By RON FRIEDMAN
If the grass is truly greener on your neighbors' side of the fence, it may be because it's not grass at all, but a nylon substitute.
In light of strict water quotas and the new drought levy, increasing numbers of Israelis are replacing their lawns with synthetic grass. More than 200 people attended a synthetic grass-installing course in Gan Yavne on Wednesday to benefit from the rising demand.
"I've been in the business for 10 years, but in the last year sales have soared," said Shimon Hamo, owner and CEO of Pashut Yarok (Simply Green), who gave Wednesday's course. "Our sales have tripled in the last year, and 20 new companies have begun offering the product."
Synthetic grass has come a long way since it was first used in sports arenas in the 1970s. According to Hamo, there are 200 different types of artificial grass and the ones used for garden lawns are far different from the Astroturf made famous by professional sports.
"The grass is long and soft and pleasant to the touch. When installed correctly, it doesn't move and the only way you could tell it wasn't real is because there are no yellow patches," said Hamo.
He demonstrated the proper installation technique at the Gan Yavne community center. He struck a deal whereby he would be given use of the facility in exchange for leaving the demonstration lawn in place at the building entrance.
Before laying down the mats, the area for the lawn has to be prepared. Existing grass has to be chemically killed and removed and a base layer of a sand and gravel composite has to be spread and compacted. A nylon tarp is placed on the sand and held in place by 20 cm. nails. This ensures that natural weeds don't grow through the mats, but allows rainwater to get absorbed by the sand. Afterwards the grass mat is placed on top of the tarp, nailed in place and glued around the edges.
The graduates of Hamo's course receive certification to install Pashut Yarok's products and the know-how to professionally install any mat.
"We invited the people to come to the course for free. It's important to us that gardeners learn how to do the job correctly, otherwise people won't be satisfied and the product will get a bad name," said Hamo.
While many of the participants were indeed gardeners, some were unemployed and looking for an opportunity to gain a trade and others were homeowners who wanted to learn how to install the lawns themselves so as not to have to pay for installation.
"I first came across the product three weeks ago. I was at a the local municipal building in Netanya and saw they had a artificial lawn. It looked really real and I was turned on to it," said Erez Bar-Ziv, a college lecturer.
"Look, it's a trend and it will take people time to catch on, but the same can be said for solar panels and today there isn't a house without them," he said.
Bar-Ziv, who is writing his doctoral thesis on global warming, said he was particularly excited about the savings in water that synthetic grass enables. He said he was planning to install the lawn in the garden of the apartment complex he lives in and to recommend friends and students do the same.
Depending on the type, synthetic grass can cost between NIS 35-200 per square meter, not including installation. The price is determined by the length, thickness and color of the blades and the make-up of the mat they are weaved on. "The way I calculated it, for the type of lawn I want, I'll recoup the expenses in five years," said Bar-Ziv.
Mike Vrommen installed an artificial lawn in his yard next to his house in Or Yehuda and said he'd recommend it to others. "For a long time I resisted it. I didn't like the idea of having something synthetic. My family likes natural things. we try and eat all natural foods," said Vrommen. "What spurred me on was the water quotas. There are only three people living in the house now and we knew we'd have to make changes to our lifestyles. Changing over to an artificial lawn was just one of the many steps we took to reduce our water shortage."
Vrommen said that the new lawn was also much easier to maintain. "All I do is brush it with a broom and occasionally water it down with a hose," he said.
The one drawback Vrommen could point out was that the surface became too hot when temperatures rose. "On some days, I wouldn't allow the kids to go out barefoot in the middle of the day. I was afraid they'd get burned," he said.
Hamo could point out additional advantages: "My twin daughters are allergic to grass, that's what gave me the idea to install it in the first place."
He also noted that animal urine and feces don't stain the grass. In any case, most companies provide buyers with a five-year guarantee.
According to Hamo, while Israel is a leader in synthetic grass installation for private homes, other countries like Cypress and the Persian Gulf states were also joining the trend.
Synthetic lawns are also on the rise in public spaces. More and more municipalities are installing them in roundabouts, sports fields, schools and kindergartens.
One company noted on it's Web site that since the grass would not rip, it was suitable for observant Jews to play football on during Shabbat.
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