is used at top resorts across Florida, i.e.) W Hotel, Waldorf-Astorida, Marriott Hotels and Resorts, PGA National Resort & Spa. Synthetic grass is in use at these resort hotels around their pool areas, rooftops and golf related amenities to handle the heavy use without degrading.
  • Little to no maintenance! Natural grass maintenance is a constant struggle and largest challenge in the landscape of any property owner. Life is short. There are better things to do with our time than dealing with “lawn problems”.
  • The previous DISADVANTAGE about synthetic turf grass being TOO HOT has been solved. Thanks to Southwest Greens http://www.swgreens.com and Shaw Sports Turf http://www.shawsportsturf.com who have innovated HydroChill, a turf cooling product that yields 40 to 50 degree cooler synthetic turf surface temperatures. https://youtu.be/m8As-rUnOZA

For more information or any questions about this article, please contact Jim Walton or Bill Hatfield at Southwest Greens of Florida, phone (561) 694-1557, email: info@swgreens.com, website: www.swgreens.com

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