Get your synthetic field ready for winter by cleaning, protecting and repairing it

Photo created by Liz Kight with photos by SpeedLuiz and Amarita/Thinkstock.

Your lawn gets seeded. Your house gets insulated. Your furnace might even get a tune-up. So what are you doing for the athletic facilities in your care as the cold weather approaches?

While it’s easy to jump right into the fall sports season, it’s also essential to look ahead. In many areas the football season will end as winter weather tightens its grip. Your field might head into hibernation as a result. Therefore, it’s essential to take a few days to make sure it’s ready for the long layoff and that you won’t have any problems that could worsen over the winter and be devastating come springtime.

We’ve already established that no sports surface, not even a synthetic turf field, is maintenance-free. For the field to look and perform its best year-round, it will need a maintenance program that runs year-round. Granted, maintenance should decrease in intensity as field usage decreases, but the oversight of your field should never stop entirely.

While the tips presented here are general, synthetic turf field managers are advised to contact the company that installed their field, which should be able to provide information from the manufacturer of that specific system.

Give your field C-P-R

Many field contractors advise a practice abbreviated C-P-R. (This differs radically from the first responder’s definition, but it’s a practice that could certainly prolong and enhance your field’s useful life.)

C is for cleaning

Keeping the field clean throughout the season is essential, but it’s just as important as cold weather sets in. Keep your field free of litter, leaves and all other debris. This actually serves two purposes. Debris left on the field for an extended period can decay and cause problems on the surface, including stains, slippery spots and more. Plus, it’s not hygienic to the athletes who play on the field.

Additionally, debris left on the surface can mask problems. The better a field manager can see the field, the better he can track any developing issues. Use a leaf blower to remove dry debris from the surface (be sure not to hold the blower nozzle too close to synthetic surfaces), and pick up anything that the blower can’t easily move. Treat stains according to the turf manufacturer’s recommendations.

Remove all food wrappers, soft drink cans and the like. This type of debris attracts pests like rats and mice, which are capable of damaging and polluting the turf surface and surrounding structures. These critters will become more determined with the approach of cold weather. Something else that attracts rodents is dog waste. Some dog owners will allow their pets to run free when it’s the off-season and they know athletes won’t be using a field. Take action to halt this type of usage immediately.

Regular in-season maintenance should include cleaning and disinfecting the turf. Use a product that has been formulated to combat mold and mildew and keep down odor-causing bacteria. If the field will be closed for the winter, disinfect it one last time before shutdown. Resume again as the weather warms up, or according to the directions provided by the product manufacturer.

Grooming the turf will enhance the appearance of the field and keep it in playable condition. This should be done throughout the playing season and at least once before the field closes for the season. In all grooming the goal is the same: preventing or remedying compaction of the surface, redistributing and leveling the infill, and bringing the fibers upright again.

Grooming the turf will enhance it and keep it in playable condition.

P is for protection

To return to the previous statement about the field not being monitored as heavily during cold weather, it becomes obvious that fields are vulnerable to damage in cooler weather. Sometimes the problem is malicious damage, such as vandalism. In this case the solution is to lock access gates to the field (where possible), and if the field doesn’t have motion-sensing light fixtures, then install some.

Sometimes, though, damage is caused by well-meaning individuals who just don’t understand that synthetic fields need special care. Make sure maintenance trucks aren’t driven over the field or the track, if one surrounds the field. Any machinery used on or near the turf should be kept in good mechanical repair so oil or other fluids won’t leak onto the field surface. Any vehicles that will be used should feature wide, soft tires, often referred to as turf tires, and should be driven slowly and carefully.

If you have questions about how to prevent damage, contact your installer, who should have more specific directions.

At least once a year (late winter/early spring and/or late fall/early winter), the field should be professionally inspected by a contractor or consultant and tested to make sure it’s playable.

R is for repair, and sometimes rehab

It’s everyone’s least favorite subject, and deservedly so. Synthetic fields require a substantial investment, and as a result owners often believe they shouldn’t be prone to damage. While synthetic fields don’t have many of the problems grass fields are prone to (they won’t get muddy and skinned, for example), they’re not impervious to problems.

The best way to keep repair costs to a minimum is to address issues as soon as they become apparent. For example, it might be tempting to put off a repair until spring; however, in the time it goes unaddressed, it can worsen and necessitate a far more extensive – and expensive – fix when it’s finally dealt with. In addition, a severe problem can impact the ability to use the fields, so having problems resolved quickly always pays off.

Be vigilant in looking for problems. Do a walk-through of your facility and keep an eye out for things like splitting seams, loose areas, or high or low spots, as well as places where the drainage system might not be doing its job. Areas where action is concentrated on the field, such as around the crease of a lacrosse facility, will show wear first. Although an experienced maintenance professional may be able to repair problems, you should consider contacting an installer for advice.

While you can’t head off every problem in every season, you can stay on top of new developments, and by doing so ensure that minor flaws don’t become major catastrophes. Make fall the time for doing pre-winterization work. By gearing up for the off-season, you’ll find the facility is more likely to be ready and waiting for your athletes when they take the field again.

Mary Helen Sprecher is a technical writer with The American Sports Builders Association, a nonprofit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators and users understand quality sports facility construction. The ASBA sponsors informative meetings and publishes newsletters, books and technical construction guidelines for athletic facilities including fields, running tracks, tennis courts and more. Available at no charge is a listing of all publications offered by the association, as well as the ASBA’s Membership Directory. For information, contact: 866-501-ASBA (2722) or