Installing Artificial Grass on a Budget
So, you’re interested in artificial grass for your home, but not really feelin’ the up-front cost of installation? Today, we’re going to show you how to install artificial grass inexpensively, making modifications along the way to bring your project’s price tag down.
Make no mistake, though. In order for this to work, you’ll need to be prepared to get your hands dirty, put in a substantial amount of time and energy, and problem-solve as you go.
Further, while all of the techniques discussed below will reduce your price point, they will also increase the amount of labor you’ll have to do yourself. You’ll be using hand tools, like a shovel, and carrying up to 50 pounds repeatedly, even if you have help.
Sound like the kind of challenge you’re up for? Let’s get to it!
There are four components to almost every installation that can be modified to reduce the cost of installing artificial grass without posing a significant threat to the performance and longevity of it. They are:
- Subbase material
- Material waste
- Seaming system
- Tools used
1. The Secret to Low-cost Subbase
Subbase. What is it? Who needs it? Well, if you’re installing artificial grass, you do, my friend.
Subbase goes where your natural grass was once you’ve excavated down a few inches and before you install the grass. It’s primary job is to prevent the natural expansion and contraction of your yard’s native soil from affecting the turf, thus preventing wrinkles from popping up.
In most professional installations, it’s one of three things:
- crushed miscellaneous base – CMB,
- class II road base, or
- decomposed granite.
Decomposed granite is considered the best of the three due to its superior drainage and ability to render a consistently flat surface. Certain types of installations, like putting greens, need decomposed granite subbase more in order to perform and last.
The problem with decomposed granite is it’s expensive.
Is there a workaround?
In most cases, you can get good performance and longevity out of artificial grass with the use of only a small amount of decomposed granite. In fact, only the top few inches of subbase need to be decomposed granite in order to get good drainage and overall performance. This means you can fill most of your excavated area with inexpensive class II or CMB, then just spread a few inches of decomposed granite on the surface. This will bring down the cost considerably and produce fair results.
That being said, there are some installations for which we never recommend skimping on decomposed granite subbase. If you receive lots of rainfall, or already have drainage issues in your yard, this strategy isn’t likely to work out. Be sure to discuss your project’s particulars with our turf experts for more guidance.
2. Saving Money by Reducing Material Waste
It’s virtually impossible that all the grass you use will be used up in your installation, unless your installation area is the exact shape and size of a roll of turf. Most likely, you’ll have to do some cutting and seaming together of multiple pieces, and some turf will be discarded. The trick here is to figure out how to make the most of a 13′ or 15′ wide roll of turf. One way to do that is to ignore grain direction.
Artificial grass grain direction is one of the main culprits behind wasted grass. Grain direction is the direction in which the grass blades are predominantly pointing. Crews typically install artificial grass pieces so that the grain is facing the same direction, creating the most aesthetically-pleasing lawn.
For irregularly-shaped installation sites, though, maintaining a consistent grain direction often means wasting a lot of grass.
If perfect aesthetics aren’t terribly important to you, there’s a good chance you can save money by installing the pieces of grass you’ve purchased however they best fit the installation site, regardless of their grain direction.
3. The Seaming Method Hack
As mentioned above, you’ll probably have to cut and seam together multiple pieces of turf when you install artificial grass. Most of the time, this is accomplished using seaming tape, seaming glue, and nails. This method is considered the most secure and reliable, but also the most expensive. While the cost of seaming tape and glue might be negligible for a small installation, it can become substantial for larger ones.
The cheap alternative? Just use nails – a lot of them. This is a perfectly viable seaming method for some installations, though not quite as secure. Nails can and often do work loose over time and with enough foot traffic, so we only recommend this method if your grass isn’t going to get a lot of that.
If you’ve got a large installation area that won’t see much foot traffic, a box or two of inexpensive 5-inch nails might just do it.
4. Cost-cutting Tools
When it comes to specialized tools for installing artificial grass, the options are endless. Professional install crews have a myriad of gizmos and gadgets at their disposal to make the work go faster, including tools like the sod cutter, plate compactor, power broom, turf cutter, turf gripper, puller, kicker, and the list goes on. If you wanted to do it by the book, you could rent all these tools to automate your installation project and impress your neighbors.
We’re guessing you’re not doing this by the book, though. If not, our recommendation to you is to ditch the fancy gear and get back to basics with hand tools. It turns out, just about everything those power tools do can be done with low-tech hand tools. Switch out the sod cutter for a pick-ax, the plate compactor for a hand compactor, the power broom for a push broom, and the turf cutter for a box knife. Just get ready to apply some serious elbow grease and work up a sweat!