Last Updated on October 31, 2021 by Phil
Artificial grass vs. real grass, is real grass really better for your lawn or yard?
I live in Southern California, where the weather tends to lean towards warm and dry. In fact, drought is a common threat. We also don’t get a lot of rain during the course of the year.
As such, it is sometimes surprising to see some homes with super pristine looking lawns all year round.
And, in a recent visit to a friend’s home I was surprised to learn that her grass was artificial. It looked so real and I would have never guessed unless she told me.
So, if you have a hard time maintaining your lawn or want something that’s low maintenance, consider synthetic grass as the technology has advanced quite a bit.
Below I break down the difference between the two.
Artificial Grass vs. Real Grass for Your Lawn & Backyard: Which is Better?
Since comparing two things is never easy, I’m going to try and break them down into different categories. This way, it reduces any biases I may have for one or another aspect.
And, it will let you pick the most important aspects to compare depending on which ones your value the most.
I know some people like to look at cost more while others focus on looks and feel. Then there are those who are more practical and want to know the maintenance required to keep things in order. Or, how long an item is expected to last before it needs to be replaced.
So, I’ll just lay everything out and let you decide on which aspect to focus on.
Looks and Aesthetics
Let’s begin with looks.
Real grass is beautiful. And, there are many different looks to it. You can also choose the kind of grass you want. Often, this has something to do with where you live and the soil you have.
But, the reality about natural grass is you need to regularly mow or cut the lawn.
This is where a lovely lawn or backyard can turn into something that looks like a vacant lot. Or, long uneven grass that does not look appealing.
That same problem of inconsistency is not a problem for artificial grass. It always looks neat and tidy.
Thanks to modern technology, there are so many different designs, colors, textures blade lengths and everything else.
Low quality artificial turf looks like plastic and is something you want to avoid. But, good quality artificial grass is beautiful.
I remember seeing one my neighbor put in a year ago. And, I never noticed that it was artificial until she asked me, “How do you like the grass?”
I answered, “What do you mean?”. She then replied, “It’s artificial, I had it installed just a few months ago.”
Honestly, I was taken aback. It looked like real grass that was very well taken care of.
Better yet, she said, no maintenance, no underground critter problems and no watering needed.
That said, after talking to her about it, there are things you also want to know on the downside.
- The color will likely fade over the years. The estimate for mid-level quality is about 8 to 10 years. For good quality artificial grass, it is closer to 20 to 25 years. But, it is too early to tell what actually happens.
- The seams, edges and corners are the most important. When layering, you want to keep these as even as possible so there is not space in between or overlap. Otherwise, it will be very obvious (and ugly to look at).
- Another issue to watch out for are uneven areas. Slopes, inclines, troughs and other bumpy surfaces will need something done before laying the turf. In most cases, they’ll be leveled or an underlay may be placed to even things out.
The good news is. In 5 years, it will look exactly the same as it does today with little maintenance on your part. And, neighbors will surely envy your lovely evergreen lawn that looks pristine all year round.
So here, artificial grass wins over real grass by just a bit.
Watering and Irrigation
This one is an easy win for artificial grass.
That’s because you don’t need to water it. This means you save a lot of money in your utility bill over the years. Also, there’s no need to worry about the grass deteriorating without the water.
Although, there are a few occasions you’ll need to water your artificial grass. That’s when you’re cleaning it. Watering it and getting rid of debris once in a while will help keep it clean.
All you need to do is hose the surface down for a few seconds to let the stream of water carry the dirt away.
On the other hand, real grass requires water.
Depending on where you live and how big your lawn or backyard is, you may need to use a lot of it.
I have a friend who always saves laundry water for her lawns. You can likewise collect rainwater with a rain barrel if there’s enough rain in your area.
Timing is likewise important since watering in the evenings is not a good idea since the excess moisture won’t evaporate.
Water sitting on the soil for long periods will bring you problems sooner than later.
Verdict on watering, artificial grass will save you money in the long run. And, there’s not maintenance needed since you don’t need to water it like real grass.
Safety & Fun for Kids and Dogs
One of the biggest things about my lawn and backyard is I always make sure it is a safe place for my kids and dogs to play in.
Depending on where you live, this may not always be the case since snakes, rodents and other creatures can embed themselves in longer blades of grass.
That’s not a problem with artificial grass which is always neat and trim. It also does not attract these insects and animals like soil and regular grass does.
Additionally, you never need to use any fertilizer, pesticides or other chemicals on fake grass. This makes it safe for children and animals to run and play as they wish.
Artificial turf is also more friendly (in most cases) for kids who like to play in the backyard. Fake grass is great for soccer as there don’t experience all the mud and splinters when they slide.
However, it is worth noting that NFL or football players don’t like it. It is said to increase their risk of ACL injuries. But, I can’ t really tell you more since I’m not a doctor nor am I a sports expert.
The biggest issue about synthetic turf is infill. This is the 3rd component used for making artificial grass. And it is the tiny rubber particles made from rubber (sometimes tires) that pose a risk.
These can get into the air and enter through your child’s nose or mouth. Over time, these toxins will accumulate.
Thus, it is essential to go with high quality synthetic grass if your kinds like to slide and play on the surface. if they run around and jump, that’s not a problem.
Lower quality artificial turf will have unhealthy amounts of these toxins including lead. So, beware.
Verdict: It goes either way. A lot depends on what kind of fake grass you get and how much your kids and pets play on the surface of the synthetic grass.
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Lifespan / Long-Term Resilience to Foot Traffic, Abuse, Neglect, Temperature & Sunlight
In terms of lifespan, high quality artificial grass is estimated to last between 20-25 years. Affordable products are expected to go around 8 years.
Cheap synthetic grass is more questionable and likely to show inconsistencies in a few years.
The thing with artificial grass is that once these inconsistencies show, it is easy to tell it is fake. And, its looks and aesthetic appeal diminished considerably.
So proper care and longevity is very important.
That said, good quality artificial grass is strong, resilient and durable.
It can take tons of foot traffic without sustaining any damage. And, it won’t flatten out. You also don’t need to replace or reseed them ever.
Real grass shows obvious wear and tear from foot traffic, even a little. That’s why gardens often have stepping stones or paths for people to cross.
If you like hosting events in your yard or entertaining, this can be an issue.
A quick example is to look at the tennis courts of Wimbledon. When the tournament starts its grass is beautifully manicured. But after a few days of tennis players running back and forth, you see large sections that are bald and uneven.
Dogs, cats and other animals that urinate on lawns likewise damage it. This causes grass to turb brown and have bald patches as well.
There’s also no mud or muck to bring inside with you in case it rains or the grass gets wet.
Mowing and Maintenance
The biggest thing to consider about real grass are the 4 chores that come with it. These are:
Mowing grass is a hassle. This is why many people hire kids to do the job. In part, it is because you need to mow often.
Additionally, watering is likewise a regular task for real grass.
More importantly, you need to know how much to mow and water. Too much or too little will eventually affect the look and health of the grass.
During the summer, fertilizer is key to keep the grass healthy.
And, let’s not get started with weeds. They’re a menace that need to be taken care of as soon as you start seeing them pop up.
With artificial grass, there’s much less maintenance. But not zero maintenance.
You’ll need to water the synthetic turn to get rid of debris and leaves from your garden or if there are trees in your lawn.
Also, to make it look nice and gorgeous, fake grass needs to be raked once in a while. Not much though. And, make sure to get the proper rake not the regular garden rake which will damage the surface.
Finally, synthetic grass has no problem with lack of sun. So, if your lawn or backyard does not get ideal light, artificial grass is a good idea.
Here, real grass wins by a mile.
Artificial grass is both good and bad here.
Let’s begin with the good… It saves you tons of water a year, and every year after you install it.
However, it cannot be recycled. At least not as far as I know or my research leads me to believe. That may change in the future as the technology improved.
Many synthetic grass manufacturers will say otherwise. But, my in depth research tells me recycling is not an end of life option for fake grass.
On the other hand, real grass is good for the environment. It produces oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide making it the opposite of the what we breathe in and exhale.
Green areas also improve our lifestyle, let us walk around and relieve stress. It is likewise goof for animals and wildlife.
Just as importantly, there are no waste produces or pollution created by factories as you don’t need to manufacture real grass. Fake grass will have excess materials of which not all are biodegradable.
Eventually, it will end up in the landfill as well (after 20 or so years).
Another thing to consider is synthetic grass will absorb heat. I only noticed this when my friend told me about it. So, it is something worth considering as well especially if you live in areas where summer gets really hot.
Price & Cost (Product, Installation, Care)
This is probably the biggest drawback of fake grass.
And I’m not going to sugar coat it for you. It is expensive, at least in the beginning as you have to pay for the turf. And, in many cases have it professionally installed.
Although, the latter is getting more optional as more and more manufacturers are coming up with DIY solutions.
But, even with these, you still need to know what you’re doing otherwise, you can end up with a not-so-real-looking surface that does not do the product justice.
Initial Cost of the Grass & Installation Costs
Artificial grass costs vary. Like all products, there are cheap, middle and high quality products.
In addition to the material (which are the layers of artificial turf), there are also other things included in the initial costs.
- The margin of the store or retailer (some will tack on more)
- Extra fees
- Labor costs
- Overhead costs
Then, the prices also vary (besides quality). The type of grass your get, how much space you need to cover, what material you’re using and so on.
Pricing is done on a square foot basis as is the case for most things related to floor area and space coverage.
A good place to start is around $9 per square foot. But, you’ll find many good ones ranging from between $15 to $25 per square foot. Again, this can go up or down depending on the different factors above.
So, a 1,000 square foot lawn or yard will cost $9,000 at the lowest and average out at around $15,000 to $25,000 per square foot. This includes 1 to 4 days of installation depending on how the manufacturer works.
Here’s a video on how artificial grass is installed. Although do note that different manufacturers will use different methods. Although the overall concept is very similar.
On the other hand, natural grass is grown through sodding or seeding.
The former costs a bit more because it is pre-grown. But, it saves you the extra time and effort required in seeding.
As you already know, you need to install the grass and also set up some kind of irrigation system.
Depending on where you live, where you get the grass, which method you choose and other factors, the overall costs can run from as low as $2.00 per square foot to above $4.50 per square foot.
Also, add in a little bit for a sprinkler system as well.
Of course you can do this all yourself and save the extra cash. If that’s the case, you can go as low as $0.05 per square meter. This comes out to about $50 per 1,000 square feet.
If you want to be thorough, you’ll also need to count the watering costs to grow the grass. This is more difficult since cost of irritation will vary depending on where you live.
Care and Maintenance Costs
This is where artificial grass makes up for the higher initial costs.
You can expect the synthetic grass to last between 20 to 25 years. The best part is it costs around $250 to $300 to maintain it over that period.
You will need to get a rake/brush for the turf which costs another $30 to $40.
But, that’s it.
Pets are another issue if they tend to poop or urinate on the surface. Here, removing the poop is easy. And, the surface will allow the urine to pass through to the soil below.
So, both are not big issues.
However, the odor is. Like most synthetic materials, these absorb odors. So, you’ll need to rinse the grass or the areas where your furry ones tend to mark their territories.
You’ll need to get a produce like Urea Z which costs about $100 a gallon, with each gallon able to cover 2,500 square feet of area.
Thus, over a 25 year period, this can cost between $5,000 to $6,000 total.
So, artificial grass care over 25 years is about $350 or so. But, with a pet, it goes up significantly to $6,350.
With real grass, you probably already know the chores related to it.
There’s moving, edging, fertilizer, weed removal, watering and aeration. Plus, you may need to amend the soil, reseed the grass or do repairs and damages over time.
You may or may not buy a mower as well, which can cost a pretty penny if you have a large yard.
Climate also plays a big part on how much work it related to it.
Of course, there’s your labor, if you prefer to do it yourself.
Hiring someone costs about $30 per session for mowing and edging. IF you do this twice a month, it will cost $720 a year. Over 25 years, that’s about $18,000.
Aerating is another issue. I know many people who don’t do it. Although I highly recommend doing so. This is another cost in the long term that average around $50 per 1,000 square feet. Ideally done twice a year.
That comes out to about $2,5000 over a 25 year span. If done once a year, about $1,250.
Fertilizer also becomes costly over time. Depending on the brand and type of product you use the price can vary. On average, each application probably comes out to about $50. That’s another $5,000 over 25 years.
Again water is difficult to estimate because of the varying costs per city. Plus, warm weather costs more to water. On average, this comes out to anywhere from $7,000 to $9,000 for 25 years.
As a rough estimate, that gives you 18,000 + 2,500 + 5,000 + 8,000 = 33,500 over 25 years for real grass.
In contrast, the cost of artificial grass over that time is 15,000 to 25,000 + 340 or 6340 (if you have a pet). This comes out to between 15,340 to 25,340 if you don’t have a pet or 21,340 to 31,340 with a pet.
Of course, after those 25 years, you’ll need to start the computation over for artificial grass since you need to change it. But, by then, I’m sure the technology is very different and more advanced. In all likelihood more affordable as well.
Artificial vs. Real Grass: Which Should You Buy?
So, with everything laid out, it really comes down to you.
Real grass is more of an ongoing cost and effort to maintain while artificial grass is more of a front up expense. But, you need to make sure you get a good quality product.
With looks, the question you want to ask yourself is will it bother you to have fake grass in your lawn or not. While other people may not notice, you’ll always know.
I know for some people that will always bother them. But for others it is a non-issue.
Maintenance easily swings to the favor of artificial grass.
And, I’ll give safety and environmental friendliness to real grass.