Do you love the idea of a maintenance-free yard, but don’t want to have a hardscape design? Or maybe you just live in a low-water area, where owning grass isn’t ideal. The good news is that you can still have grass without the maintenance or water bill costs. How? Artificial grass. Since it first caught the public’s interest in 1966, it has seen leaps and bounds in its appearance, benefits, and availability. Now, it’s quickly gaining popularity among homeowners.
Going artificial still has its upfront expenses, so it’s important to know what those costs will be. Varying factors will affect the final price, and one of those factors is the material you choose. To understand that, it’s necessary to first understand just what artificial grass is made of.
What is artificial grass?
Simply put, artificial grass is made up of plastics or polymers created to replicate the look of real grass. Similar to carpets, artificial grass has two layers of backing. The first is where the grass fibres, or yarn, are stitched into place. The secondary backing holds the artificial grass in place and is typically either a latex or polyurethane base. Once attached, the blades get trimmed to resemble the cut of real grass. Different coloured thatching, such as green or brown, can be chosen to create a more realistic appearance.
Since its development, it has come a long way with mimicking the look and soft feel of natural grass. Think of luxury vinyl flooring and its ability to resemble real hardwood; it offers all the benefits but without the maintenance or worry. That said, lower-quality artificial grass or certain materials will still have that shiny, fake plastic appearance.
The upfront cost of artificial grass and higher-quality materials is much more expensive than it is to choose sod. Still, the long-term savings can make up for the cost. While it may be tempting to choose a cheaper option, it isn’t worthwhile for a long-term investment. After all, artificial grass can easily last between 10-15 years, so you should always choose quality. To help do so, you should know the signs and downsides of low-quality artificial grass.
Signs of low-quality artificial grass
While both latex and polyurethane are options for backing, polyurethane is the recommended choice. Despite adding a nice spongy feel, cheap or insufficient latex will result in having to replace the artificial grass prematurely. Instead of a long-lasting yard, you’ll have to pay extra on unexpected repairs as the latex deteriorates. With polyurethane, though, it doesn’t degrade, meaning it never needs to be replaced. Despite being the slightly more expensive option, it is lighter and so easier to install.
Thin grass fibres are another sign of low-quality and one that also takes away from a realistic appearance. Thicker and wider grass blades are more durable and will retain their shape even after being walked on. They also look much more realistic, so your lawn won’t have a fake appearance. To quickly check the fibres, shine a light onto them. High-quality won’t let any light pass through, while low-quality will.
A final test is to tug on the fibres in the centre of the artificial grass to test its resistance and any yard loss. Some loss is okay to expect, but an excess amount is a warning sign. Poor-quality backing, such as low-grade latex, means there are less stability and strength in your artificial grass. Over time, more fibres will come loose, and your lawn will quickly thin. The replacement cost for this won’t be worth the initial savings from choosing a cheaper option.
The process of installing will also play a role in the cost of artificial grass. That includes the pre-installation stages, such as removing old sod and preparing the ground before laying the artificial grass. Removed sod can either be relocated, used as compost or even sold to other homeowners. Following this, 3-4 inches of topsoil must be removed to allow space for the new artificial grass. This stage is also important to ensure that no future weeds spring up and cause unevenness or even damage to the artificial grass. Either use chemicals or lay down a weed barrier to help prevent any weeds from growing. Since soil tends to expand and contract with the weather, a sub-base is also added over the top of the ground. Typically, a mixture of gravel and sand is applied and compacted to create a secure and even level.
Once the preparation work is finished, the artificial grass can be applied, cut to shape, and secured with either nails or glue. For homeowners who want to save some costs and don’t mind a little work, the pre-installation stages can be DIYed. Removing sod may be better left to a professional if you want to resell it, though, and don’t have experience. However, preparing the soil or laying down a weed barrier can easily be done yourself.
Once your yard is prepped and ready, the cost of artificial grass can be addressed.
Professional artificial grass costs will range from anywhere between $5 to $20 per square foot to install, according to Home Advisor. Some factors and considerations will play a role in effecting that price. What company you choose, for example, or how large or small your backyard is will come into play. In general, there are three specific areas where prices are guaranteed: materials, labour, and the size of your yard.
The materials for artificial grass play a role in how realistic it will look, but it also affects the cost. Higher-quality material will cost more but lasts longer. In comparison, lower quality may be more affordable but at the expense of a reduced lifespan. Durability will also vary based on materials, which, depending on your needs, will be a factor. For materials, though, there is polyethylene, polypropylene, or nylon.
For the least expensive option, polyethylene only costs $1 to $2 per square foot to install. That said, this material isn’t recommended for high-foot traffic areas as it’s the least stable of the options. Its low durability leaves it prone to getting flattened and causes the grass blades to look damaged. All things considered, if you have a place in mind with limited foot traffic, such as for decoration around landscape features, this is a great option.
This material is the premium choice when it comes to artificial grass materials. It replicates both the look and feel of real grass and costs just slightly more, between $2 to $3 per square foot. For homeowners, this is the most popular option as it also offers the most benefits. It’s soft, comes in a wide range of colours, and can also work for a backyard sports field. The only maintenance needed is an occasionally rake or brush to lift the blades again.
Despite being the most expensive option, nylon offers the best in both strength and durability, making it the perfect middle ground. It is the most expensive option, though, and costs between $3 to $4+ per square foot to install. The benefit, though, is that homeowners won’t have to worry about heavy foot traffic since nylon is such a stiff material. That said, the stiffness of it doesn’t make it nearly as ideal for landscape uses. Instead, it’s a popular choice to pair nylon as a secondary base, to offer a polyethylene backed artificial grass more strength. Paired together, it provides twice the durability, appearance, and a long lifespan.
Artificial grass infill affects how soft or hard your artificial grass will feel when walked on and is part of material costs. The infill itself is added between the grass blades and helps add a fuller appearance and keep the blades upright. That, in turn, helps ensure your artificial grass has a longer lifespan. Depending on the company you choose, infill can range from sand, rubber, or even acrylic-coated antimicrobial infill, which is ideal for pet owners. The prices will vary depending on the type and amount you choose, so it’s best to talk to a professional. That said, while some homeowners opt against infill, it’s a recommended addition for longer-lasting artificial grass.
Labour and lawn size
The cost of labour will be higher or lower depending on the amount of preparation work and the size of your yard. Typically, professional installation will range from either $3 to $5 per square foot. Keep in mind, though, that this covers the removal of your old lawn, ground preparation, and installation. Depending on the size and shape of your yard as well, the process may be more or less complicated and involved.
Bender boards, for example, help create a crisp, clean edge between the grass and other landscape designs. These are optional but still recommended for a more aesthetic final appearance. If your yard has lots of curves and shapes, the artificial grass will need to be carefully measured and cut to fit into the layout.
Lawn size will also affect how long the work will take and how much artificial grass you will need to buy. For more extensive lawns, leaving the work to a professional is recommended. With their skill and experience, they’ll finish everything within 1-2 days. DIY, however, can easily take much longer and even cost more. Improper planning, buying too much material, or even the wrong material, are all possibilities for wasted money. To ensure quality and appearance, it’s worth investing in a professional artificial grass installation company.
The final cost: artificial vs sod
Altogether, the costs for materials, labour, infill, and any additions such as bender boards, will average around $12.50 per square foot. To calculate the cost for your yard, you simply need to calculate the cost based on your yard size.
Calculation: Square footage of yard x $12.50 per square foot.
For example, then, an average-sized 500-square-foot yard would cost around $6,250 to install.
Once you’ve installed the artificial grass, there shouldn’t be any added fees in the future like lawn maintenance costs. What you pay upfront with professional installation, will be the only expense. The money you once spent on watering, lawn maintenance, reseeding and fertilizing, won’t apply anymore. With sod, however, while it may be cheaper upfront, the maintenance costs are what quickly rack up the long-term expense.
Sod cost: Sod, on average, costs just $0.40 per square foot to install. This means that a 500-square-foot yard would only cost around $200. However, then there is the cost for weekly watering, fertilizer, aeration, and basic lawn care and maintenance. According to Home Advisor, within the first year of installing and caring for sod, it will cost just over $1,000. Year by year, there will still be additional costs to maintain that care and appearance. With artificial grass, there is eventually a payback period where you start recouping the cost. But, with real grass, there is a constant flow of money going out for lawn upkeep.
Appearances and features
There are a few other ways to customize the look of artificial grass as well as customize it to your needs. Different heights, colours, and even added features such as non-absorbent fibre for pet owners, can all be tailored.
The material will affect its appearance, but you can also choose additional styles to customize the final look. Height, for example, will depend on what your backyard needs may be. Short artificial grass won’t look quite as natural, but it is ideal for households with pets. It’s easier to find and clean up messes while allowing pets to play without causing damage. Medium height is the most common choice and offers the most natural appearance. It’s ideal for children, aesthetic appeal, and outdoor entertainment, as the soft padding makes it comfortable to walk on. Long grass will create a fuller looking lawn but be careful not to go too long. The heavier blades may be unable to stay upright, or the length will actually take away from the realistic appearance.
While homeowners typically choose a medium-length lawn, you can blend the heights to accommodate all needs. For example, if you have a backyard playground for your kids, use a shorter height for that area. The rest of your yard can have a medium length, so you get the best of both. Even balconies can have artificial grass for a plusher, natural-looking floor option.
Colours: Another appearance factor to consider is the colour of your artificial grass. Green is a natural choice, but you don’t want that colour to give away its artificial nature. Instead, choose colours that have a blend of shades. Different greens or even touches of brown will help give the grass a more realistic appearance. If you have short grass laid for playgrounds, you can choose brighter colours such as reds or blues. It won’t look like real grass, but a little pop of colour on a playground will make a visually fun addition for kids.
In addition to appearances, there are some other features to consider with your artificial grass.
UV protection: If you live in a hotter climate with lots of sunlight, it’s worthwhile investing in UV protection. Unprotected artificial grass will eventually fade in the light and even risk deteriorating. With UV-stabilizing, though, it will easily withstand high temperatures and sunny days.
Pet focused additions: If you have pets in your home, be sure to choose a non-absorbent fibre or acrylic coated antimicrobial infill. The fibre will help prevent any smells from being absorbed in the grass, which will also help with cleanups. Antimicrobial infill helps prevent any bacteria, mould, or mildew from growing in the grass, which protects your pets.
Fire protection: This is also key if you plan to use your backyard to entertain or plan to make the most of those barbeque and fire pit months. Most artificial grass comes with fire protection, so it’s worth double-checking that you choose one that does. Another added safety measure is to use sand as an infill to ensure any stray sparks get snuffed before they cause damage.
There are many benefits when it comes to choosing artificial grass, which often outweighs the cost. Over a 10-15-year lifespan, your home will benefit from monthly savings and less overall maintenance. Families with children or pets won’t have to worry about mud getting tracked inside or grass dying and leaving yellow patches. Environmentally as well, artificial grass is a great choice. Without the use of pesticides or fertilizers, the ground underneath will be much healthier. Likewise, without lawnmowers, there will be less air and noise pollution.
Although artificial grass also has nowhere near as much maintenance as real grass, it does need a little attention now and then. A simple brush will remove any leaves in the fall and help pull up any bent blades. Aside from that, nothing else is necessary!
DIY or pro
As with most things, a professional’s help is the recommended approach over DIYing a project. With artificial grass, the recommendation is the same. While there are stages that can be DIYed, such as removing old sod or preparing the ground, it’s better left entirely to a professional. They’ll know all the proper methods and have the right tools to ensure that your new artificial grass is installed perfectly and without any added expenses. It’ll also save you plenty of time and stress, as a professional will work quickly and efficiently with great results. Over its lifetime, artificial grass will offer its benefits and perks, so investing a bit more for ensured quality isn’t a choice where you can go wrong.