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Maintenance guidelines for synthetic turf

June 20, 2013  - By

With over a thousand synthetic turf fields being installed each year in the United States, 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 safe and non-stop usage. While the frequency of maintenance activities should be defined by your field builder, a general rule of thumb can be 10:1, or 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.

Prior to Purchase

  • Communication
    • Understand that no synthetic turf system is “maintenance free.”
    • Obtain the field builder’s warranty and maintenance guidelines. Ask questions to understand the implications throughout the useful life of the synthetic turf.
    • Discuss your anticipated usage type and intensity with your field builder. Obtain a maintenance plan that is designed to satisfy your needs.
  • Purchase/Design Considerations
    • Include in your purchase specific maintenance equipment, extra infill and repair materials (extra synthetic turf, seaming tape and glue).
    • For synthetic turf fields with an irrigation system, please consult an irrigation specialist to ensure that the field does not become saturated when irrigated. Only potable water should be used for irrigation.
    • Design to avoid contamination. Ensure player walkways to the field are clean and install a brush mat at the entrance to the field. Use of paved areas around the field can prevent contamination from nearby vegetation, spectators, maintenance vehicle tires, etc. Please also consider nearby airborne pollutants when deciding upon field location.
  • Establish Responsibility
    • Understand who will perform the ongoing maintenance and its cost throughout the useful life. The maintenance can be performed by the field owner with its own equipment and personnel, or outsourced to either a qualified maintenance firm, or to the original field builder. In the event a third-party maintenance firm will be engaged, make sure it is pre-approved by the field builder. The Synthetic Turf Council (STC) maintains on its website an Online Buyer’s Guide and Member Directory that includes a listing of STC-certified and other maintenance service providers.
    • The field builder should confirm in writing before any maintenance work is performed on the field that the ongoing maintenance program, service provider, and maintenance equipment are acceptable and comply with the warranty provisions.

Accepting your New Field

  • Training – Field owner personnel should be trained on the synthetic turf warranty, the field builder’s maintenance guidelines and these STC Maintenance Guidelines. Training should include information about the specific components and materials of the installed system, and 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 whereby the infill materials will settle into the synthetic turf after a period of initial use and rainfall. During this period, more frequent brushing may be advised by your field builder. Once settling occurs, check the infill depth for consistency around the field and to ensure it is within the field builder’s guidelines.
  • 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 test throughout its useful life.

Protecting your Field

  • Establish signage and local rules for the use of the field 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 in such a way as to minimize the tracking of mud and dirt onto the field.
  • Set up drinks for players during practice breaks off of the field, if possible.
  • Do not perform or engage any maintenance or other activity that may invalidate the warranty.
  • Report any field damage to the field builder immediately. Damages need to be immediately repaired to avoid an escalating problem.
  • While the frequency of maintenance activities should be defined by your 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.
  • Ensure 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. Please 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
    • Remarks/Notes
    • Signature of maintenance supervisor

Routine Maintenance – Ongoing

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 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 amounts of 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 six feet high 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 appearance. Also, the flattening of grass fibers can create a possible acceleration of wear as reduced sporting performance. The correct equipment to be used along with settings, frequencies and direction of the brushing and grooming of the field should be advised by the appropriate field builder.

Comprehensive Maintenance – Semi-Annual to Bi-Annual

Over a period of time, certain situations arise which may require the need for more comprehensive maintenance:

  • Grass fibers become significantly bent, creased and flat
  • Playing surface become hard and compacted. While common to infilled systems, this impacts the players and also can create drainage issues.
  • Dirt, debris and metal accumulate on or within the system despite routine maintenance
  • Seams become loose creating player and game/event concerns
  • Uneven/insufficient infill levels which impacts player biomechanics, surface consistency and inadequate support of the grass fibers
  • High wear areas especially in soccer goal mouths

When these situations or other concerns arise, please contact the field builder and/or any third party maintenance contractor who is approved by the original field builder.

Comprehensive Maintenance Options

Comprehensive maintenance generally includes the use of specialty maintenance equipment by trained maintenance professionals. Depending upon 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 your 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 3 to 5 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 breakdown 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 that could include removal of the majority of dirty and contaminated infill; untangling matted and compacted fibers; a combination of re-installation 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.

Special Circumstances – “As Needed Maintenance”

In addition, there are special circumstances which may require solutions on an “as needed basis.” Temporary paints that may be used for field marketing should be applied only to the turf fibers and not to the infill. It should also be removed and painted again after a maximum of four applications to avoid hard-to-remove build up. Heavy rainfall is another issue that can affect a field due to the significant ponding, which can lead to clogged or damaged pipes, 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 build-up 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. Other special circumstances may also include:  lightning strikes, static electricity, stain removal and equipment leaks or spills and the removal of certain foreign objects and contaminants.

Synthetic Turf Usage Considerations

All of the information that has been covered is critical to maintaining a synthetic turf field.  It is important for a field owner to understand that certain activities, usage and other circumstances may impact the field quality, wear and tear, appearance, warranty and performance of a synthetic turf field. If there are any doubts, the field builder should be consulted.  Following are some of the suggestions and considerations for the owner of a new synthetic turf field.

In advance, make sure any maintenance equipment, personnel, techniques, repairs and materials comply with the field builder’s specifications and warranty. Verify the design and monitor the performance of the field throughout its life with periodic field testing and frequent inspections. There are many things that can affect the life and the overall performance of a synthetic turf field that include but are not limited to: accidents, vandalism, spiked shoes, animals, fireworks, acts of God, fireworks, floods, chemical reactions, improper cleaning methods, storage of heavy materials, non-approved infill materials, improper footwear, vehicles on the field and concentrated heavy use protection.

If maintained in the proper way, 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 the field builder or industry specialists.

The Synthetic Turf Council and its members invite you to visit its web site for additional information.

Excerpted from the STC Guidelines for Synthetic Turf Maintenance – Revised 09/2012


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