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Does synthetic turf actually need maintenance work?
By Michael Pülm (Dipl.-Ing.), Ingenieurbüro Richter GmbH, Hildesheim/Wernigerode, Germany
The opening of a new synthetic turf pitch is usually an occasion for satisfaction and pleasure - a major investment has been achieved. The users are happy that they can now train all-year-round and groundsmen can also usually see great benefits - no more mowing, watering, scarification, aeration, fertiliser or any other grass-care activities are required. However, a glance at the new synthetic turf pitch after intensive use shows that the well-known high-wear areas where play is centred remain clearly apparent: penalty box, penalty spot, corner areas and the main axis. This is not surprising as the players move on the new playing surface in exactly the same way as on natural turf and the soles of their boots transfer the impact to the playing surface. With natural turf this causes sustained compression of the substrate and can result in cutting of the sod by the studs. Synthetic turf reacts in much the same way with displacement or spillage of the granulate infilling.
It can be confirmed that synthetic turf is also affected by mechanical and other stresses produced by the players. Already after short, intensive use it is clear that synthetic turf also needs care and maintenance! The type, scope and intensity of the maintenance work is not dependent on the intensity of use, but to a great degree also by the peculiarities of the location (type of surrounding landscape, vegetation etc.) and the kind of surface involved. An unfilled synthetic turf requires less maintenance than a filled one while a rubber-crumb or sand-filled turf with straight fibres is easier to maintain than one with crimped fibres. As granulate-filled surfaces are more common and also require more maintenance, we will focus on this kind of surface.
What kind of stressing is a synthetic turf pitch subjected to?
• Mechanical stressing from the players, the ball and cleaning equipment
• Impact of weather (sun, rain, frost, snow, frost/melt interaction)
• Introduction of dirt, dust, flower and plant debris
How do synthetic turf pitches become dirty?
• Leaves, pine needles, flowers and other plant debris
• Dust/pollutants from the air
• Growth of moss and algae from reduced drainage of the pitch surface
• Growth of weeds
• Introduction of dirt or soil from surrounding fields, flower beds or paths
• Introduction of cut grass from surrounding lawns / grass areas
• Introduction of surface materials from surrounding or neighbouring clay / gravel areas
• Introduction of sand from neighbouring sand pits (e.g. long jump pits)
• Worn fibres or tapes
• Chewing gum remains
• Animal excrement (dogs, cats, birds)
• Saliva (spit) from athletes
Which care/maintenance measures are necessary?
• Levelling of the granulate infill with a brush
• Straightening of the fibres with a brush
• Replacement of granulate in areas of intense use
• Removal of paper, flower petals, leaves, branches and other organic debris
• Cleaning of the pitch edges / intersections with neighbouring areas
• Checking of bonded seams between the single strips of surface covering
• Checking of bonded line markings
• Checking of the penalty spot
Which equipment is required?
• Tractor with turf tires
• Special brushes - suitable for the type of surface and approved by its manufacturer
(otherwise problems are possible with damage caused during the warranty period)
• Leaf blower/vacuum for rough cleaning of the surface
• Vacuum sweepers for intensive cleaning
• Light-duty snow blower (only when the pitch is intended for use in winter)
How often should maintenance be carried out?
Daily Rough cleaning - Removal of leaves, paper, flower petals etc.
Weekly Brushing - Levelling of areas of intensive use
(penalty box, goalmouth, corners)
- visual control of the whole area
Monthly Dry-cleaning - Cleaning with a vacuum sweeper
- Loosening of the surface layer
- possibly addition of rubber granulate
Monthly Check - Inspection of the whole playing field
- visual control of the seams/lines/edges
The amount of regular care carried out must be adjusted according to the intensity of use and the special conditions of the location. For example, a playing field near a grove of deciduous trees will have different seasonal cleaning requirements than a playing field in an open area surrounded by paved areas. Basically, the intervals at which care is required, are dependent on the given local surroundings and the seasonal requirements. The above-mentioned intervals are only a rough guide.
Which factors should be considered when using maintenance equipment?
• Total load maximal 5 t
• Wheel load maximal 2 t
• Use of wide, low-pressure tires to spread the weight evenly
Synthetic turf is laid as a floating layer on top of the substrate. In order to prevent the surface layer being displaced the following points must be considered when driving on the pitch:
• Drive only at walking speed
• Do not make sudden changes in direction or drive in very tight circles
• Do not accelerate or brake suddenly
• Do not drive on the playing surfaces during periods of frost/melt
• Avoid leaking of lubrication or fuel from vehicles onto the playing surface.
Correct maintenance of a synthetic surface requires specialised equipment and attention by personnel. It is sensible to adapt available cleaning and maintenance equipment to the requirements and specifications of the chosen synthetic sport surface already during the planning phase. In addition, financing of the required maintenance equipment must be ensured during planning as it will be required as soon as the surface is used.
Along with the general concern of maintenance to maintain the value of a playing field and its sport-technical properties, a further point must also be considered: The usual warranty period for a playing surface is 5 years. Regular and well documented (who did what, when and with which equipment) maintenance and cleaning work is necessary in order not to invalidate this period of warranty.
The availability of maintenance equipment is however, not enough to achieve a level of maintenance sufficient to meet the given requirements. The people responsible at both administration and worker level must be well acquainted with their new tasks and given suitable training. It is also important that the decision-makers of the club or community are involved. Only when the background and reasons behind the maintenance work to be carried out for conservation of the value of the playing field are understood and known, can decisions towards permanent financing of the care and maintenance work be made responsibly.
Maintenance work is not only important – it also generates costs
The outlay for maintenance work is directly dependent on the local conditions, intensity of use and responsible handling of the facilities by the players. Furthermore it must also be said that maintenance already begins during the planning phase! The most inexpensive maintenance measures are those which are not necessary due to planning with foresight.
The scope and intensity of the individual maintenance measures can and must be influenced already during the planning phase for a new synthetic turf pitch.
Information provided to builders/owners by planners explaining the scope of maintenance measures required by the different types of surface
• Is a rubber-crumb/sand-filled surface necessary or is a sand-filled surface requiring less intensive maintenance, sufficient?
Design, dimensions and choice of material for edges and intersections
• Do not plan problematic materials in the intersections (gravel, grass, flowerbeds)
• Trees, bushes and shrubs are a significant factor for cleaning in spring and autumn
• Lack of sunlight promotes growth of moss and algae
(danger of slipping and reduced draining of water)
• No smoking on the whole playing field and around its edges
(synthetic turf burns well)
• Provide sufficient rubbish disposal bins and ensure that they are emptied regularly
• Synthetic turf and chewing gum are not friends and never will be
(also applies to dogs, cats and rabbits)
• Always keep surfaces in the access areas to the playing field clean in order to reduce dirt introduced onto the playing surface.
• Ensure that shoes are cleaned before players enter the pitch
• Do not allow players to use boots with long, screw-in metal studs. Shoes and boots with special moulded soles and small plastic studs are required. (Additional costs for users!)
A synthetic turf playing field is an all-weather pitch which allows training sessions to be carried out in practically all weather conditions. In order to fulfil this requirement reliably in the long term, the right kind of maintenance is essential.
Maintenance factors for a synthetic turf pitch should be considered already during the planning phase and the necessary investment for suitable equipment and training of personnel and decision-makers should also be taken into consideration. The people responsible at both administration and groundsman level must know the background and reasons behind the necessary maintenance work.
Maintenance work which is actually carried out should always be documented well. It is absolutely necessary to have clear documentation for handling of possible damage claims during the warranty period. In addition, evaluation of maintenance records also provides an important basis for financial planning and should be included as a defined and reoccurring element in annual budget work.
Maintenance and care measures safeguard the sport-technical properties of the playing surface, reduce the danger of accidents and have a direct influence on the value conservation of the surface. When all those involved - users, maintenance workers and decision-makers exercise care in the handling of synthetic turf and are responsible when planning, they will enjoy long-lasting satisfaction from their all-weather surface.
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