The lawn, before picture 1.

The lawn, before picture 1.

Artificial Turf & Putting Greens That Transform Your Yard

Why did we ultimately decide to add artificial turf?  Our natural grass was completely unusable, had trip hazards, and was a maintenance disaster requiring huge amounts of water.  (Note:  30% of my household water went to this little grass area!)  We live in Arizona where lawn care is very difficult and expensive.  Natural grass here attracts all sorts of critters, most notoriously scorpions which follow the water and their food to a lush watered landscape.  Artificial turf to the rescue!

  • Total Price:  $6,800.  This price doesn’t include landscape lighting, irrigation or general landscaping costs which are project specific and optional.  Prices may vary based on a variety of factors including project complexity, geography, time of year and others.
  • Time to Complete: 6 days.  Completion time will depend on your individual project scope and its size.
  • Level of Complexity: Medium-High.  This is not a project that you should tackle yourself.  There are a lot of specialized tools and skills required to achieve professional results.

The New Artificial Turf Design & Considerations

The lawn, before picture 2.

The lawn, before picture 2.

This area was not attractive, not very safe for young kids and in general not very functional.  It was the trifecta of awful.  These are the design criteria that we considered as we planned our new artificial turf.

  1. Increasing the Size of the Lawn.  We wanted to make the best use of the space we had and tie the lawn into the existing hardscape.  We brought the grass up to the edge of the existing hardscape, removed some of the plants that were surrounding the old lawn and used as much of the side-yard as possible.  To get a good visual we drug the back of our foot in the rocks to trace out the line.
  2. Removing the Grade (LEVEL IT).  Get the area as flat as you can prior to installation.  Once the curb goes in the general “level” cannot be changed more than a few inches here and there.  Spend the time or the money necessary to attain a level surface.  If you desire non-level features in your lawn area for aesthetic reasons, a chipping area or putting green, these designs need to be accounted for in the grading process.
  3. The lawn, before picture 3.

    The lawn, before picture 3.

    Landscape Lighting.  Landscape lighting design is an important feature of your new lawn.  Lights can highlight patio accents and provide safety for evening entertaining. You may need to add ore to your landscape or move some of the existing infrastructure.  In our case, we moved a junction box out of the middle of our new lawn area.  We were able to dig up the cables, move them and then re-bury them in a new location.  If you don’t have the extra cable to do this, you can splice in new cable or rerun cable so that you can move the junction box to a new location.

  4. Irrigation Updating.  Avoid sprinklers turning on underneath your new artificial turf or puddles forming from a drip system line that you  missed.  We located, removed, terminated and rerouted drip lines to make sure this didn’t happen.  I cut and capped the PVC lines that ran to the sprinklers too.  I left the control valves intact just in case a future owner wanted to put the real lawn back.

Build the Project Plan

The hardest part of the plan was finding a vendor that I liked.  Here in Arizona there were only a couple to choose from that had the experience I was looking for.  I ended up selecting the one that I thought was the best after discussing the project with them.  If you need a referral and you’re in the Phoenix area let me know.

We determined the most important aspects of the overall project.  We needed to decide what we could do and what would need to be done by our contractor.  We then determined the sequence of events and developed a rough schedule.  Frankly, I was blown away with how fast this project went from start to finish.

  1. Select Your Vendor(s) & Division of Work.  I interviewed two artificial turf installers and based my decision on price, scope and experience.  One key vendor selection criteria should be how much of the overall scope each is willing to own.  They may handle everything or just the lawn removal and installation.  Make sure you know who is going to do what in as much detail as you can.  Depending on your skill level and time available, consider hiring a second vendor to fill in the gaps.  On my project,  it was determined that I was going to handle the landscape lighting, the irrigation system updating, some of the plant removal and later plant additions.  The vendor I chose handled the old grass removal, grading of the site, curb installation, site preparation, grass installation and final clean up.  This basically left no critical component of the project without an owner.
  2. Understand the Sequence.  With the exception of the old grass removal, most of my work needed to be completed before the vendor could start.  I budgeted a full day after the grass removal for my jobs.  I added a second day as a contingency and I needed it.  The last two days were all vendor related so I could sit back to watch and  manage the project.
  3. Build a Schedule.  I used Google Calendar and plugged in all the dates and times.  It’s a rudimentary project planning tool but it works well for small to medium sized projects.  Make sure you don’t have unrealistic or very tight timelines.  You will have problems if  think you will run all the landscape lighting from 8-10 in the morning and have your curbing crew arrive at 12:00 noon.  Give yourself a little buffer since these things always seem to take longer than you thought.  Here is a sample schedule you can use to plan your project.  This might change dramatically if your project size is much larger or more complex.6 day simple lawn install schedule table

Go Time!  Lets Execute.

Grass removal.

Grass removal.

Once you have your design and plan it is time to get the crews started.

  1. Step 1:  Demolition (Old Grass Removal & Cleanup).  The crew should make quick work of removing all the old turf starting first with the hardscape if any and then moving on to the lawn.  My contractor brought this crazy machine that sliced the old lawn out about 2 inches down which they then shoveled up and hauled away. They were finished in less than four hours.
  2. Step 2:  Landscape Lighting & Irrigation.  (PHOTO IN GALLERY) Before the new curb and grass go down you need to run all new landscape light cables.  I added about seven light locations and changed some of the old lighting that had seen thirteen years of abuse from the sun and the gardeners.  I located and removed the drip system lines that had watered plants we removed.  I pulled the lines back as far as I could and terminated them.  Then I cut and capped the lines that fed that sprinkler system to the old lawn.  I took a few minutes to test everything.   Turn the drip system on to make sure it still works and that you didn’t inadvertently cut something somewhere.  Be sure to test your low voltage lines for landscape lighting with a volt meter.  There is nothing worse that finding out that something doesn’t work properly after the grass is installed.
  3. The curb installation.

    The curb installation.

    Step 3:  Site grading.  Remove slope from the grass area (unless its a design feature).  Even a slight slope can make the area unusable for certain things.  Completing this task can be accomplished with shovels but it might require heavier equipment.  It depends on how much dirt your are moving.

  4. Step 4:  Curb Installation.  The curb is usually installed by the artificial turf vendor.  They have a very cool machine that actually makes the curb.  I went with a 6″x 6″ curb to give it some weight.  You can choose a color for your curb but I was told to steer clear of anything with red tones since over time it turns pink.
  5. Step 5:  Lawn Installation:  Site Prep.  (PHOTO IN GALLERY) This is the fun day and likely the crew will be at your project site from sun up to sun down.  They start by laying down a thick layer of decomposed granite that they rake, water and compact down using a vibrating plate.  This will be the foundation on which the grass will be laid.
  6. Laying the fake grass.

    Laying the fake grass.

    Step 6:  Lawn Installation:  Putting Green Design.  (PHOTO IN GALLERY) This is the last design element before the crew completes the installation.  Our Project Lead drew an outline of our putting green on the compacted decomposed granite using a can of bright spray paint.   He also set the cups out in a design that he thought was optimal for that area.  Then he asked us to walk around and see if we liked it.  This is your last chance to make changes to the design.

  7. Step 7:  Lawn Installation:  Laying the Artificial Grass.  Once the final design is complete and you agree it is the way you want it, they start the installation.  The install is similar to how carpet is laid in your house.  The difference is that they use galvanized nails to hold the grass down to the ground.  In our project they seamed in two different types of grass.  One is longer and greener and is used for the the general area and the fringe of the putting green.  The shorter grass is used for the putting area.
  8. Apply the sand.

    Apply the sand.

    Step 8:  Lawn Installation:  Applying the Sand & Rubber Pellets.  Once the grass is  nailed down it is time to lay down high quality sand and colored pellets.  This is a time consuming process.  They made numerous passes with natural sand and then colored sand.  As the sand was being spread the rest of the crew were working the sand into the turf with motorized brushes.   The sand forces the grass blades to stand upright rather than laying flat.  On the green they worked in enough sand so that the green is rolling true and fast.

  9. Step 9:  Lawn Installation:  Roll it Out.  The final step involves a rolling machine to roll the entire green ensuring that it is flat and true.  This involved occasionally adding  sand and more motorized brushing.
  10. Step 10:  Clean Up.  They swept, blew the backyard to get rid of residual sand and dust, swept the front yard and VIOLA!  The yard had a new maintenance free lawn.
  11. Step 11:  Optional Upgrades:  I decided to add about 1,500 lbs of landscape rock since I had some bald spots and I planted about five plants along the back wall.  That is it.  Now it’s time to enjoy.

Closing the Project & Review

The finished grass installed for golf turf

The finished grass 2.

This lawn is amazing.  It does not feel like real grass when you walk or sit on it but the benefits more than compensate for the loss the feel of natural grass We are outside far more than we used to be and the kids absolutely love the area for playing.   Maintenance is a complete breeze but invest in a blower if you don’t already have one.  If all goes well, my putting stroke should improve too.  The functional aspects and the aesthetics of this lawn are amazing. The entire yard pops with a constant and perfect green grass area.

Some other advantages include:

  1. Lower water bill. I cut 25% usage overnight.  No more endless watering and seeing those sprinklers pop up every morning to soak the area.
  2. Lower maintenance costs. No more fertilizing, mowing, etc.
  3. Less dirt in the house.  Less dirt being drug into the house from the dog, kids and family. Very clean!

Let me know if you have any questions.  Happy artificial grass installation!