Episode 107: Ecoturf Solutions with Tom Diehl
Sean Daily, Green Living Ideas' Editor-in-Chief, talks with Tom Diehl of Eco Alliance Synthetic Grass about sustainable options for synthetic turf as a green alternative to conventional lawns.
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Greentalk helps listeners in their efforts to lead more eco-friendly lifestyles, through interviews with top vendors, authors and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies, products and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.
Sean Daily: Hey everybody, this is Sean Daily, editor-in-chief of Greenliving ideas.com and welcome to another episode of Greentalk radio and we are going to talking today under the topic of lawn and yard care and lawn alternatives, but we are going to be talking specifically about synthetic turf solutions which have been offered up by the industry as one of the lawn alternatives, lawns as most of us know, maybe not everybody, are inherently un green because of the water consumption and what it takes to maintain them and so, you know, some have offered synthetic turf solutions as a greener alternative and there are, there is some controversy about the materials that are used in the synthetic solutions and it’s been another issue, of sort of creating another set of problems and in a recent conversation that I had with a site visitor who turns out to be an expert in this area, a gentleman named Tom Diehl who is joining me today, we talked about some of the issues online, we emailed back and forth and I wanted to invite Tom to be on the program with me today to talk and share his expertise and his vision and viewpoint and perspective on synthetic turf solutions and the issues there so, Tom, welcome to the program.
Sean Daily: Hi Sean, thanks for having me.
Tom Diehl: Yeah, my pleasure and I just wanted to mention to you that Tom is the CEO of a company called Future Turf, so you are actually in the industry with a product as well, but I was impressed with your email and the information that you had and you could shed some additional information on this issue because it’s one of those things where I am far from a synthetic turf expert, I am sort of relying on it and it seems in some cases perhaps , we along with the rest of the industry, might be walking into what could potentially be a case of some green washing or information that is maybe not 100 percent accurate with regards to the issues around these synthetic turf products, so why don’t we just start off, I’d like to hear about your background, what got you into this industry and then we can dive into some of the issues, so why don’t we start there.
Sean Daily: Well Sean, I been a landscape contractor in Southern California for twenty-four years and of course, always tried to do green methods in my installation maintenance process and my company evolved from a Southern California landscape company transitioning now to strictly synthetic grass solutions and doing it the eco-responsible way, so I have done a lot of research on synthetic turf in the last few years, it is a relatively new industry and that’s why there’s a lot of miss information out there.
Tom Diehl: Yeah and that is very typical with a burgeoning industry you know, you do see that and people are like, well, they don’t know what else to think, it’s like ok, I guess that’s true. You know, it’s like when you see green and organic and other labels on products on the store and it’s very dangerous, the marketers have a lot of power over the uneducated , so that’s certainly what we seek to do this site, and with this podcast is get the education out, so, with that in mind, to some of the specific issues around the turf products, you had mentioned to me that there is certain companies that will remain nameless out there that use things like dirty crumbe rubber recycled shredded tire products as turf and infill and that, you said that that’s outdated and can be a serious safety hazard, can you enlighten us about that?
Sean Daily: Correct, the industry as far as the product goes, it needs an infill and an infill, what that does is it holds the blades, it gives the stability to the blades of grass, the synthetic blades, so it’s really important that you have an infill. Now, a lot of companies will say you don’t need it an infill, but what happens is the synthetic grass mats down like a pancake and so, with research, it pretty much shows that you need an infill the problem is most companies are using a dirty recycled black crumbe rubber and their also mixing it with silica sand, well both of those products, there’s a lot of concern with silica sand with the Silicosis, it’s respiratory disease and with the installation process, you’ve got a lot of silica sand in the air and it’s certainly dangerous for workers and anybody standing by, let alone we don’t know the result of the silica sand being in the turf when it comes to daycare centers and just basically children playing on it. The dirty crumbe rubber is basically, it heats up to very high temperatures in the summer, so basically, if a pet is using the grass, it’s unfortunate but the temperatures can get up to 150-170 degrees and unfortunately for a pet, it can be dangerous and also children, but for pets laying on it were basically trying to find infill products and we have that reduce that temperature dramatically.
Tom Diehl: Yeah, you mentioned actually in the email to me the temperatures on the high end can get as high as 187 degrees on the very extreme.
Sean Daily: Absolutely, it’s a question that most consumers are asking and the truth needs to be told as far is when your in temecluive valley or you’re in some aired climates, where the temperature outside is 100 plus, the truth needs to be told about the synthetic turf and how hot it can actually get. It can get to dangerous levels so inevitable it is a petroleum plastic product, it’s going to heat up but anything you can do on the infill to reduce that is a big plus.
Tom Diehl: Yeah, well, they say , part of the allure of having the lawn is this cool place, this greenness, right in your, outside your home, so you know, in hot weather, picture my kids, and you know, we don’t have a dog, but you know,it’s like rolling around out there and that sort of blows that whole vision, that there rolling around in a volcanic pit, essentially, a green colored volcanic pit, in those cases. So, what are the ways to mitigate that?
Sean Daily: well, there’s some, the good news is there’s some products out there, and I have got an affiliation with Eco Alliance Synthetic turf products which, are really on the cutting edge with the green movement with the synthetic turf industry. I’m very lucky to be with them and I got a distributorship in riverside County, with Eco Alliance and basically, they’ve got a product, it’s an eco infill it’s basically a rubber coated sand and so the sand in not a silica sand it’s a granular sand and in the process of creating this, they basically coated it in rubber. But, it’s a green coating which is a lot cooler and certainly with testing that’s been done if the temperature it’s reduced by about 30 degrees, now you might think that still sounds like a high temperature, but compared to 160 when you are in the 130 range, that’s a big difference, but truth be told , synthetic turf does heat up, but anything you can do to reduce that temperature is a benefit, but the other thing is the safety issue with the silica sand and the black, dirty rubber crumbe is enough to be cautious and not use that.
Sean Daily: And there’s also a difference between being in 130 degrees where there’s the surface object that you have the option of being connected to or not in the open air versus, say for example, being in a car we’ve all heard about the issues and heard in the news about the issues of pets and unfortunately in some cases children being injured or killed by, you know, parents who left them in the car for even just a few minutes with windows not rolled down and things like that in the summer heat, but you know, so it’s a little bit different, then you have to put that in the context of, like, if you’ve got 130 degree synthetic lawn, and, but you’re in the open air it’s not like your trapped inside of a car or something like that. It’s going to be a different situation.
Tom Diehl: Absolutely, and keep in mind, I want to point out the benefits of synthetic turf because the benefits far outweigh any of the problems, but the issues need to be told, so upon the installation process, these things can help the overall temperature, it a small problem, the bigger problem is not to use silica sand, not to use dirty rubber, there are better infill products and not going with the infill is not the best way, because, like I said the turf can mat down like a pancake, but the benefits of synthetic turf certainly you can get rid of your lawn mower and it’s proven that lawn mowers emit more carbon emissions that automobiles and that’s a big, big plus for the environment, in addition of course saving water. The average natural lawn, square foot, you are using about 50 gallons a year, so a thousand square foot lawn, you are using 50,000 gallons a year just to keep your grass green, so saving water is a big plus, the issue with pesticides and fertilizers and not having to use those and not having them run off into the wetlands and streams is a huge plus. Those three issues alone give synthetic turf a huge boost. One Hundred million feet of Synthetic Turf was installed in 2006 alone and we are projecting that amount alone will be installed in the Southwest in 2008, so it’s a grand industry, the biggest growing home improvement industry out there so, it’s important for the consumer to know the facts and how to go about buying the best products and getting the best company to install it properly.
Sean Daily: Sounds good. Well, I have some more questions, I want to switch gears a little bit when we come back, we are going to take a quick break to go to our sponsor and hear a few words there and then we will be back with Tom Diehl of, who is the CEO of Future Turf and you can find them online at futureturf.com and there is another website which is ecosyntheticturf.com and we will be right back and Tom when we get back I want to ask you a little bit the look and feel of these products and more on the consumer experience and we’ll be right back.
Sean Daily: And we are back with Tom Diehl who is the CEO of Futureturf and we are talking today about greener synthetic turfs solutions as lawn alternatives and Tom, just when we were talking before about the products themselves and some of the issues that come around, you were talking about, you know, breathing issues for workers and people who live around these products with regards to the silica sand that is used for the infill and then other effects with regards to the rubber that’s being used, rubber infill and typical products and things like that so, but I also wanted talk a little about, you know, so, and forgive me for this, but it’s also more of the cosmetic side of just the experience, I think that the barrier to entry for a lot of people with products like this, in a home situation is traditionally the way that they look, they look very artificial, and I am speaking about, you know, products in the past, versus, say having a lawn, people who want that lawn feel. We are very fortunate here in Northern California, the area where I live there…, it’s a very rocky area, it’s very acceptable, both aesthetically as well as in terms of just, you know, home value and things like that to have natural landscaping, you don’t even have to have a lawn, we could have rocks, and there’s lots of rocks and shrubbery and it looks beautiful, but in area of the country where that’s maybe not as of an option, or is as esthetically consistent tell us how this has evolved, these types of products
Tom Diehl: Well being a landscaper and contractor for 24 years and doing design, that my forte, I am very particular about natural landscape designs and nobody wants a natural design more than me, but of course living in arid climates realizing that the water issues you have to switch gears, and a blended landscape with synthetic turf mixed with ponds or other plantings with drip irrigation is just smart planning. The technology now with synthetic turf is tremendous, the samples…there’s over 250 varieties, it’s a little confusing to the consumer because products are made in the United States, they are made in China, they are made in Italy to New Zealand, there’s products all over the world, so to sift through all that, it can get a little bit difficult for the consumer, but the good news is , the density and the look and feel, the realistic look of these turfs is unbelievable, and I would say everything is a pro, the only con would be how it heats up, but it’s fantastic they look real and there’s all different colors and try colors to choose from varieties’ that give you a variegated look, it’s really unbelievable.
Sean Daily: So, are you seeing it typically being employed, or deployed I should say in that way, in conjunction with small patches in conjunction with other landscaping features or is it typical to have just large swaths of the stuff, you know, as you would see in a typical large square lawn, or is it both, does it just depend?
Tom Diehl: Well, certainly, it’s personal preference, if you’ve got a large play area that you like, 3000 square feet and you just want a flat play area for the kids, synthetic would work, but the wonderful thing about it is, if you’ve got 3 or 4 thousand square feet of turf , you don’t need to install 3 or 4 thousand square feet of synthetic, you can reduce the amount, which will reduce your pricing and it’ll probably give you a better overall design if you lower it to say 1700 square feet or 1500 and you have a border between your turf and your planter and maybe you’ll do a rock garden or a pond and have drip irrigation to some draw power and plants, it could be a fantastic blended artificial look mixed with the natural look, it’s great.
Sean Daily: Hmm, interesting , yeah, because I know, this is a frustrating area I think for a lot of homeowners at least, I think I must be representative of many where you look at it and I think particularly when you have children, if I did not have children, I would not really care about looking outside and seeing all natural landscaping, we have very sort of earth friendly landscaping, it’s all native, low water usage watering requirements and all that, but you want to have a place to sort of play and throw a football, or throw a Frisbee, or just run around or roll around in the grass and things like that so, you know, I think this has always represented the possibility of an alternative to have a lawn or a lawn type entity, you know, because of the play aspect with children, it really changes things I think for a lot of people. So, you are saying this is both aestitically and functionally a viable solution.
Tom Diehl: Americans love their lawns, Sean and they absolutely love to have a patch or large lawn otherwise the kids are visually to have that blend of a contrast of a green turf mixed with a nice rock garden or your planter in the proper ratio. It’ll always be a need and it something I don’t think people don’t want to give up to straight rock so synthetic really fills this void and it saves water and I mentioned the emissions, no pesticides and when it comes to your pet, it certainly is very pet friendly, if you use a proper infill, it’s a fantastic product in that regard. I just think the truth regarding the drawbacks need to be told and then people could move forward and feel comfortable putting the synthetic installations in.
Sean Daily: Sounds good, well we are talking today about greener synthetic turf solutions for lawn and yard care and my guest is Tom Diehl who is the CEO of Future Turf and a licensed contractor in California and we will be right back after one more quick break from our sponsor. Thanks everybody and we’ll be right back.
Sean Daily: And we are back with Tom Diehl, CEO of Future Turf, we are talking today about greener synthetic turf solutions. Tom, I wanted to talk to you a little too about the ROI aspects, invariably, people ask about the costs aspects of these things and we talk about things, obviously, there are things, not only in terms of the earth and ecologically but also financially with not having to water the lawn I know that’s a significant expense for anyone who is not in a rainy area of the world who is maintaining a lawn and that’s a real concern and so, you know, what these products cost and in terms of the non chemical and non water usage to maintain them and human labor and all that. What’s a typical window of ROI or payback on these types of products?
Tom Diehl: Well, the average cost of a synthetic turf construction project is ten dollars a square foot and the return on investment, it usually takes 3 to 4 years to recoup that and your pretty much good to go after that. It’s virtually maintenance free, although is also specializing in remedial services which you need to do for cleaning and certainly maintaining synthetic turf, but basically at ten dollars a square foot, initially it’s a little bit more investment, but keep in mind, if it was a new landscape construction design there’s a lot of work involved with soil prep and irrigation and drainage and certainly the installation of your sod which can and certainly run into the five to eight dollar range. So if your renovating a project, yes, it’s pretty much ten dollars afoot, but if it’s new construction you might as well go synthetic because in the long run your not having a gardener, not having a lawn mower and certainly the pesticide fertilizer savings and definitely the water the number one thing.
Sean Daily: Do you see the adoption of this type of product being targeted towards or I guess, more heavily adopted in certain demographics, for example maybe the elderly or people that are past middle age versus people that are sort of in their twenties and thirties and have kids, are you seeing those kind of correlations?
Tom Diehl: Well, it’s across the board Sean, when you go to the trade shows, people are fascinated with coming up and feeling the samples, they are very realistic and because of that, you do a lot of calls across the board with people with small pets, they might have a gravel yard and they are looking after their pet with a softer surface or it certainly could be a vast estate where they are just tired of all the maintenance and all the water and they are looking to go eco friendly with saving water so it is across the board with synthetic turf and it’s only growing.
Sean Daily: Tom, as a final question for you, I am just curious about, what would you advise our listeners today that are looking into these types of products to look for in these products in terms of their components, their constitute components.
Tom Diehl: The number one thing Sean is density. The face weight of synthetic turf is what you look for and the face weight could range from thirty three ounce per square yard and that would be the weight of the face weight per square yard up to ninety to one hundred ounce weight per square yard. The infill, it would require less infill, the denser that you have the turf. So, when you are looking for a product, when you look over it, you look down when it’s finished, you do not want to see black rubber crumbe, you want to see a nice thick lush lawn with the proper infill, so I would recommend to a minimum you would get a face weight to at least fifty to sixty ounce and up from there would make it only be denser and make it have a better lusher look and feel.
Sean Daily: Okay, and anything else in terms of the products themselves, things to look out for?
Tom Diehl: there’s a lot of personal subjective choices because some are a deeper green, some are a brighter green, olive green, Verdi green, maybe a fescue green could be a variegated foliage, so there’s a lot of personal choices there and I recommend looking at the samples and deciding if you want something maybe a Kentucky bluegrass fresh mowed look or maybe you want something a little more California like that’s not so green, but when it comes to the density, the infill and the installation process and certainly the follow up maintenance realize that there’s eight year warrantees on most of the products, most companies are saying it lasts twenty to thirty years, but we really don’t know that most keep in mind after five or six years you’re probably going to want to do a little bit of restoration maybe and keep it clean, anything needs maintenance, you’re going to have to broom it a little bit, use a leaf blower to get the organic material off of their consistently., So nothing that is maintenance free, but the long term benefits are just fantastic, I highly recommend it, just be aware of all the different issues.
Sean Daily: Well on that note, we certainly appreciate you coming on today and enlightening us and our audience about those issues around synthetic turf products and so it’s been very informative and my guest today has been Tom Diehl who is the CEO of Future Turf, he’s also a licensed contractor in California. Tom, once again, thanks for being with us.
Tom Diehl: Thank you Sean.
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