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The synthetic turf industry today is “booming.” There are more turf fields being installed than ever before, at locations that include everything from the local park to the NFL. Why the boom?
One reason is that the cost has come down. The current generation of synthetic turf is considerably less expensive than earlier versions. Additionally, there are many more options, so that a turf field can be built within the budgets of most organizations and institutions.
At the same time that the cost has been coming down, the product has been improved. Even some who were adamantly opposed to the older short pile nylon turf products have become advocates for the new long pile, in-filled turf, which looks and feels much like natural grass.
Another advantage of synthetic turf that is attracting attention is its lower maintenance cost as compared to natural grass. While turf is not maintenance-free, it requires much less care than is required to keep natural grass in optimum condition for play.
In some areas of the country, drought and/or water restriction is another force driving the installation of synthetic turf. Unlike natural grass, turf requires no regular irrigation, though for some sports at the highest levels, players may prefer a field that has been watered prior to play.
But, perhaps the most attractive characteristic of synthetic turf fields is that they can be used day-in and day-out without excessive wear. In many areas of the country, there simply are not enough fields for play. Where a natural grass field may be unusable when muddy or frozen, a synthetic turf field can be used, safely and without damage, in almost any weather. Where grass fields must be rested to recover from heavy use, synthetic turf fields are immediately available for the next activity. In short, the installation of synthetic turf maximizes the productive use of a field, providing many more athletic and recreational opportunities for a school or community.
With turf fields becoming less expensive, more user-friendly and offering greater use at a better cost per hour of use ratio, what’s the downside? This is a very new industry and, thus far, largely unregulated. To get the most value from a sizeable investment, an owner must take care in defining needs, exploring available options and making appropriate choices.
The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) can help. Founded in 1965 as the U.S. Tennis Court and Track Builders Association (USTC&TBA), the ASBA is the trade association for builders who specialize in the construction and maintenance of sports facilities, including tennis courts, running tracks, indoor synthetic surfaces and synthetic and natural turf fields. Manufacturers and suppliers of materials, design professionals, members of the trade press and others interested in sports facility construction participate as well. The membership includes individuals and companies in the United States and around the world. Its goal is to encourage and to uphold high standards of construction.
To this end, the Association offers informative materials to those about to embark on sports facility construction projects. These include technical and consumer oriented publications, including a series of construction guidelines.
This Buyer’s Guide, for example, will provide an overview of the process along with some basic guidance to the prospective owner to aid in making some of the decisions necessary in developing a synthetic turf project. A successful project will depend on:
Early in the project, an owner must decide on its scope. What sports or activities will take place on the field — football, high school or college soccer, band practice, lacrosse or others? The specific sports to be played on the surface may influence the appropriate length of turf, as well as the depth and type of infill.
At what level will these sports be played? The level of competition will determine which governing body and, therefore, which rules will prevail. Governing body rules will specify the necessary field dimensions and surface types, as well as the size of required runover areas.
Will a track surround the field? If so, which field events are planned and which of them, if any, will be placed in the infield? Note that some of the field events traditionally conducted in the infield, such as the hammer throw or javelin, will need to be relocated when a synthetic turf field is installed as they may damage the field.
Most multi-purpose fields will require some compromise between what is optimal for one program or sport versus the performance characteristics and requirements of another. Carefully defining needs and establishing priorities will go a long way toward insuring that the facility, once built, performs as well as possible.
How much can you afford to spend? Developing a budget may be the most difficult step in the construction process. You may have to make some concessions, but in order to make informed choices, you need to determine priorities. For example:
Remember that as in most projects, it is easy to spend more than you had in mind. Working within a budget involves considering various options and making informed choices, but choices don't have to mean compromising the end result. Knowledge of what factors are most important to the facility you are planning and a desire to seek creative solutions can bring the project in at a reasonable cost.
In budget planning, consider not just initial cost but long-term cost. Before committing to a turf project, be certain that you can afford the schedule of maintenance recommended by the supplier of your chosen turf system, as well as a reserve for eventual repair and/or replacement. It may be wise to consider a maintenance contract with the installer or with an expert maintenance company to keep your turf in the best possible condition and to extend its useful life.
It is often desirable to employ a licensed design professional, consultant or other expert to assist in planning, building or retrofitting a synthetic turf field. Depending on the scope of the project, employing the services of an expert can actually help control job costs by better translating the needs of the owner into proper direction for construction, and by helping to avoid costly mistakes. A professional architect, engineer or landscape architect, trained and experienced in synthetic turf construction, or an experienced installer, will help you identify your needs and refine that information to the specific requirements of your site.
An expert can assist you in determining the scope of work to be included in the job, in planning the facility, in determining a realistic budget for the project, in evaluating and comparing bids, in overseeing the work in progress and in solving any problems that occur during construction.
However, be sure to choose an expert with specific related experience. Third generation (long pile, in-filled) turf is relatively new to the marketplace. There are many design professionals, manufacturers, installers and others claiming expertise in this highly specialized field. In fact, anyone can claim to be an expert. It is important to research the credentials of your proposed consultant before choosing an individual or firm.
How do you locate qualified professionals? One way to do so is by contacting professional associations such as the American Sports Builders. The Association’s website at www.sportsbuilders.org, includes a searchable database of designers, suppliers and builders. Most design professionals who are members of the ASBA and many Certified Track Builders (CTBs) have expertise in the planning and design of turf fields. See the reference section of this Buyer's Guide for contact information for other organizations that may assist you.
Another way to find a qualified professional is by contacting colleagues who have recently completed similar projects and asking for a recommendation.
In any case, when you contact a prospective consultant, be sure to ask questions about the firm's experience in turf field design. Contact references and visit completed projects. Ask for proposals and compare them carefully. Be sure you understand what is and what is not included in the proposed contract. Finally, once you choose a professional, carefully negotiate fees and services and secure a signed letter of agreement or contract, which clarifies all aspects of your arrangement.
Where will you build? Before you contemplate new construction, be certain that you have an acceptable site. Whether new construction or replacement of a natural grass field, numerous factors to be considered make the design phase critical. If a running track surrounds the field, consideration must be given to meeting the needs of the track program, as well as the requirements of the sports and activities on the field. The number of sports (football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, etc.) and the level of play (juniors, recreational, high school, college or amateur competition) will affect the size of the field. An experienced contractor or design professional can help you to assess your proposed site, but the following general considerations apply:
For new construction,
Whenever a facility will be used for multiple sports or events, event-by-event design considerations will add to the complexity of the overall project and will have a significant impact on the size of site required and, possibly, on the cost of construction.
For retrofitting a synthetic turf field into an existing facility, the primary concern will be protecting existing structures during construction, which requires heavy equipment, substantial excavation and the delivery and placement of tons of material. Most vulnerable will be a running track that surrounds the field. If a track is present, the field contractor will need to bridge and protect the track surface and edge, and even with reasonable care, some damage may occur. Your budget should include the funds which may be required to repair the track once the field has been completed. In fact, if possible, it is advisable and cost effective to repair and resurface the track completely at the conclusion of field construction.
If the existing track has no curb, it will be necessary to prepare the inside edge for anchoring the turf. You should consult with both your design professional and turf contractor on the anchoring detail in a retrofit project. Tying together and coordinating track and field drainage also will be critical to the project’s success.
Most likely, it will be necessary to reconfigure the field events. For example, preliminary studies by UEFA (the European governing body for soccer) indicate that while the shotput and discus may be thrown onto synthetic turf, the javelin and hammer will damage the turf and should be relocated. The most suitable arrangement will depend on whether the D-areas will be surfaced with track material, coated with tennis court-type surfacing, left uncoated or covered with turf, as well as which events must be accommodated. The input of an experienced design professional will help to maximize the space utilization and coordinate the needs of the track program with the requirements of those sports that will use the field.
Accommodating the track, however, is not the only concern in reconstruction projects. The installation of an appropriate base for a synthetic turf field may necessitate a change in elevation for the field itself, which, in turn, will require that football goal posts, player benches and other structures on or near the field be re-set. A licensed design professional or contractor experienced in these projects will help the owner to identify in advance, and plan for, all the impacts of the field reconstruction project.
Another important choice in planning a field is the specific type/brand of synthetic turf. Today, there are many choices. At any given time, there may be more than 50 advertised brands, with new brands being offered every day and a nearly equal number disappearing.
It is important to research the brands you may be considering. Where is the product made and by whom? What is the relationship between the manufacturer and the installer, if any? Who carries the warranty and how long have they been in business? An experienced design professional may help you sort out and evaluate the advertising claims of various brands.
Synthetic turf products have been around for decades. The original turf, developed in the 1960s, consisted of ½” knitted nylon fabric installed over a concrete or asphalt base. By the 1980s, enhancements included a resilient pad to cushion the surface, as well as a sand-filled version, still used for tennis, putting greens and other sports. Third generation turf is a very different product. With the original synthetic turf, athletes and owners complained about rug burns (friction injuries from sliding against the stiff nylon and densely tufted polypropylene fibers) and “foot lock” and “turf toe” injuries. (On natural grass, when a player is pushed or slides, the force of his momentum may tear the turf from the ground. Densely constructed conventional turf system did not allow this to happen, resulting in injury.) Today’s longer fibers and loose infill, however, allow an interaction of forces similar to those found with natural grass. With more than 40 colors of green and various fiber patterns available, third generation turf feels softer and looks much like natural grass.
The important thing to note is that each brand of synthetic turf is a system, made up of similar but variable components, each of which plays a role in producing the physical properties and performance characteristics of that system.
These components include:
Base construction — The first step in constructing a synthetic turf field will be to strip the site, cut and fill to level, grade and compact the soil. Next, drainage pipes will be installed and connected to a collection system surrounding the field. Generally, a geotextile separation fabric then is installed to separate the subsoil from the base.
The base then will be constructed. The base provides a stable platform for the synthetic turf and aids in drainage. Two types of bases commonly are used for synthetic turf fields:
Either type of base will be designed for specific site conditions and to accommodate the local climate, especially freeze/thaw activity. An owner should not overlook the importance of base design. A well-engineered and well-constructed base contributes importantly to both the performance and durability of a synthetic turf system.
Shockpad — Some, but not all, synthetic turf systems incorporate an elastic layer, or shockpad, between the base and the turf. Various materials are used, including rubber mats and felt pads, as well as rubber granules mixed with polyurethane binder on site and laid with a paving machine.
Carpet (sometimes called fabric) — The carpet consists of a yarn or fiber (most commonly polyethylene, polypropylene or a blend of the two) of varying thickness (expressed in microns), which may be straight, twisted, curly or textured. Most commonly, the yarn is produced in sheets, which are split into thin strips or ribbons and then slit with razors to create multiple strands. The ribbons are then twisted together and tufted through a backing cloth to form the carpet. This type of carpet helps to stabilize and prevent excess movement of the in-fill. Alternatively, some carpets are manufactured from single strands of yarn, known as monofilament.
The quantity of yarn used and the distance between the tufts (or stitch gauge) will vary from system to system. Some systems use more yarn or closer tufts; others use more infill. Yarn quantity is expressed in units of tex, a ratio of mass to length, or in weight (ounces per square foot).
Backing cloths also vary. A good backing cloth is easily tufted, resists fraying, absorbs coatings, is UV and rot-resistant, and has high dimensional stability. This means that the finished product will not creep or stretch, minimizing line movement.
Once the yarn has been tufted into the backing cloth, coatings, including polyurethane and latex coatings, may be applied to the backing to help to hold the tufts in place (called increasing the “tuft bind”) and to increase the dimensional stability of the finished carpet. In some brands, the coatings are applied only to the individual tufts, leaving the areas between the tufts uncoated for drainage. In others, the entire backing is coated and the carpet then is perforated for drainage if designed for outdoor use. If perforated, the size, number and placement of perforations will vary from brand to brand. If carpet is to be used indoors and drainage is unnecessary, it may be ordered without perforations to increase its strength.
Once the carpet has been installed, the fibers may be further fibrillated to give them the look and feel of natural grass.
Seaming — Carpets are produced in rolls generally 3.5m to 4.5m wide (15 feet). These normally are laid across the field for its full width and seamed together. Seams may be secured by sewing, by use of adhesives, or both, with or without seam tapes, depending on the system. What is important is that the joints be neat, virtually invisible and durable.
Infill — The carpet then is filled with particulate material, the type and depth of which will vary from system to system. This so called “in-fill” holds up the long fibers in the carpet and contributes significantly to the performance characteristics of the system.
In-fill materials most often are granulated rubber or rubber and sand, either layered or mixed. The rubber may be styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) granules, black in color and produced from re-cycled tires, or ethylene propylene terpolymer (EPDM) granules, specifically produced to be granulated and available in black or in colors. SBR is considerably less expensive, but some have expressed concern because of the possible inclusion of contaminants, such as heavy metals, in recycled tire rubber. It is important to inspect the rubber being used on the project for these contaminants and for overall quality and conformity to the published specifications. Clearly, the components and the construction of synthetic turf systems vary. Depending upon the system, different components may play more or less of a role in the ultimate performance of the system. Some of the components described are incompatible with others. What is important is that the owner, with the help of knowledgeable experts, determine priorities and carefully query the manufacturer and/or installer regarding the particular components and some or all of the following characteristics of the proposed system:
Suitability for local weather conditions
Performance/Safety Properties (Preferred performance properties may be sport specific)
Traction — Rotational friction and sliding
Various governing bodies and other organizations have established tests and specifications for synthetic turf performance; some of these resources are listed at the end of this document.
Any budget for a synthetic turf field should provide for some testing. For example, a survey of planarity and percolation of the base prior to installation of the carpet is recommended. Materials delivered to the job should be sampled before they are installed to insure that they are in compliance with the specifications. And, the completed system should be tested on site to confirm that the performance properties are as promised by the manufacturer or installer. The system should be tested again after the first year, when rain, freeze/thaw and use have settled the materials. It may be necessary to add additional fill at that time.
Another important area to explore prior to choosing a system is the recommended maintenance regimen for the systems being proposed. There is no question that some synthetic turf fields have been in place for years with little or no maintenance. It is equally clear that optimum maintenance schedules which enhance performance and extend the useful life of these relatively new systems, still are being developed. However, it is likely that any warranty will depend on adherence to recommended maintenance practices, which may include some or all of:
Once a surface is chosen, you should draft specifications. The more specific and detailed your specifications, the more likely that prospective builders will submit comparable bids. Specifications should outline the scope of work, including subbase and base preparation, materials and accessories to be provided. Be sure to make clear in your specifications whether particular materials are required, or whether substitutions or equivalents are acceptable. Specifications also should outline performance criteria and testing to be conducted at the conclusion of construction. It may be advisable that you utilize a design professional to assist in developing specifications.
With so many systems available, it is important that an owner give a great deal of attention to choosing the best surface for a particular installation. Factors impacting that choice include initial cost, maintenance cost over the expected life of the surface, life expectancy, surface wear, reparability and performance characteristics, along with factors related to the reputation, experience, stability and responsiveness of the manufacturer and installer.
It is important to acknowledge that this product is breaking new ground. Because of the many advantages of synthetic turf products, the marketplace is virtually exploding. This growth will enhance research and development. It has and will encourage the entry of new competitors. There are variations in the size, experience and financial stability of companies offering turf products. Competition is fierce and, as in any new field, some problems are inevitable.
For example, what is an appropriate warranty? There simply isn’t enough experience with this product to say. Obviously, the useful life of a synthetic turf field will depend on the quality of the products used and the skill of the installer. However, with many new companies entering the field, it also is obvious that the owner should research and question the manufacturer/installer's stability. Any warranty is only as good as the corporate and financial strength of the company that offers it.
A fine field begins with a well built base and a quality surface, but it doesn't end there.
Will the construction project include benches, bleachers, fencing, lighting, scoreboards, a new track or track repair and reconstruction, construction or relocation of field events? Most owners want a complete project and, often, it is more economical to construct it all at the same time than piecemeal.
The owner also should budget funds for equipment such as goals and field markers, as well as for utility vehicles and apparatus for routine maintenance of the field.
Choosing the right contractor can determine the ultimate success of your facility. A knowledgeable and experienced contractor can help you, the owner, to make the right decisions resulting in a quality project. Turf field construction is a highly specialized field within the construction industry. It is vital that the contractor you choose be familiar with the current marketplace, as well as with the type of surface you intend to install.
How do you find a qualified contractor? One way is to contact the ASBA. As the trade association for sports builders, the ASBA can provide a Directory of its members. In addition, the ASBA conducts a certified builder program for track builders, many of whom also build turf fields. The Association also conducts an inquiry program, requesting information on your behalf from contractors and suppliers who have the answers to your questions. (See our online list of Certified Track Builders and our online inquiry form on our website at www.sportsbuilders.org.)
Another way to locate such specialists is by contacting municipal facilities and schools that have recently completed projects. Ask whether or not they would recommend their contractor and, further, ask some specific questions. Was the job completed on time? Did it meet the owner's expectations? Were there any hidden costs? Was the contractor able to solve any problems that arose during construction? If there have been any post construction problems, was the builder responsive in taking care of them? How does the field look? How does it perform? Remember, the experience, skill and reliability of the prospective builder all are important.
Once you have the names of a few builder prospects, consider the following:
If you, the buyer, are to make the right decisions regarding a field project, becoming a knowledgeable consumer is the first step. Asking questions is not only smart, it is essential. The investment of time and energy now can yield a huge return in the future, in terms of a quality facility, and in the hours of enjoyment that will be derived from it. The ASBA is committed to providing information to assist you in making informed choices in order to promote the construction of quality field facilities. For more information, contact the ASBA at 7010 W. Highway 71, Suite 340, PMB #312, Austin, TX 78735-8331, or call (866) 501-ASBA.
American Sports Builders Association
8480 Baltimore National Pike, #307
Ellicott City, MD 21043
Toll Free: (866) 501-ASBA
Fax: (512) 858-9892
Web address: www.sportsbuilders.org
Sports Turf Managers Association
805 New Hampshire St., Ste. E
Lawrence, KS 66044
Web address: www.sportsturfmanager.com
Federation Internationale du Football Association (FIFA)
P. O. Box 85
8030 Zurich Switzerland
International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)
17, Rue Princesse Florestine
MC 98000 Monaco
Phone: 011 377 93 10 88 88
Fax: 011 377 93 15 95 15
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
P. O. Box 6222
Indianapolis, IN 46206-6222
National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS)
P. O. Box 690
Indianapolis, IN 46206
National Football League
280 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
US Field Hockey
1 Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs, CO 80909-5773
United States Indoor Soccer Association
P. O. Box 6569
Arlington, VA 22206
8300 Boone Blvd., Suite 870
Vienna, VA 22182
113 West University Parkway
Baltimore, MD 21210
1033 Walnut Street, Suite 200
Boulder, CO 80302
US Soccer Federation
1801 S. Prairie Avenue
Chicago, IL 60616
USA Track and Field
One RCA Dome, Suite 140
Indianapolis, IN 46225
317 261 0500
Artificial Grass in UEFA Competitions, Requirements and Recommendations
The Union of European Football Associations, www.uefa.com, 2003
FIFA Quality Concept for Artificial Turf Surfaces
Federation Internationale du Football Association, www.fifa.com, 2001
F1551-03 Standard Test Methods for Comprehensive Characterization of Synthetic Turf Playing Surfaces and Materials
F1015-03 Standard Test Method for Relative Abrasiveness of Synthetic Turf Playing Surfaces
F1936-98 Standard Specification for Shock-Absorbing Properties of North American Football Field Playing Systems as Measured in the Field
American Society of Testing and Materials, www.astm.org
Guide to Artificial Grass Pitches for Community Use
Part 1 — Performance Standards for Outdoor Surfaces and Pitches
Part 2 — Their Design, Specification and Construction
Part 3 &mash; Outline Design Brief The Football Association, www.thefa.com, 2004
Guidelines for the Essential Elements of Synthetic Turf Systems Specification The Synthetic Turf Council, Inc., www.syntheticturfcouncil.org, 2003
IRB Performance Specification for Artificial Surfaces for Rugby, IRB Regulation 13 The International Rugby Board, www.irb.com
American Institute of Architects
1735 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006 5292
202 626 7300
American Society of Landscape Architects
4401 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 5th Floor
Washington, DC 20008 2369
202 686 2752
The Construction Specification Institute
601 Madison Street
Alexandria, VA 22314 1791
703 684 0300
National Society of Professional Engineers
1420 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314 2794
703 684 2800
Running Tracks: A Construction and Maintenance Manual
Available through ASBA
Available through ASBA
Court and Field Diagram Guide
Available from National Federation of High School Associations or through ASBA
The NCAA and the NFHS offer sport-specific rulebooks. Those of the NCAA include field diagrams.
Athletic Business 1846 Hoffman Street Madison, WI 53704 608 249 0186
Disclaimer — The attached field diagrams are provided for evaluation and planning purposes only, and are not intended to be used for construction purposes. Owners or contractors who are constructing a field should obtain the official field dimensions from the governing bodies of the sports to be played on the field.
High School Field Hockey Field Layout
NCAA Field Hockey Field Layout
NFSHSA Football Field Layout
NCAA Football Field Layout
NCAA Men's Lacrosse Field Layout
High School Soccer Field Layout
NCAA Soccer Field Layout
Infilled Synthetic Turf System (No Pad)
Infilled Synthetic Turf System (With Pad)
Copyright © 2010. American Sports Builders Association. All rights reserved.