Need-to-know info for synthetic turf managers
With thousands of synthetic turf fields being installed each year in the U.S., it is essential that field owners understand the basic maintenance guidelines that should be followed in order to maximize the investment and benefits of a synthetic turf surface. Through a combination of regular maintenance and performance testing, a synthetic turf field will provide many years of usage. While the frequency of maintenance activities should be defined by the field builder, a general rule of thumb can be 10:1 – for every 10 hours of playing time there will be one hour of maintenance work.
Approach to maintenance
Maintaining a synthetic turf field is essential for optimum appearance, safety, playing performance and field longevity. There are many elements that go into maintaining a synthetic turf field, but a regular schedule should include surface cleaning; debris removal; grooming; and infill replenishment, redistribution and decompaction.
Understand who will perform the ongoing maintenance throughout the field’s useful life and what it will cost. The maintenance can be performed by field maintenance personnel, or outsourced to a qualified maintenance firm or the original field builder. In the event a third-party maintenance firm will be engaged, make sure it is preapproved by the field builder. The Synthetic Turf Council (STC) maintains a Buyers’ Guide as well as a Member Directory, which includes a listing of STC-Certified and other maintenance service providers, on its website (www.syntheticturfcouncil.org).
Before any maintenance work is performed on the field, the field builder should confirm in writing that the ongoing maintenance program, service provider and maintenance equipment are acceptable and comply with the warranty provisions.
Accepting your new field
Training – Field personnel should be trained on the synthetic turf warranty, the field builder’s maintenance guidelines and STC maintenance guidelines. Training should include information about the specific components and materials of the installed system; the proper use of the equipment to be used for synthetic turf maintenance; and steps to ensure optimal benefits are obtained while satisfying warranty requirements.
Expectation – For the first few months after installation there will be a period when the infill materials will settle into the synthetic turf after a period of initial use and rainfall. During this period, the field builder may advise more frequent brushing. Once settling occurs, check the infill depth for consistency around the field and to ensure it is within the field builder’s guidelines.
Using drag mats along with brushing the field can help distribute the infill evenly.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE SYNTHETIC TURF COUNCIL.
Testing – After the infill settlement period, conduct any on-site field testing that may have been specified during the purchase/bid process. This will help benchmark the performance characteristics of the field when it is new against tests throughout its useful life.
Protecting your field
Establish signage and local rules for field use to avoid field contamination and damage. Encourage coaches and players to rotate activities on the field to prevent high-wear areas. Keep trash and litter containers on-site and make sure there are enough containers to eliminate overflow. Route field access traffic to minimize the tracking of mud and dirt onto the field. Do not perform or engage any maintenance or other activity that may invalidate the warranty, and report any field damage to the field builder immediately. Damages need to be immediately repaired to avoid an escalating problem.
Ensure that a maintenance and activity log is maintained. This is often required by the warranty. It is important that each and every maintenance operation, no matter how minor, be recorded in the log. You can ask your field builder for a form, but, in general, the following information should be logged:
- Type of activity during week
- Estimated number of hours used during week
- Average number of participants per hour
- Type of maintenance activity performed
- Signature of maintenance supervisor
Ongoing routine maintenance
The basic components of effective, routine maintenance are to:
- Conduct inspections and perform minor repairs to avoid playing hazards.
- Keep the playing surface clean and free of debris and contaminants.
- Check and maintain proper infill levels to provide a consistent surface.
- Brush and groom the surface to enhance its appearance, keep grass fibers upright and maintain even infill levels.
A maintenance person should walk the field daily and conduct more detailed inspections according to the builder’s recommended schedule. Certain items can be critical to avoid permanent damage to the synthetic turf or safety hazards (such as foreign debris, low infill levels, open seams etc.) and should be checked regularly.
Keeping the playing surface clean can sound easy, but every loose object, no matter how small, can damage the field by scratching the grass fibers and/or contaminating the infill. For instance, leaves and other debris should not be allowed to remain on the surface for any length of time because they will seep into the system, inhibiting drainage and causing infill compaction. Some other basic cleaning tips include not allowing food and drinks on the field, removing animal deposits as soon as possible, and not using cleaning chemicals that contain alcohol or acetone solvents.
If the proper infill levels are not adhered to, grass fibers can become damaged. This is why checking with the builder on the recommended infill levels is vital to the overall performance of the field. Using drag mats along with brushing the field can help distribute the infill evenly. An informal way to measure infill depth and consistency is to drop a ball from a height of 6 feet and compare ball rebound heights at various locations throughout the field.
Brushing the synthetic turf field on a regular basis should not be overlooked or neglected. This helps to maintain uniform infill levels, keep the grass fibers upright, remove debris and improve the field’s appearance. Also, the flattening of grass fibers can accelerate wear and reduce performance. The field builder should advise you of the correct equipment to be used along with settings, frequencies and direction of the brushing and grooming of the field.
Comprehensive maintenance: Semiannual to biannual
Over a period of time, certain situations arise that may require the need for more comprehensive maintenance, including grass fibers becoming significantly bent, creased and flat; playing surface becoming hard and compacted; dirt, debris and metal accumulating; seams becoming loose; uneven/insufficient infill levels; and high-wear areas.
When these situations or other concerns arise, contact the field builder and/or any third-party maintenance contractor who is approved by the original field builder.
Comprehensive maintenance generally includes the use of specialty maintenance equipment by trained maintenance professionals. Depending on the situation, the following actions may be performed:
- Professional field inspection and correction action – To assess the field, especially heavy-wear areas, identify weak or loose seams/inlays and repair the damage. Sport performance testing may also be desirable.
- Decompaction of infill – Very important for improving shock absorption and synthetic turf drainage, involves creating loft in the infill material.
- Redistribute and level the infill – includes a detailed check of infill levels, adding infill and leveling the infill to the field builder’s specifications.
- Cleaning – A combination of mechanical brushing and suction removes surface and embedded dirt and debris.
- Metal removal – Use a magnet attached to maintenance equipment to remove ferrous metal objects from the field.
- Weed and pest treatment – as may be required.
- Partial removal and reinstallation of infill material – This may sometimes be necessary to remove foreign matter that has contaminated the infill system, relieve grass fibers that may be trapped in the infill or improve drainage.
Field rejuvenation: Every three to five years
As fields mature, the accumulation of unwanted or foreign contaminants is inevitable, especially deep within the infill layer. The top layer of the infill may become hard or break down from years of use and UV exposure, or events such as flooding or dust storms could cause contamination. When this happens to a synthetic turf field, full-field rejuvenation may be needed. This could include removal of the majority of dirty and contaminated infill; untangling matted and compacted fibers; a combination of reinstallation of new infill or the cleaning of the original infill and the removal of dust, debris and application of a disinfectant to treat for bacteria.
There are special circumstances that may require solutions on an as-needed basis. Temporary paints that are used for field marking should be applied only to the turf fibers and not to the infill. The paint should be removed and painted again after a maximum of four applications to avoid hard-to-remove buildup. Heavy rainfall can affect a field due to the potential for ponding, which can lead to clogged or damaged pipes or discharge outlets, base unevenness or infill surface tension. It is advisable to check the infill levels after a heavy rainfall in case of migration with the field slope.
In instances where snow and ice may accumulate on a field, it should be left to melt and drain off the system without assistance unless it has to be removed to make the field playable for a scheduled event. The working principle for removing snow is to do so as near to the event or game as possible. This reduces the likelihood of new snow buildup and will reduce the risk of ice from cold winds whipping across a damp, newly cleaned surface. If ice needs to be removed, it is essential to use only equipment with pneumatic tires to avoid damaging the field. Avoid using a tarp on the field during freezing weather, because tarps can freeze to the surface by means of condensation and can be difficult to remove for an event.
Synthetic turf usage considerations
It is important for a field owner to understand that certain activities, usage and other circumstances can affect the quality, wear and tear, appearance, warranty and performance of a synthetic turf field. If there are any doubts, the field builder should be consulted.
If properly maintained, a synthetic turf field can provide many years of usage. Due to the unique situation of each synthetic turf field installation, other issues may arise that are not included in these guidelines. Such considerations should not be ignored or minimized, but should be addressed by the field builder or industry specialists.
This article is excerpted from the STC Guidelines for Synthetic Turf Maintenance, revised September more information, visit the Synthetic Turf Council’s website: www.SyntheticTurfCouncil.org.