Chapter 3: It’s all about the Base “Foundation of it all”

The fastest way to create a perpetual problem with a turf project is to build the base incorrectly. A bad base creates drainage issues, tripping hazards, uneven surfaces, and can turn a great looking area into a disaster. Here is what you have to realize: they all look great in pictures when you first finish!

It’s the next few months you will see the results of a bad base. And trust me I’ve seen many. The thing that you have to realize is that you cannot fix them without rebuilding the enter base area. Removing the turf and rebuilding the base is very expensive and in many cases the turf will need to be replaced.

What’s the best advice I can give you: look for this symbol.

This symbol means that the company you hire are official base builders as well as certified installers. It’s not easy to get and takes many hours of practice. So you know if they present this to you, they are experienced in what they do.

Now that I’ve said all that, every region has its own types of aggregates so there are several base materials that they can use. G-Rock, Granite, Crushed Concrete, etc. They are all acceptable options for the base. It’s how they construct it that’s most important. There are even drainage panels that are highly efficient bases for the right application. (I’ll discuss this in another blog.)

Here is the most important point I’ll make, you cannot simply weed-eat the grass and throw some aggregate on the ground to create a good base. I see many companies weed-eat the grass use a metal edging and fill it with some cheap road base and geotextile. This is an inexpensive method and will save you money upfront but you are inheriting that perpetual problem I mentioned. You are also creating safety hazards and damaging the turf at the same time. Here’s what happens:

1. When you weed eat the grass and fail to remove the root system, once the root system dies the base level drops creating an uneven surface or the opposite happens. We will talk about that later as well.

2. Once water finds its way into those areas, it begins to push the base out creating channels for run-off and can completely remove a base in a matter of one very hard rain. I’ve attached an example above.

Just to give you an idea, water weighs 62.43 pounds per Cubic Foot. Ballast or sand once wet can weigh as much as 130 pounds per Cubic Foot.

This natural process continues until there is no base left.

3. Once the base sinks the weight of the turf/ballast causes the turf to follow the contour of the remaining base creating bubbles, lumps and sink holes. Turf then drops into those uneven places and pulls away from the house, wall, or metal edging creating another place for water to enter and weeds to grow.

4. Worse, the turfs weight pulls the anchors out. Particularly if they are nails which creates a huge hazard for children and pets. If the seams are incorrectly installed the turf will separate here as well.

5. The turf also tends to slide because of the weight of the ballast and literally move away from the structure.

Personally, I just don’t understand why this method is used. I have been on many play grounds with screws and nails sticking up everywhere.

A base should have a solid perimeter to push against. It also needs to be level and pitched to certain degree to move the water off. Industry standards is a minimum of 3 inches nuclear compacted to 90-95% percent. In other words, it’s difficult to do. I personally feel like a Geotextile should be applied at this point. Most companies install the Geotextile under the aggregate, but I’ve found this to be problematic because the weeds end up growing through the drain holes! If you use high quality geo and drain it correctly it protects your base from weeds and water damage.

Once the aggregate process begins, I recommend watching the crew install this. Bases are installed in lifts. Basically, what that means is in order to get the base compacted correctly you cannot add more than 2 inches at a time. The point being it takes time to do it at 2 inches at a time. So, add two inches, water it, plate compact or roll it, and repeat the process. Most of my customers are always shocked at the effort it takes to build this base correctly. Rushing this process will only lead to problems.

When the base is going in you should also see laser or string levels to correctly set the base for the pitches and medium grade height. You should also see levels and compaction equipment. Look for the depth of the aggregate as its being installed. If it does not get compacted correctly it will not repel water and will eventually sink.

When you consider most turfs have a 15-year warranty its critical to have a base that will stand the test of time. Your project is only as good as the foundation it rests upon. Like life, a bad foundation will manifest itself in many different ways. Turf is no different.

One final point, when a base is installed correctly you can literally remove the turf and replace with another turf if you chose to change it out. Maybe a putting green or a soccer field. It gives you flexibility for years to come.

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