Artificial grass installation is not as simple as placing a piece of plastic over the dirt in your backyard. Our crew members probably wish unrolling a piece of turf and dropping it in the right spot was the whole job, but what we ask of them is a lot more labor intensive than that. If you’re installing artificial grass, you’ve chosen a landscaping solution that can last for up to 20 years or so. A big key to how long your fake grass lasts will be whether or not it’s installed correctly. What’s correctly? It’s just six steps.
The first thing we need to do is remove whatever is in your yard now. Sometimes that’s just dirt, sometimes it’s natural sod, or maybe it’s a slab of concrete. Whatever is there, it’ll need to come out. We’ll continue digging until we’ve excavated about 4 inches below grade. The exact depth will vary based on what’s around the area – do you have pavers, concrete, or woodchips with drought tolerant plants? The height of the grass you’ve selected will also impact how deep we need to dig.
Once we’ve added all our layers we want the fake lawn slightly below grade, about ¾” – 1”. Doing this will create a more natural looking installation and help it look closer to real grass than carpet. Check out the picture to the left for an example of how excavating to the right level makes it look like the fake grass is "growing" out of the area. If we install the turf itself at grade, you’ll be able to see the backing that holds the grass together. That looks fake and creates tripping hazards.
After the area is excavated, we’ll compact the soil that’s there and grade it appropriately, usually away from the house. Depending on the type of soil in your area, we may install a commercial grade weed barrier next. In areas where the soil has more clay in it, this is a valuable step as the weed barrier behaves as a stabilizing barrier between the soil and the rock that will soon be added. If your soil doesn’t require a weed barrier at this stage, we’ll add it closer to the end of the process.
NOTE: While weed barrier can help protect your installation from weeds and shifting, it cannot protect your installation from weeds growing around the edges of the installation or very shallow ones that plant themselves in the sand on top of the turf. If weeds are appearing around the edges, they are usually safe to remove as you normally would.
2. Base Installation
Instead of installing your grass over dirt, we’ll create a solid foundation to attach the artificial grass to. We use Class II Base Rock to do this. You may notice, if you’re around when we’re installing, that the rock is delivered in a giant pile. That pile has pieces of rock that are ¾” or so as well as smaller rocks and what’s called fines, rock that has been ground up to nearly a powder. This combination of sizes will compact nicely and create a firm base for the fake turf.
Once we’ve shoveled the rock into the area, we spread it out to make sure it’s as even as possible. One thing to be aware of with this: a knowledgeable installer will often not create a perfectly flat installation. The installation will be even but likely have a slope, curve, or grade to it.
If you look very closely at your front or back yard, you may notice that there is a slight bump in the middle of your lawn. Alternatively, the area may slope from one side to the other or down from the house to the end of the lawn. This can have a few effects. First, it just looks better. This is also true with synthetic grass. A perfectly flat lawn looks fake. The last thing you want to after spending so much time picking the perfect artificial turf is to have it installed in a way that makes it appear more fake anyway. In addition to this, a perfectly flat installation is more likely to have drainage problems. While we have likely already graded the soil, an installation designed to drain well will likely have a slope to it. The picture below is a great example of a project that was sloped both for drainage and visual appeal.
Once the base rock has been spread evenly, we’ll compact it. This can be done with hand tampers or with a plate compactor. We use both depending on the area. Hand tampers work very well in cramped spots the plate compactor can’t reach while a plate compactor is a lot quicker and less physically demanding.
We may need to compact the base rock more than once as the dirt under the rock settles into place. It’s not uncommon to see a crew member compact the base rock, add more in certain spots, and then give the whole area or specific spots another pass. We’ll keep doing this until the area looks the way we want it to for drainage and the base rock is about 3 inches thick.
Pro Tip: Compacting the base rock is important because it reduces the likelihood that the installation will have shifting over time. If the dirt under the base rock or the base rock itself starts moving around, the installation is weakened. If there’s shifting, the grass will move with the rock since it’s attached. The more stable the installation, the longer it looks beautiful and secure.
Now that we’ve compacted the base rock, we may add another weed barrier. This will vary, again, based on the type of soil you have in your area and a few other factors. Keep in mind, it’s pretty tough for weeds to get through three inches of solid, compacted rock. The weed barrier generally serves as an extra precaution.
3. Turf Installation
It’s finally time! After all of that preparation, we can finally install the fake grass itself. The team may make some initial cuts to the turf, but not necessarily. The next step looks a lot like installing carpet, just attaching it to a solid block of rock, not floorboards. Starting from one edge of the installation, we’ll nail along the edge every 4 – 6 inches or so. Like carpet, we’ll roll the turf out, stretch, nail, and repeat until we cover the area. We’ll add nails every 4 – 6 inches or so around every edge and about every 2 feet throughout the rest of the area. For each nail, our team will carefully get the blades of turf out of the way and drive the nail directly into the backing of the grass. If this task isn't done with precision, blades may get stuck under the turf and cause eyesores. Check out the close up below to see how your fake grass should look once it's been nailed down.
Did you just say you stretch it? You may be asking yourself. I did! Fake grass, like carpet, needs to be stretched as it’s installed. Because it’s made of primarily plastic, artificial turf has a fair amount of elasticity. If it’s warmer, it’s easier to stretch but it should be stretched regardless. Stretching the turf and then nailing it in place reduces the likelihood of seeing wrinkles in the artificial grass over time. If it’s not stretched well, it’ll keep more of its elasticity and may stretch and shrink more with temperature changes. If you’ve ever installed a carpet yourself in your home and seen it wrinkle in places, same idea.
Throughout this process, rough cuts will be made around the edges first. Final cuts are made after the team knows exactly how far the artificial turf will stretch. The turf is cut with a sharp blade, often from the back as it can be easier to do that way.
Care is taken to make sure drawings are followed that dictate where pieces of turf are designed to go. It’s important that we follow the plan because artificial grass cannot be turned and installed facing two different directions. If you’ve studied up on why artificial grass can appear shiny, you may remember that artificial turf looks different from different angles. The blades all “face” a particular direction. If the grass isn’t installed so all the pieces “face” the same way, it may be very noticeable.
Pro tip: When we say “nails” we mean 5-inch, non-galvanized nails. It’s important that the nails are non-galvanized because it means they will rust to the base rock. In this one case, rust is a very good thing! It creates a bond between the nails and the base rock that usually lasts the life of the grass. If we used galvanized nails, they would never fuse to the base rock. We could come to your house a month from now and lift the turf right up! Having fake grass that can be removed from the base kind of defeats the point and could be worrisome if kiddos got their hands on those nails! We use non-galvanized nails because they work better and are safer. It does take, depending on the weather, around two weeks for the nails to secure fully, so please don’t lift test your brand new, beautiful synthetic grass lawn before then!
A common fear among homeowners is that if their area can’t be done in one sheet of turf, it’ll stick out like a sore thumb. The concern is understandable. There are most certainly some fake grass installations out there where it’s very easy to see the seams. Rest assured, a professional installer with experience should know how to install fake grass with a seamless appearance regardless of how many pieces it takes. We highly recommend asking for pictures of installations so that you can inspect the work of an installer yourself and feel confident in the quality level you’ll be receiving. We only use pictures of our own work on our website and are happy to discuss concerns about seaming.
The key to a well done seam is the spacing. There are lots of ways to get this right and every pro will have his or her favorite method. That said, let’s discuss one option to give you an idea of how it works. If you have any samples from us, it may be useful to grab one and look at the back as we discuss this.
Synthetic grasses are made by stitching rows of plastic yarn through pieces of fabric. Just like if you were really sewing, the yarn is sewn in rows. One aspect of what makes a fake grass look the way it looks is how far apart the rows of yarn are. When seaming grass, mimicking that spacing is key. If we’re seaming parallel to the rows of yarn, we’ll have two pieces of artificial lawn to make cuts on. First, we’ll cut the first piece of turf right along the edge of one row. On the other piece, we’ll just cut a row off, so it has a gap on the edge. If we put these two pieces next to one another very precisely, the spacing between the rows will be the same as it is throughout the rest of the synthetic grass, creating the appearance of a seamless piece.
If your project requires seams, we’ll usually use a 12” wide paper called seam tape that goes under the turf and runs the length of the seam. We apply a strong glue to the paper. The two pieces of fake turf, cut precisely as we described above, are then slowly placed next to one another. This process takes time and is an art, to be sure. Even after those careful cuts, if the artificial turf isn’t placed just right the seam may show. Once the seam looks perfect, we nail everything into place, so it’ll stay that way.
Pro tip: We completely understand if you would like to be present during your installation. You don’t have to be, but some people feel more comfortable that way. That having been said, we highly recommend you not be present when we do any needed seams. If you watch us do it, you’ll know where they are. If you know where they are you are significantly more likely to find them later. You’ll see it, but no one around you will. It’s a strange trick of the mind but take our word for it, skip out on watching any seaming.
Seaming isn’t easy but it also doesn’t need to be a deterrent from installing artificial grass. It’s a very good reason to consider investing in a professional that you trust to do the job right. If you have questions about how seaming works, you can always contact us to talk about it!
5. Power brooming
As we discuss in our comprehensive guide to picking an artificial grass, synthetic turf comes on large rolls that make it very flat when first installed. In order to get your fake grass up and looking lovely, we power broom it. A power broom is basically a giant, round brush with a motor. I wouldn’t recommend blow drying hair with one, but they work well for artificial grass! Once the fake grass has been power broomed, it’ll be standing significantly more straight up. Depending on your project, some areas may need to be raked up by hand. Just like with the compactors, it’ll work – just with more effort.
Once the blades of grass are standing up straight, we’ll add a sand called infill to help them stay that way. Infill not only helps the blades of synthetic grass stay standing up straight, it also protects the backing of the grass from being damaged by the sun. There are some types of infill that provide a lot more value to your project.
The infill is distributed as evenly as possible over the turf by using a spreader, often used for fertilizer, to spread the small beads of sand. After spreading out about a third of the infill, we rake the sand in to help it fall to the bottom of the turf. We repeat this process until all the infill is nestled between the blades of fake grass.
That’s it! Just one last check to make sure everything looks perfect, clean up, and then we’re done. We had to pull out around four inches of native soil and prep the area. Then, we added about three inches worth of compacted base rock to the whole area. We installed the grass by stretching it and nailing it to the base rock. If needed, we did any seams meticulously, so you’d never notice them. Finally, we brushed all the grass up and added the all-important infill.
Our work here is done, you can run, play, barbeque, lounge, whatever you like on your brand new artificial grass lawn.
Want to get a quote for your very own professionally installed fake grass project? Let us know here!