Choosing the best option for your field
While it seems the industry has reached a consensus that synthetic fields are low maintenance, recommendations can vary by supplier. As sports field managers determine the best methods for their field maintenance program, they are also exploring the expanded options for repair of these systems.
The Synthetic Turf Council’s “Maintenance Manual, Suggested Guidelines for the Maintenance of Infilled Synthetic Turf Surfaces,” was introduced in April 2007. While this is available on the Synthetic Turf Council (STC) website, STC President Rick Doyle says an updated version will be introduced by the end of the year.
With the synthetic turf system in place, decisions will have been finalized on subsurface drainage, padding, types of backing, fiber and infill and irrigation. The method and timing of hardness testing will have been addressed.
Over the last few years, the equipment available for synthetic field maintenance has broadened greatly from the initial offerings of grooming units with static brushes installed on a metal frame. These machines are designed for grooming, generally after 80 to 100 hours of field use, with the goal of standing up fibers and re-leveling any foot impressions.
Other grooming equipment includes tines with a type of brush. The tines are designed to pull through the infill material and the fibers, loosening and leveling the infill while grooming the fibers. Another category of equipment is designed for deep cleaning. It reaches into the top level of infill material lifting it up onto a screening system that retains the debris, including broken fibers and trash, and injects the infill back into the field.
Another option, CushionFall Sport, encapsulates the rubber in green, like an M&M, reducing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Kent Rotert, director of marketing and sales for the company, says, “We point to the aesthetic advantage of the green color over the dark rubber for those watching play on-site or on television. From a maintenance standpoint, water will flow through our product faster due to the nature of the coating, and there’s not as much static cling.”
Every synthetic surface system is unique due to site-related factors, environmental conditions, the components of the subsurface materials and of the selected synthetic system, as well as the scope of field use. Facilities should check their supplier’s recommendations when making maintenance decisions from equipment and product selection to use frequency and timing.
Manufacturers, installers, facility owners and the sports field manager should work together to determine the most effective maintenance program for each synthetic field, and then make sure the sports field manager has the equipment, personnel and resources to carry it out.
Jim Dobmeier, president and founder of Surface America, Inc. and A-Turf, Inc., says, “We use rounded or semi-rounded sand and a clean rubber in a slightly larger granule for our infill and combine that with the increased fiber count of a higher gauge material. The infill height leaves approximately .5 inch of the fiber tip exposed. The nature of the infill resists compaction. The density of the fiber traps the infill in place. On all of our field systems, we do recommend grooming every two weeks or so, depending on the use and appearance, using a brush that just works through the fibers to keep them upright. We don’t recommend tining on any of our fields. We suggest a Parker sweeper for debris removal.”
Darren Gill, vice president of global marketing for FieldTurf, says, “While we offer multiple synthetic turf systems, our maintenance recommendations on all of them are identical. We call it the BARS system, which stands for brushing, aerating, raking, and sweeping. This fail-safe system ensures optimal performance for all of our turf systems.”
Jay Crider, eastern U.S. sales manager for Shaw Sportexe, a Berkshire Hathaway Company, says, “We offer multiple synthetic turf systems designed with the increased fiber of a higher-gauge product for performance, aesthetics and longevity. Specific maintenance recommendations vary per field type and use, but generally we suggest brushing about every two weeks. Equipment operators need to be careful not to be overly aggressive to the fibers during tining. We base the determination for that procedure on the visual appearance of the field and the feel of it underfoot, and may suggest using the tines once or twice a year. Timing might be prior to the fall season and/or after the snow load has cleared in the spring. We put deep cleaning in a category of exceptional maintenance that we might suggest for the first time in years three to five based on field conditions. Use after that would go by the same criteria, so we’d probably not suggest it every year.”
Preventive maintenance should include walking the field, preferably daily, to assess conditions and scout for problems such as debris, uneven infill or loose seams. The infill should be at an even level across the field surface for safety and playability. The infill can migrate, especially in heavily used sections of the field. Typically, suppliers provide the facility with infill material following the installation, and their recommendations for its use should be followed.
Crider says, “We recommend maintaining the infill level within .5 inch of the tip of the fibers. Material may need to be leveled from edges where migrating infill has built up or additional infill may need to be added. We suggest a push broom or leaf rake with the tines turned up be used for this task.”
To glue or sew is a matter of preference. Many sports field managers base that decision on the method used during installation. If seams were sewn, they repair by sewing; if seams were glued, they glue. With the heavy-use schedules on these fields, time is often a factor. For a small repair it may be faster and easier to glue.
Crider says, “The fields come in 15-foot-wide panels that are either sewn or glued together. We prefer the sewing method on our seams, with gluing used for inlaid areas, such as the circle in soccer or the crease in lacrosse. One method is to cut out the entire area and place a wide piece of tape material as the base to re-glue the inlay. Another method is to shear out the fibers they don’t need and glue the inlay on top of the sheared area. Typically, both sewn and glued seams hold up quite well. Problems are more likely on the inlay if the piece wasn’t set in properly or too little glue was used.”
Installation contracts usually detail procedures for handling large area repairs. Most suppliers recommend facility owners take a proactive role in handling small area repair and provide instructions on the process. Some suggest specific products be used. Crider notes that Shaw Sportexe now provides a spot repair kit.
Glue suppliers provide options to address multiple repair needs. Norris Legue, president of Synthetic Surfaces, Inc., says, “All of our NORDOT Adhesives have basically the same properties after they cure. Their differences are handling properties during installation and repair. Both NORDOT Adhesive #34P and #34N-4 are excellent for repair work in both hot and cold weather, because repairs are quicker with them due to their faster development of high green strength (high grab).”
Rick Firrera, turf product manager for Chemical Concepts, Inc., recommends the company’s Turf-set 718 synthetic adhesive, the same material used for installations, when 1 or 5-gallon amounts are needed. He says, “For smaller repairs, we’ve introduced the TURF-SET Turf Rapid Repair Kit. It includes a two-part, self-mixing adhesive system with the adhesive cartridges, a specially designed gun-type applicator, applicator tips, seam tape and a notched trowel, along with easy-to-follow instructions. It’s classified as nonhazardous, so it can be delivered as an overnight shipment when necessary.”
According to Mal Maher, owner and CEO of Turf Sewing Machine, the hand-held sewing machines are designed for portability so it’s easy to use them at the field site. He says, “The sewing machine is a one-time purchase for years of use. They have to buy glue every time they make a major repair. For those making multiple installations, handling major repairs and with many synthetic fields within their facility system, it’s more cost effective to buy a machine.”
Surface preparation is essential for any method of repair. Crider offers these tips on starting the repair process: “When an inlay has become exposed, the rubber infill gets between the carpet and the tape area. That needs to be cleared away to prepare the area for repair. Most of that material can be vacuumed out with a wet/dry vacuum. Follow that by brushing with a small paint brush and then, if needed, a blast of air from a can of compressed air.”
When gluing, use adequate amounts of the selected product and apply it according to directions. “Trim any uneven edges while you’re doing the cleanup before you start working with the adhesive,” cautions Firrera. “When using a seam tape fabric, make sure it is rough (fuzzy) side up. Use a .25-inch, notched trowel to evenly spread the adhesive on rough tape; a 1/8-inch notched trowel to spread it on smooth turf backing.”
Crider suggests applying the adhesive about 1/8 inch thick. He says, “You want enough adhesive so it bonds onto the tape as well as the back of the carpet, but not too much or it will push out through the seam when you apply the turf to coated fabric and push down to firm it in place. On small repairs, I usually press it down with my foot. Use a rag to immediately clean away any excess adhesive, otherwise it will harden and feel different underfoot. Then, take the excess infill material and redress the rubber into the area you’ve repaired, making sure it’s level with the surrounding turf.”
Firrera says, “Place something relatively heavy, such as sandbags or bricks, on top of the repaired area to hold the turf in place while the adhesive cures. With our kit, we recommend removing the weights after two hours, based on ambient temperature of 75 degrees. Under 75 degrees, we suggest waiting three hours to play on the turf.” That will vary with the type of glue used, so follow supplier directions precisely.
Suppliers agree, proper installation, from the foundation through the surface and the infill application, makes maintenance and repair easier to accomplish, and the end results much better.
The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.