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Artificial turf saves water, but heats considerably in direct sunlight

Posted at 4:55 AM, Apr 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-06 09:52:27-04

CHANDLER, AZ — Over the past several months, Josh Farra, an employee at the Artificial Grass Superstore in Chandler, has noticed a trend in the phone calls he’s received from potential customers.

“Over the past six, seven, eight months, there’s been a concern about water conservation, seeing as how we are in the drought that we are in,” Farra said.

Customers previously called Farra about getting artificial turf in their yards because they wanted lush, green lawns year-round.

“In the past, the previous two to three years, it’s been more wanting turf for the aesthetics and the easy maintenance of it, as opposed to that number one priority of water conservation,” Farra said.

In 2021, the Bureau of Reclamation declared a water shortage at the Colorado River, leading to Tier 1 water restrictions being put in place at Lake Mead.

Billions of gallons of water can be saved yearly by replacing grass with artificial turf, according to the Artificial Turf Council.

However, one drawback of artificial turf, especially during the heat of Arizona summers, is just how hot artificial turf can get, according to Ariane Middel, an assistant professor at the School of Arts, Media, and Engineering at Arizona State University.

“Artificial turf can actually get as hot or even hotter than asphalt and concrete,” Middel said.

In a 2017 study conducted by Middel and her colleague Jennifer Vanos, they measured the surface temperature of artificial turf compared to asphalt and brick from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on a day when the maximum air temperature reached 114 degrees.

According to their study, artificial turf was hotter than asphalt and brick at all times of the day until 5 p.m. After 5 p.m., artificial turf was cooler than asphalt and brick, which both retained heat longer, the study showed.

“The big advantage of artificial turf is that it doesn't require water, you don't have to irrigate it, such as regular grass. So it can lead to big water savings if you replace all your surfaces with artificial turf,” Middel said. “But on the flip side, you also make your yard hotter.”

The Mesa Arts Center is looking to strike a balance between the water savings associated with artificial turf and placing it in a strategic location where it won’t get too hot. Across from one of the stages at the Mesa Arts Center, a terraced portion of the lawn is used considerably by the public throughout the year.

The plot will be used as a trial ground to see if artificial turf can curb maintenance costs, save water, and still perform well in the shade, according to Donna DiFrancesco, a water conservation coordinator at the City of Mesa.

“This was a really interesting base to consider putting artificial turf in, where it would just make a lot more sense,” DiFrancesco said.

The trial area is small in size and is considerably covered by shade throughout the day.

“The important part is, again, the overhead shade, because that's going to keep the turf from heating up so much,” DiFrancesco said.

For those considering artificial turf, DiFrancesco encourages them to be thoughtful about where they place the turf.

“I especially encourage [people] to use it in a shady location because it can heat up substantially and so if it's in a shady spot, then it's not going to have that factor of heating up,” DiFrancesco said.

And although he acknowledges that artificial turf does get hot in direct sunlight, Farra noted he has the same conversation with every person interested in artificial turf.

“If you're brave enough to walk out at two o'clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday in August, everything you step on is going to be hot,” Farra said. “We live in an oven, so everything does get hot.”