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Best Practices for Selecting Synthetic Surfaces in Public Open Spaces

It’s widely accepted that investing in public open space is a priority, for both the NSW Government and private enterprises. Accessible and enjoyable outdoor spaces support better outcomes for everyone with benefits to health and wellbeing, community connection, as well as boosting NSW’s economic productivity through the delivery of new projects.

However, different activities can create extra pressure on public open spaces, and to accommodate this synthetic grass surfaces are sometimes considered in place of natural grass. The NSW Department of Planning and Environment has undertaken a study on the benefits and limitations of the use of synthetic turf surfaces in public open spaces. 

When considering synthetic turf vs natural grass for your next project, the below framework may prove useful in deciding which surface meets all the necessary cost, performance and amenity requirements. 

Open space and playing field surface selection

A framework for councils and project managers


Discussion points

Durability and consistency of the chosen surface material

  • A well-designed natural turf field can deliver approximately 40-50 “field hours” per week, equal to the actual use of a synthetic field. However, there is a lack of knowledge about best practice natural turf approaches – and soil and turf selection and management requires specialist knowledge.
  • Many existing natural turf fields are managed with inadequate budgets, and the durability, capacity and consistency of the playing surface could be significantly improved through enhanced maintenance. In contrast, synthetic turf fields have required maintenance regimes that need to be considered and adequately funded to extend the economic life of the asset.

Cost considerations: capital outlay and ongoing maintenance 

  • Partial installation/combined natural and synthetic turf can reduce the cost of delivery of synthetic surfaces. If budgets are tight, a dual approach could be a good solution. 
  • The lifecycle costs of synthetic and natural turf fields should be considered when deciding on surface type – is there enough funding for ongoing maintenance? Synthetic turf maintenance is not exorbitantly expensive, but there is a minor ongoing cost attached that needs to be factored in.
  • Natural turf fields require more maintenance (especially frequent mowing in summer) which needs to be planned for by local governments and facility owners. 

All-weather usability 

  • Natural turf will not recover as quickly after rain events, resulting in lost playing hours 
  • Hybrid turf and synthetic turf with organic infill can provide more playing hours during wet weather but there is a need to reduce the risk of infill and other synthetic fibres washing into local waterways during wet weather events. This can often be managed using good space design and proper drainage. 
  • Some synthetic turf can lose playing hours during the extreme summer heat, however cool-touch synthetic turf varieties mitigate some of the heat load, offering a 15% reduction in heat transfer. 
  • Natural grass playing fields can be uncomfortable or downright unusable after severe weather, resulting in waterlogged, muddy, or dusty and baked-dry surfaces. 

Environmental considerations

  • Water consumption is vastly increased when using natural grass. Natural turf watering can be somewhat reduced by designing fields with stormwater retention tanks, but synthetic turf never requires watering (apart from the intentional wetting of hockey fields). 
  • Mowing, petrol-powered blowers and other turf maintenance equipment can contribute to CO2 emissions. On the other hand, synthetic turf never requires mowing – completely removing this as a potential emission source.
  • Synthetic turf with organic infill (eg: cork) can reduce the incidence of rubber crumb and other synthetic materials leaching into the surrounding environment. 
  • The sustainability of synthetic turf is becoming increasingly more positive throughout Australia. New ‘4th Generation’ synthetic turf offers technological advancements in design and materials to address some of the known environmental impacts arising from older types of synthetic turf. Consider the professionalism of the synthetic turf supplier and their product specifications. 

Further Resources 

This article references the NSW Government’s ‘Synthetic Turf Study in Public Open Space Report’. This report is available to download in full on the NSW Department of Planning and Environment website. 

For further information on synthetic turf performance and varieties that can stand up to the requirements of open space projects, get in touch with the team at Preferred Turf or take a look at our range of specialty synthetic turf products

At Preferred Turf, we strive to build and maintain positive customer relationships and uphold our preferred supplier status across various industries. Our family-owned and operated business has been supplying and installing commercial, education and sporting projects across NSW for decades. Our expansive collection of synthetic grass and landscaping products combined with precision installation and service has earned us a reputation for our quality and customer satisfaction.

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