As artificial grass gains popularity, people are asking themselves whether replacing their lawns with synthetic turf is worth the investment. How much will it cost you and how long will it take for the initial cost to pay off? Homeowners balk at replacing natural grass with artificial turf due to the cost. The concern stems from the legitimately higher expenditures involved when installing synthetic grass vs. a seeded or sod lawn.
The upfront installation price tag, however, is only part of the financial picture: You also have to consider ongoing maintenance and other long-range costs. Let’s dig into the subject more closely and evaluate just what sort of dent artificial grass can put into your pocketbook—and how it might save you some cash in the big picture!
The Average Cost of Installing Artificial Grass
You can expect to pay anywhere from $4 to $20 per square foot to put in an artificial lawn. That reflects the total cost of installation and associated materials, such as the gravel or sand used for the bed layer; synthetic grass alone tends to run $2 to $8 per square foot, as HomeAdvisor notes in this handy primer.
So to convert an average American residential lawn of some 0.14 acres, or about 6,100 square feet, to artificial grass, you might be looking at anywhere between $24,000 and $122,000 for professional installation. To sod the same area might be $2,440 by comparison (setting the cost per square foot at a reasonable 40 cents).
Of course, many homeowners are looking to install artificial grass in smaller areas of their property—a few hundred square feet, for example—and there are factors that can reduce the installation cost of synthetic turf, such as putting a little sweat equity in to the job yourself. We’ll wrap up this overview with a few real-world scenarios of cost-saving approaches.
Price Range of Synthetic Grass Materials
As with any other manufactured product, the cost of the grass itself varies depending on the material used to construct it. On the cheaper end of the spectrum, you might pay only a dollar or two per square foot for polyethylene, which won’t be as durable in the face of heavy foot traffic or direct, prolonged exposure to heat. A popular midrange choice is polypropylene, typically $2 to $3 per square foot; it’s prized for its plush feel underfoot, and can be hardy enough for use in well-tramped spaces and even sports fields. Tougher and more temperature-resilient yet, somewhat stiffer nylon turf may cost you $3 or $4 per square foot
Associated Material & Labor Costs
Besides the cost of the artificial grass itself, you also need to consider the other materials required to properly install a synthetic lawn. These include the crushed gravel, sand, and/or aggregate used as base and bed layers beneath the artificial grass for proper drainage, landscape fabric, edging material such as brick, and infill—typically sand or rubber pellets—used to stabilize and improve the texture and appearance of the lawn. Here are some detailed breakdowns:
The next material you’re going to spend on is the road base which varies according to location. We can get a general idea of the cost though by opting for the least expensive type. If you use a cheap road base, you’re looking to spend about 35 cents per square foot.
Weed Suppressing Material
The weed barrier layer is going to cover the entirety of your plot and this is essential because it’s the reason you’ll be saving in the long-term by not having to replace your turf. This fabric comes at an average of $70 per 1000 square feet.
Bender or Poly Board
Bender or poly boards are useful if you have soft-scape edges. The material itself is used to support turf that runs alongside it. An average bender board will cost you about $20 per roll (each roll provides 20 feet of board).
Crushed Stone, Sand or Grit
Gravel for the foundation of your artificial grass can cost anywhere between $10.00 to $90.00 per cubic yard depending on whether you buy in bulk, have it delivered or pick it up yourself, and the brand.
If you’re planning to use silica sand to even out the foundation surface or to set the turf once it’s laid (or both), you’re in for an additional expense. Silica sand costs between $10 and $12 a pound and depending on the size of your project, you can use up hundreds of pounds.
Labor costs can set you back between $2.25 and $2.75 per square foot of work. If you have a 1,000 square foot plot, that would be a $2,250 to $2,750 labor fee. The upside to getting it professional installed is that a turf-installation company would likely include a guarantee policy, which means that you’ll be able to access help in the future if your lawn were to need some maintenance.
Besides labor and cleanup costs associated with actually installing the artificial grass, there’s also the prep work to consider: clearing and excavating the site to a depth of anywhere between 1.5 to 4 inches.
Extra dollars will also be spent on a variety of small things like nails, a flat board, seaming tape, adhesive, stakes, and even staples. These all depend on your specific installation process and the size of your lot.
Maintenance Costs of Artificial Grass vs. Natural Lawn
As we’ve seen thus far, artificial grass costs substantially more to install than its natural counterpart. But installation, of course, is only part of the picture: We also need to think about the upkeep costs of both types of lawns across time.
A natural grass lawn, of course, demands quite a lot of maintenance. You’ve got to water it, mow it, weed it, and fertilize it to make sure it doesn’t turn into a scraggly or yellowed mess—or, worse yet, an unsightly expanse of dead grass. A rough rule of thumb suggests a grass lawn requires 0.623 gallons of water per square foot per week in warm, sunny summer weather. Obviously your yearly watering costs depend on a whole host of factors—your climate, the length of your growing season, your municipal water/sewer rates—but you may well be laying down several hundred dollars annually to water an average-sized lawn.
Then there’s mowing: shelling out in terms of gasoline, time, maintenance, and potential mower repair costs if you’re doing it yourself, or as a weekly expense if you hire a lawn-care company (or neighbor kid) to do it for you. Fertilizing costs can also be substantial, whether you’re buying the fertilizer and spreader yourself or paying for one or more professional treatments each year.
Artificial grass, by contrast, requires very little in the way of active maintenance beyond periodically blowing or raking the lawn to remove leaves, dirt, and other debris, and cleaning up after your dog if need be. There are major yearly savings with synthetic turf when you consider you don’t need to spend any money or time watering, mowing, or fertilizing: an unbelievably hassle-free lawn. To clean it from time to time and the water consumption won’t be nearly as much as what’s used on a natural lawn (about $250 a year for a 1000 sqft lawn), you’re looking at around a gallon of water use per week.
Lifespan of Artificial Grass
Advances in artificial-grass technology mean that, with proper installation, synthetic turf can often last 10 to 15 years—even 20 or more, depending on the product.
A Few Different Scenarios for Artificial Grass Installation Costs
Artificial grass has come a very long way since the early days, and higher-quality polypropylene and nylon turf can hold up well in the wear-and-tear department even in lawn spaces that see a lot of foot traffic and sun exposure.
That said, many people still opt to install artificial grass in areas where it won’t be tromped on very much, or in shady spots in the yard where natural grass struggles. In other words, you might not need to turn your entire lawn-scape into artificial grass. Perhaps you’ll only do so for a few hundred square feet, which obviously results in a much lower installation cost than you reckon with for larger projects.
And if the space you plan on installing with artificial grass is indeed a shadier, less-trafficked one, you might decide you can get away with comparatively inexpensive polyethylene turf: as mentioned above, less durable than polypropylene or nylon, but also quite a bit cheaper. Putting polyethylene artificial grass into a small corner of the yard may cost less than $1,000.
Here are a few other scenarios where you might be able to shave off some money from the total installation cost of artificial grass:
- The DIY Approach: You could opt to install artificial grass yourself rather than hire out for professional work. Particularly for smaller spaces, this is certainly a doable option if you have the time and a reasonable modicum of skill, as it’s not particularly difficult to wield and cut the rectangular rolls in which artificial grass typically comes. You’d obviously be paying for gravel/sand/aggregate, weed-barrier fabric, edging material, and the synthetic turf, but saving on labor costs. For a 500-square-foot lawn, reckoning about $2,000 for crushed gravel, maybe $1,680 for a sand bed, $400 for bricks to edge the plot, $250 for landscape fabric, and $250 for rubber infill, and $1,000 for polyethylene or low-end polypropylene turf, and you’re looking at $5,580 for a DIY installation. You definitely want to make sure you know what you’re doing, however, as improperly installed artificial grass—say, an inadequate drainage layer—can cost you in repair or replacement in short order.
- The Partial DIY Approach: Another way to lessen the financial burden of putting in artificial grass is to handle the prep-work yourself. You may understandably want a professional landscaping company to install the synthetic turf, but you could still roll up your sleeves and do the excavation for it beforehand. Again, typically you want to dig down between 1.5 and 4 inches below grade to prepare the bed for artificial grass and its base layer. This could save you anywhere from several hundred to a couple thousand dollars for our hypothetical 500-square-foot lawn.
- Eschew Infill: As Genevieve Schmidt notes in a LandscapingNetwork profile of artificial grass, you don’t always need to add infill to your synthetic turf. To some extent the purpose of those rubber pellets or sand applications is to mask the artificial grass’s threading, so if you don’t really care about this aesthetic issue you might opt not to spend the money on that touchup phase. Keep in mind, though, that infill can also enhance the texture and bounce of artificial grass. Rubber infill might cost roughly $0.50 per square foot, so you could save $250 for your 500-square-foot artificial lawn by going without it—plus whatever associated time and labor costs if it’s a professional job.
Hopefully this overview provides some useful direction when it comes to hashing out the potential dollars-and-cents impact of installing artificial grass. Keep in mind, as we’ve alluded to above, that the actual cost of materials and labor will vary dramatically depending on your location and the logistical realities of the physical space you’re looking at.
- HouseLogic: Why Fake Grass is Gaining Popularity
- Black & Decker: The Complete Guide to a Better Lawn (Chris Peterson)
- Santa Barbara Independent: The Evolution of Synthetic Grass (Matt Kettmann)
- LandscapingNetwork: Artificial Turf