Turf the lawnmower

Fake lawns are getting some attention as even Minto tries them on

By Paula McCooey, The Ottawa Citizen

We’ve come to that point in the year when we can park the lawnmower and not think about it for the next six months. But what if you could scratch that task off your list of chores forever and still have the benefit of a “manicured lawn?”

Larry Roy has the answer — artificial turf — and his work is starting to get noticed across the city, whether it be the lawn of a new residential infill, an indoor putting green or even a Minto model home.

Roy is a distributor and installer for SYNLawn Canada (SYNLawn.ca) and patches of his artificial lawn product are cropping up in all kinds of places, including rooftops, roof decks, patios, playgrounds and the new Ott­awa Humane Society on West Hunt Club Road — of the more than 20 varieties of grass, there is even one specifically designed for pets.

Why go for fake grass?

In the case of Minto, the leader in green building is testing it as part of the company’s green initiative, installing it at two model homes, the Gainsborough and Hathaway, in the OrlĂ©ans community of Avalon. Installed in the spring, it’s too soon for Minto to know whether it’ll be cost-effective, but marketing director Catherine Shea says they’re getting positive feedback from those visiting the models.

“There are a number of benefits to it … we should be saving on water, irrigation system, mowing, fertilizing, aeration, etc.”

The look and feel is made to come as close to the real thing as possible. Soft on your feet, with realistic-looking blades, the synthetic grass uses recycled material. And no matter how you slice it, maintaining real grass costs time and money.

The company claims about a 50-per-cent reduction in residential water use, as well as reductions in carbon emissions from lawn equipment.

“Without having to power up heavy lawn mowers, whack weeds, or water grass, SYNLawn removes those elements and is virtually maintenance free,” says Roy.

Using the Minto home as an example, he estimates the return on their investment at around 28 months if they own the showhome for five years.

“The biggest concern was water usage, cutting, and the (long) labour hours in maintaining it, especially being a showhome because you want it to always look good,” he says.

The product is manufactured in Dalton, Georgia, which is known for textile manufacturing, and distributed across Canada and the U.S. You’ll find it at high-traffic tourist areas such as the San Diego Zoo, Disneyland and the Wynn Las Vegas Resort.

Locally, Roy says, he’s done about 150 residential and commercial installations over the past five years and business has grown substantially even from last year. One interesting project was a $6-million home he worked on in Rideau Forest in Manotick that mimics a live roof.

“When (the owner) was on the second floor, all he saw was asphalt shingles and all this gorgeous forest around him,” says Roy.

“So we ended up turfing his entire rooftop. And you know what, it looks like a live roof.”

Besides saving energy, he says these applications are recognized as LEED compliant. A water retrieval system placed under the synthetic grass allows rainwater to penetrate and follow channels into a collection system.

Other projects include the more traditional installation of indoor greens at the Ottawa Athletic Club and the Kevin Haime Golf School, several home indoor putting greens and the not-so-traditional 6,000 square feet of dog turf at the new humane society. Roy also installed the grass on two rooftop courtyards at the Claridge Plaza 1 condo tower on Rideau Street.

The turf costs $5.50 to $7.50 a square foot with installation running from about $3.50 to $8 per square foot.

For residential projects, Roy warns homeowners be wary of artificial grass overkill and suggests striving for balance by incorporating different textures of interlock, river rock and garden.

So how does the turf weather Canadian elements?

Just fine.

“In the wintertime, it is covered in snow, so it is actually being protected from the ultraviolet rays,” Roy says of the fade factor.

“And the rays here in Ottawa are not as strong as they would be down south where the product is used, too.”

Now if we could only turf our snowblowers.