Ersatz grass


by DeAnn Rossetti

Mercer Island Reporter

Imagine yourself lying down on a carpet of green. It's soft, springy and completely devoid of bugs. It requires no mowing, thatching, seeding or spraying. It won't wear out for 30 years, and it won't shred, mildew or become infested with crane flies.

Is this a dream?

Actually, it's Dream Turf, a new kind of artificial grass that looks and feels like the real thing, without all the hassles of a living plant.

``My yard used to look like this,'' says Tommy Frankhouser, pointing to an ugly brown lawn full of half-dead weeds. ``I used to keep it up, but with the water shortage and the fact that we are not allowed to spray, I said the heck with it, something has to be done.''

So when Frankhouser saw an ad in a magazine for Dream Turf, (the product itself is actually called Field Turf), he decided to check it out.

Frankhouser spoke with John Davidson of Dream Turf, and they worked out a plan for the lawn.

Davidson and his team then set to work. First, they removed the existing grass and then graded the lawn. The technicians put down landscape fabric, a woven fiber material that keeps weeds from growing. Then a base of crushed gravel was added and compacted, followed by the addition of the Field Turf, long blades of polyethylene and polypropelene, coated with UV protection that are anchored with sand and ``Nikegrind'' which is made from recycled sneaker and tire rubber. This ``infill'' keeps the blades standing and provides an ``earth-like'' feel underfoot. Water filters through the turf down through the gravel to the compacted earth layer.

``Pets can't ruin it (with urine or feces), it won't fade with the sun, and geese won't go on it because they can't eat it, they don't like the taste,'' said Davidson. ``We've sold a lot of it to waterfront property owners because any pesticides they'd use on the lawn would go right into Lake Washington. Field Turf is better from an environmental perspective.''

The proud owner of the first Field Turf lawn on Mercer Island, Frankhouser said he's trying to convert his neighbors.

``My neighbor just bought sod and rolled it out, now he has to water it, mow and trim it, and I just watch him, shaking my head,'' said Frankhouser.

Although Mercer Island is one of the smallest water districts in King County, it has one of the highest water usage rates, according to Suzanne Ridell, utility supervisor for the City of Mercer Island.

``There are people who aren't batting an eye at water bills of $700 to $800 for two months,'' she said.

People have stopped at the sight of Frankhouser's green lawn and asked him what kind of grass he seeded his lawn with. ``I have the best yard in the neighborhood,'' he laughed.

The fake lawn isn't cheap, however. It runs $11.75 per square foot for a small yard, including sod removal.

``The average lawn would cost $9,000, but the bigger the lawn the cheaper the price per square foot,'' said Davidson. Field Turf is guaranteed against fading and wear for eight years, and has a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years.

Field Turf does have an Achilles' heel, however. ``It's not flammable, but you don't want to throw a cigarette butt on it or have an open fire, (like a barbeque) on it, where embers might land,'' said Davidson. ``It would melt. But if that happens, it can be fixed.''

The Seahawks and Husky Stadiums both have Field Turf, because it is reputed to cause fewer injuries to players than AstroTurf.

Field Turf has been around for 30 years, but it was mainly used on tennis courts, soccer fields, etc., explained Davidson. ``Then 10 years ago, former CFL quarterback John Gilman became the CEO, and he took it to the next level, doing football fields and residences,'' Davidson said.
Meanwhile, Frankhouser is enjoying his green lawn -- and thinks it will pay for itself within a few years.

``We love it,'' he said. ``I don't have to do anything to it, it's self-maintaining, and I'm at the age where if something happened to me, my wife could care for it herself. It always looks beautiful, like it's just been watered.''

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