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Cost-benefit comparison natural grass – synthetic turf
In the end, both systems have their regular proportional position in sports facilities. The right planning, professional construction and correct maintenance are important factors for both these sport turf systems in order to provide pitches which make players happy.
Grass and synthetic turf pitches make up more than 70 % of surfaces in recreational sport centres. In this way they have a significant influence on the overall costs (invest-ments, maintenance and operating costs) of a sports centre.
Since the introduction of the third generation of synthetic pitches, the correct decision of a natural or synthetic pitch has become increasingly difficult for architects, planners and operators. There is a large amount of general uncertainty with regard to construction systems and their costs, as well as the use and maintenance costs incurred. With the large selection of products as well as facts and opinions available, finding the correct natural or synthetic turf product for the user and use in each case is also increasingly complicated.
In general, compared to grass or clay surfaces the advantages of synthetic turf pitches are their better resistance to weathering, a significantly larger range of use and lower maintenance outlay. The manufacturing costs are considerably higher and in addition, disposal costs must also be taken into account in the economic efficiency calculations.
For this reason, the City of Basel in Switzerland has carried out a study with the objective of creating greater transparency regarding cost and benefits. Natural and synthetic turf pitches built and run by the City of Basel were taken as basic data for the cost comparison which was also based on the following assumptions and parameters:
• Manufacturing costs are particularly dependent on building materials and, there-fore, differ from region to region
• Outset situation for the calculations was 7500 m² football field in a level area and with a sustainable substrate in an average location in Central Europe.
• The time horizon was taken to be 45 years.
• The prices given are taken from different tenders in the Swiss market. The ex-change rate CHF / EURO was taken to be approx. 1 CHF = 0.60 Euro.
Cost overview for a football pitch (7500m²)
The costs which are incurred for natural grass and synthetic turf over a time period of 45 years play an important role in the calculation of economic efficiency.
Construction and disposal costs natural grass:
Construction costs CHF 459,000.00
Disposal costs None
Replacement costs CHF 90,000.00
Total investment costs over 45 years CHF 549,000.00
Maintenance and operating costs per year natural grass CHF 105,250.00
Construction and disposal costs synthetic turf:
Construction costs CHF 1,246,500.00
Disposal costs (in Switzerland) CHF 240,000.00
Replacement costs CHF 825,000.00
Total investment costs over 45 years CHF 2,311,500.00
Maintenance and operating costs per year synthetic turf CHF 116,950.00
Economic considerations: Cost comparison natural grass / synthetic turf for a football pitch (7500m²)
The significant criteria for a cost comparison for natural grass and synthetic turf are the theoretically possible or practically proven utilisation times and periods of use. Within the framework of an official playing time survey in the City of Basel, the use of 30 natural turf pitches subject to intensive use and three intensively used synthetic turf pitches was recorded daily over a period of three years. The detailed results of this survey were made available to the sports authorities of the City of Basel. There are natural turf pitches which already exceed the magical limit of 1000 hours of use; other natural turf playing fields, on the other hand, lie around the 800 hours mark. The average period of use for natural grass pitches was 900 hours and 1300 hours for synthetic pitches.
Cost categories Natural grass / Synthetic turf
Investment costs (in CHF)
Investment costs per pitch within 45 years 549,000.00 2,311,500.00
Investment costs per m² within 45 years 73.20 308.20
Amortisation costs per pitch and year (linear) 12,200.00 51,366.00
Amortisation costs per m² and year (linear) 1.62 6.84
On-going maintenance and operation costs (CHF)
Maintenance and operative costs per pitch / year 105,250.00 116,950.00
Maintenance and operative costs per m² and year 14.05 15.60
Only maintenance costs per pitch and year 64,500.00 32,200.00
Only maintenance costs per m² and year 8.60 4.30
Overall costs (in CHF)
Investment/maintenance/operative costs per pitch and year 117,450.00 168,316.00
Investment/maintenance/operative costs per m² and year 15.66 22.45
Average periods of use per year in hours 900 h 1300 h
Full costs for each hour of use CHF 130.00 CHF 129.00
According to the overall costs each year (over a period of 45 years) different costs are incurred for natural grass and synthetic turf. With a period of use of 900 h, natural grass shows total costs of CHF 117,450.00 per year and pitch. With overall costs of CHF 168,316.00 per year and pitch for a period of use of 1300 hours, the cost of synthetic turf is clearly higher. Overall costs per m² and year, independent of the intensity of use are CHF 15.65 for natural grass and CHF 22.45 for synthetic turf.
All prices given refer to the Swiss market and their conventional price levels. Prices and costs in other markets may vary and could be lower.
The most important findings of this study are – independent of price levels – the relationship between the cost of natural and synthetic turf in relation to the intensity of use.
With a period of use of approx. 900 hours each year, natural grass has reached its tech-nical and natural limits so that it is increasingly difficult to increase the utilisation period of the natural turf in a relevant manner. Although new methods and technology for maintenance of the pitch e.g. with specially reared grass sorts or growth-increasing additives (enzymes, growth regulators and fertilisers) allow the utilisation of pitch to be increased, even with improving maintenance and care, these steps are continually smaller and, therefore, uneconomic.
On the other hand, expensive synthetic pitches with an unnatural appearance are not sensible when the actual period of use is less than 800 hours per year. Only with a utili-sation period of more than 1300 hours pro year is a synthetic turf pitch really less expensive and, therefore more economic from a purely mathematical point of view. The more often a synthetic turf pitch is used, the lower the full costs become. A synthetic turf pitch naturally has the advantage that it can be used at all times, but it is often difficult to actually make use of this fact. In the face of continuing increased popularity of football, it can be assumed that the requirement for playing fields will also continue to increase in future. Above all in the winter months, utilisation of natural grass pitches is currently not possible. The lack of available capacity can only be resolved during the colder months by synthetic all-weather pitches.
It is however an illusion to believe that synthetic pitches will be used for 2000 hours each year. In pure theory this is possible but in reality the available pitches are not put to optimal use. It would be difficult to force an amateur club to train on a synthetic pitch on a Monday morning in winter. The most efficient months of use for a synthetic pitch (De-cember and January) are usually not utilised and this kind of pitch is seldom used for more than approx. 1300 hours per year. In addition, manufacturers give a maximum 8 year guaranty for synthetic turf pitches although it can be assumed that the actual work-ing life is maximum 12 – 15 years.
The positive, subjective feeling of players on a natural grass pitch will always be higher than on a synthetic turf. We assume that in the long term, the use of natural grass pitches in relation to synthetic turf pitches will settle at 4:1. As 95% of all playing fields are used for recreational sport and only around 5% are major football stadiums and sports arenas, the importance of synthetic turf in these stadiums is probably slightly ex-aggerated and overrated. It is much more important that correct and necessary deci-sions are made in the fields of planning, construction, operation, maintenance and care measures for community and city sports centres, in order to make optimal and eco-nomic use of these expensive, and for sport important, facilities.
The complete study can be downloaded free of charge at http://www.ed-bs.ch/jfs/sport/publikationen.