"To panel or not to panel?" That is the question.

To complete a quality synthetic grass installation, you first need a solid and stable foundation where grass can be installed. Traditionally, this is done by excavating the natural soil, laying down a geotextile and importing tons of stone - but there are alternatives.

One alternative is a specially designed plastic panel. This panel has fantastic drainage capacity, needs only a small amount of ground preparation in order to use it, and is of better value than you might think.

Let's take a look at a couple of scenarios, and see how this new technology holds up against traditional methods for synthetic grass installation.

Specifics vary a little from site to site and depending on the scale of a project. Installing synthetic turf in a 50-80m2 garden presents a different set of challenges to those of a 648m2 MUGA, or a full-size football field.

Yet, in principle, they are all the same: A thick layer of type 1 or 2 stone material, with a thin layer of dust material, possibly a shockpad, and then the synthetic turf itself. 

For the moment we will focus on sports applications, but feel free to skip ahead if you're more interested in landscape applications.

Scenario: MUGA 36m x 18m 648m2

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The traditional way

Let's assume that the client has an area of level ground, with irregularly mown grass that they would like to convert to a Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA). They’re interested in using the space for football. The ground hasn't had any disturbance or activity for the last 3 years, and access for machinery and materials is good.

The process for the minimal traditional stone base would involve removing soil to a depth of 125mm, installing curbstones, adding a geotextile and 100mm of type 1 crushed stone, then a further 25mm of dust material. The shockpad would be on top of that, followed by the synthetic carpet. The whole process involves:

  • The removal of 81m3 of material (or approx. 121 tons

  • The addition of 150 tons of stone material

  • Large machinery, excavators, dump trucks, loader for 5 days

  • Labour of about a week, and a team of 3 or 4  

  • 648m2 shockpad

Total approximate cost to the client: £20,000

The PlayPitch way

Our panels require the removal of the grass sod to a depth of approximately 30mm. After this, curbstones are installed, and a thin layer of stone material is spread over the whole area then compacted. A geotextile is added, and the panels are installed, just before the synthetic turf is placed on top. The process now looks like this:

  • The removal of 19m3 of grass sod (approximately 30 tons)        

  • The addition of 17 tons of dust material                                        

  • Small machines, turf stripper, excavator, dumper for 2 days

  • 648m2 panels

  • Approximately 3 days of labour, for a team of

  • No shockpad

Total approximate cost to the client: £16,500

The verdict

Using the panels has saved around £4500.

It could be argued that this saving is due to the panel not requiring a shockpad. But what if the client didn't specify a shockpad or one simply wasn't needed?

The panel still has the edge over the traditional base, but let's consider the logistics. If the site is favourable, it will be possible to get an 8 wheeled lorry with a 20-ton capacity for the removal of the waste; a traditional base will require 14 of these. If the roads and site access only permit a 6 wheeled lorry with a 15-ton capacity, then that number increases to 18.

The panel system will only require 3 15-ton lorries, meaning the pressure on local infastructure is very much reduced, and the potential for the schedule to slip (due to a lorry not arriving on time) has also been dramatically reduced. 

Summary

For this type of project, even without a shockpad, the panel system is quicker and more cost-effective than a traditional base.

Scenario: Synthetic lawn 50m2

This client has a young family, and uses their back garden a lot - but, much of the lawn is in the shade, where growing conditions are less than favourable and it has become unusable a lot of the time. The only access is directly through the house.

The traditional way

In this scenario, the project would require a wooden surround edge to retain 100mm of base material, installed on top of a weed membrane, with synthetic turf added on top. The process looks like this:

  • Removal of 7.5 tons of soil 

  • Bring in 9 tons of stone materials 

  • There's no access for machinery, so turf cutting is done by hand

  • All materials need to go through the house, so labour is 3 days for a team of 2

 Total approximate cost to the client: £2,500

The PlayPitch way

For the panels, we need to remove 35mm of grass sod and bring in stone, geotextile and the panels themselves. The process now looks like this:

  • Removal of 2.25 tons of grass and soil

  • Bring in 1.5 tons of stone dust material

  • Turf cutter usage

  • 50m2 panels

  • 1 day of labour for a team of 2

Total approximate cost to the client: £1,875

Summary

Because of the poor access, the time saved by not having to remove a large quantity of soil and bring in tons of stone material has made the panel an ideal choice. Not only that, but the customer only has one day of disruption, compared to 3 with the traditional system.

Conclusions

There are certainly still instances where a traditional base will be more cost-effective. For example, a site that is very uneven and needs quite a bit of stone base work to level it.

However, as soil disposal and transport costs become more expensive, there are more and more instances where the panel would deliver a better priced and more timely synthetic turf solution.