Cooling and cleaning synthetic turf

Photos Courtesy of kifco.

The largest trend in the athletic field industry over the last few years has been the shift from natural grass to synthetic turf fields. Once limited to a few professional stadiums, synthetic fields are now deployed in ever-increasing numbers at college, high school and even municipal athletic fields around the country. One reason for this shift is that synthetic turf fields are not subject to the wear and tear that continually plagues natural grass fields due to extended use and inclement weather. Faced with the constant challenge of keeping grass fields playable and finding enough usable field space to satisfy a growing demand for athletics and other recreational events, schools and other organizations have been willing to spend $1 million or more to install new, synthetic turf fields.

Not everyone, however, is comfortable with natural grass fields being uprooted so rapidly by their artificial imitators. Opponents have long claimed that the advantages that synthetic turf admittedly have do not outweigh some of their associated risks, which include high field temperatures on sunny days, and the potential link between synthetic turf fields and dangerous infections, such as the staph virus. According to a recent study by the University of Arkansas, artificial fields cannot be played on all the time due to temperature build-up on warm, sunny days. The study compared air, water, bermudagrass, sand, asphalt and synthetic turf surface temperatures to illustrate how dangerously hot synthetic turf can be during a sunny day. This study was one of several that found that temperatures could be 45 to 75 degrees higher on synthetic turf than natural grass when exposed to direct sunlight. Interestingly, a recent study conducted by the state of Connecticut concluded that significant cooling was noted for synthetic turf fields if water was applied to it in quantities as low as 1 ounce per square foot. Another issue raised by critics of synthetic turf is the link between artificial surfaces and an increased exposure by athletes and others to potential infection. “Athletes risk exposure to bacteria and infections if surfaces are not properly cleaned and disinfected of blood, sweat, spit and any other bodily fluids,” according to Dr. Michael Maloney, chief of university sports medicine at the University of Rochester in New York.

While there are literally mountains of data available from both proponents of and opponents of synthetic turf fields, a few things are clear. First, synthetic turf fields are here to stay, and they will continue to be installed because of the many benefits they provide. Second, synthetic fields need watering to provide cooling, rinsing and conditioning benefits. In support of this second point, the top synthetic turf manufacturers now either carry watering systems as part of their product offering, or provide water systems to clients that need or request them. Sprinturf, who has installed nearly 500 synthetic fields across the U.S., offers a water-cooling system called CoolSpray that, in their words, “eliminates heat issues with synthetic turf.” According to Jim McAllister, regional representative for Sprinturf, “Rinsing and dusting off the surface every week or two is a very practical idea. During hot summer months, water keeps the playing surface cool and comfortable, and prevents heat stress or dehydration.”

The question is, which watering system should be used on synthetic turf. Options include inground systems that utilize pop-up sprinklers installed at several points on or around the field, stationary guns around the periphery of the field or portable water reels that roll into place when needed. Water reels are portable, so they can be moved from one field to the next.

Messiah College, a liberal arts college nestled on 471 acres in south-central Pennsylvania, boasts some of the finest sports facilities in the country for small college athletics. When Messiah installed a state-of-the-art synthetic turf field for their lacrosse and field hockey teams, Grounds Services Manager Jared Rudy was also charged with investigating water systems to cool the turf on hot days, rinse away bodily fluids from the surface and condition the turf so athletes would avoid injury due to the field being too hard or too soft in certain areas. Having used Kifco Water-Reels for over 10 years to irrigate their natural grass fields, the grounds services staff was naturally drawn to using one for Messiah’s new synthetic field.

A Kifco Water-Reel.

It had the same advantages as what they were already using, except that it could water the field more quickly. This was important for Messiah’s field hockey team, because league rules require the field to be watered immediately before the game for playability and safety reasons. A wet field allows the ball to roll along the surface as intended rather than skip, which often occurs on a dry, hot surface.

Water-Reels can also reduce the heat caused by the recurring collision of sticks and a rubber ball on synthetic turf, which can potentially cause serious injury.

Regardless of whether you already have a synthetic turf field or are considering installing one at your school or in your community, you should know about the benefits of watering artificial turf, and the potential costs and dangers associated with not watering it.

Dave Fritzsche is vice president of sales and marketing at Kifco, Inc. Chris Clevenger is CEO, Kifco, Inc.