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Artificial turf pitches – when does the surface need replacing?

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Artificial turf in the sports field sector continues to boom. The high number of hours of use, weather resistance and competition between clubs are all reasons for a further increase in the number of artificial turf pitches being installed. Sport number one on these pitches is usually football and a major part of this kind of pitch is used solely for this game. But the flights of success of this kind of pitch has continued already for more than ten years and many pitches are correspondingly old. What many operators already know, but like to forget, is the fact that a playing surface of this kind has a limited life expectancy and at some point, needs to be replaced with a new one.

15 years – rather the maximum than a minimum period of use

Many people have the figure 15 in their minds as a measuring stick and are of the opinion that the playing surface will last for 15 years. This is a very trusting idea, however, as many experts are sure that an artificial turf playing surface can last for 15 years – with the right framework conditions. Apart from a good quality pitch and expert installation to start with, an optimal situation of this kind would include three further factors: climate, wear and maintenance.

The last of these three factors is actually the one which can be influenced most by the playing field operator, and despite this, is still the main reason why a surface never reaches its maximum life expectancy. As often mentioned at this point, maintenance and care of an artificial turf pitch is greatly neglected in most cases. A lack of resources, cash and personal as well as the (incorrect) rumour that artificial turf playing surfaces are easy and low-maintenance, lead in many cases to less maintenance work being carried out than would actually be required. Even though, with corresponding care, damage from climate and wear can be limited and pitch quality maintained for a longer period.

Wear suffered by an artificial turf playing surface is naturally dependent on the number of hours of use and the intensity of play. The number of hours of use can, of course, be easily controlled for non-public facilities, but determination of wear cannot really be accurately predicted in practical use. Manufacturers of artificial turf test their materials for wear using special laboratory equipment in order to test and improve the quality, which means that by observing the number of hours of use recommended by the manufacturer, the maximum life expectancy of the playing surface can be achieved. With a public football pitch, use by hobby players is difficult or impossible to control and precise planning is practically impossible. This is addition to the above-mentioned maintenance aspect. Regular inspection of the standing pile and brushing of the fibres is, above all, a very important to prevent and limit wear. Often, after a short time a large amount of filler material is already lost and the filler level is too low. Correspondingly, this must be replaced in order to extent the life expectancy of the surface.

The factor which can be controlled least by the sportsground operator is the climate. Just like other plastic fibers, artificial turf fibres are also affected by UV radiation, but there a many well-known manufacturers who have carried out corresponding research and development work to significantly improve the UV resistance of their products. In this year's record summer, many cases involved problems with the granules which tended to "clump" due to the hot weather, making the pitches permanently unusable. Whether watering of artificial turf pitches in very hot weather is meaningful from the point of view of sustainability, remains a controversial point with experts and is therefore, not considered compulsory.

So, when does the surface need to be replaced?

It can be clearly seen from the state of the pitch, when the time has come to replace the surface. The fibres are usually very worn, the basis compacted and the threads of fabric are slowly being loosened. In most cases this state of the playing surface is reached well before the 15th year of use. The question then arises of whether the pitch still conforms to and fulfils the safety regulations, i.e. whether the pitch is still suitable for use. Various certified institutions offer this kind of safety checks and can then inform the operator, whether sports play and competition games are still possible. In larger communities, municipal workers can also take corresponding training courses to become certified sportsgrounds experts and able to check for themselves during maintenance work all the corresponding factors to see if the pitch is still playable. If the pitch is no longer suitable for use, the playing surface must be replaced.

As long as the pitch satisfies the rules and requirements of the sports associations and playing safety, it can be continued to be used. But at some point, the wear will be so severe that play itself is affected. The ball will become snagged more often, passes will be harder to control and less accurate and the brittle material will be unpleasant for the players. By now at the latest, replacement of the surface should be considered.

In the case of minor damage, e.g. holes in some places or as a result of vandalism in limited areas, manufacturers or expert companies can carry out repair work to relatively new pitches and those still in good condition, which do not make complete replacement necessary. Material defects are also covered by the manufacturer's guarantee, although this requires proof of correct and corresponding care and maintenance work already carried out before the defects occurred, otherwise the guarantee is often quickly inapplicable.

Many artificial turf pitches, in particular those in for public use, require replacement of the playing surface after around ten years of use. Replacement of the artificial turf surface costs around half of the cost of a complete, newly installed pitch - as a rule around 250.000 €, whereby removal and disposal of the old surface account for around 50.000 €. This financial outlay should be considered already during planning and installation of the initial pitch, according to the motto: "After installation of an artificial turf pitch is before replacement of an artificial turf pitch".

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