Synthetic Turf or Natural Grass Sports Fields?

STMA aims to provide information to assist in the selection and maintenance of synthetic turf and natural turfgrass fields.

Because each field is different, much of the information is generalized. Additional resources have been provided below to assist with your specific situation.

Construction Costs

STMA developed A Guide to Synthetic and Natural Turfgrass for Sports Fields.  The Guide addresses construction of synthetic and natural grass fields in depth and breaks out the costs associated with the construction of each type of surface. The cost ranges are generalized for field construction projects throughout the continental U.S. However regional variances may be reflected in these estimates. This information is not relevant to indoor facilities or to baseball/softball fields.

The cost to construct either field type will vary dramatically depending upon its:

  • Field size
  • Geographic location
  • Labor costs
  • Construction schedule
  • Amount of site work required
  • Irrigation system (as needed for each field type)
  • Estimated number of games and variety of activities

There also may be state and local regulations governing construction, such as requiring an environmental impact study prior to construction including stormwater management.

Synthetic Turf

To build a synthetic field, costs range between $6.00-$10.25 per square foot.  This cost reflects field excavation, the base layer materials and installation, labor costs, drainage and irrigation, carpet and infill materials, just to name a few.  See what else is involved when building a synthetic turf field.

Natural Grass

There are various options available when building natural grass fields.

  • Construction of a natural grass field using on-site native soil can cost between $0.60-$1.50 per square foot.
  • A natural grass field using native soil can cost between $1.50-$3.00 per square foot.
  • Construction of a natural grass field with a sand cap can cost between $2.75-$4.00 per square foot.
  • A high-end natural grass field with a sand rootzone costs between $5.50-$8.00 per square foot.

These costs reflect grading, rootzone type, installation, labor and other necessities to make natural grass fields successful. Utilize the Guide for more information on what is involved when building natural grass fields.

Maintenance Costs

The figures on the infographic have been further broken out below.  Additional fields have been added for reference purposes.

Synthetic Turf

The typical cost range to maintain a synthetic field will vary. However, an average field can require approximately $5,000 – $8,000 per year in material costs and approximately 300-500 hours of labor cost per year to maintain. Material costs include infill, paint, paint
remover, disinfectants, gum remover, etc. It does not include equipment expenditures. It is much more expensive to maintain synthetic fields that are highly visible or when used for multiple sports. The cost can even be higher if field markings must be painted and cleaned often, or if frequent repairs are necessary. A Guide to Synthetic and Natural Turfgrass for Sports Fields provides more information about the maintenance associated with synthetic turf.

A K-12 School in Kansas spends $14,720 annually to maintain one synthetic field.  This cost reflects $3500 dedicated to deep cleaning, $1500 to hardness testing, $1800 to maintenance equipment and $7920 to labor.

At the collegiate level, Michigan State University spends about $22,760 to maintain a synthetic field.  This cost reflects $5040 in labor, $6220 in supplies, $3500 in equipment, and $8000 for outside contractor repairs.

At the collegiate level, Indiana State University – Bloomington spends about $10,000 per year to maintain one synthetic field.  This figure includes labor, field hardness testing, and grooming/cleaning.  This does not include any major repairs that may need to be done.  Equipment purchased to complete maintenance in-house was about $23,605.

Natural Grass

Many factors affect maintenance costs for natural grass fields.  Variables that influence maintenance costs include rootzone type, grass species, hours of field use, region of the country, budget, and many more.  The following field examples are intended to provide a starting point when beginning your research about what type of field is best for your situation.  A Guide to Synthetic and Natural Turfgrass for Sports Fields provides more information about the maintenance associated with natural grass fields.

A native soil high school soccer field located in Indiana that hosts approximately 120 hours of events annually will spend between $6540-9880 on materials costs.  Yearly equipment costs are around $1350-1570 plus 134-143 hours of labor cost per year for general maintenance.

A sand-based collegiate soccer field located in Virginia that hosts approximately 300 hours of events annually will spend between $20,000-37,000 on materials costs.  Yearly equipment costs are around $5000 plus 400-450 hours of labor cost per year for general maintenance.

A native soil football field in South Carolina that hosts approximately 460 hours of events annually will spend between $6000-6500 on materials costs.  Yearly equipment costs are around $3100-3200 plus 287-305 of labor cost per year for general maintenance.

At the collegiate level, Duke University spends roughly $24,550 annually on a sand-based field.  The cost includes all materials and labor.  About 480 hours of labor are spent on this field.

Resurfacing Costs

The cost information was obtained from research completed in the Pacific Northwest.  The study, A Life-Cycle Cost Analysis of Synthetic Infill and Natural Grass Systems can be accessed here.  Costs may differ depending on your region of the country.

Synthetic Turf

Resurfacing a synthetic field requires removal and disposal of the original, worn carpet and infill, purchase of new materials, and labor to install. Recarpeting of synthetic fields typically occurs every 8-10 years.  The average cost is $4.60 per square foot.  This includes the price of labor, removal, carpet, rubber, and the cost of disposing of the old synthetic infill surface.

Natural Grass

If a natural grass field is built and maintained correctly, resurfacing may not need to take place within a 20 year period.  If resurfacing is necessary, cost is roughly $0.24 per square foot.

Heat

Synthetic Turf

High synthetic field surface temperatures are directly related to clear, sunny, and hot conditions. Maximum surface temperatures recorded during hot, sunny conditions averaged from 140 to 183°F.

Natural Grass

Natural grass has been shown to be a temperature reducer. The temperature of natural grass rarely rises above 85 °F, however, in dry conditions mid-summer, temperatures have been recorded at 98 °F.

For more information about heat and other field safety concerns, access A Guide to Synthetic and Natural Turfgrass for Sports Fields.

Field Hardness

Synthetic Turf

Infill depth can have a strong influence on Gmax. Inlays, painted areas, seams, and high-use areas are areas that typically lose infill and can have increased surface hardness. Gmax testing should occur at least annually, with more frequent testing suggested on heavily-used fields.  Frequent Gmax testing allows hardness levels to be tracked over time, which helps identify areas of concern before the threshold is reached.  The Gmax threshold is dependent on the equipment being used to measure hardness. The values of 100 Gmax (Clegg Impact Tester, ASTM 1702) and 164 Gmax (ASTM F355 missile A) have been set as upper limits for athletic field playing surfaces.

Natural Grass

Gmax of natural turfgrass fields can vary greatly over a relatively short period of time. Changes in soil water content and the amount of field usage (and resulting soil compaction), each have significant influence on Gmax. Gmax testing should occur at least annually, with more frequent testing suggested on heavily-used fields. Frequent Gmax testing allows hardness levels to be tracked over time, which helps identify areas of concern before the threshold is reached.  The values of 100 Gmax (Clegg Impact Tester, ASTM 1702) and 164 Gmax (ASTM F355 missile A) have been set as upper limits for athletic field playing surfaces.

For more information about field hardness and other field safety concerns, access A Guide to Synthetic and Natural Turfgrass for Sports Fields or Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research.