Preparing pitches for the worst of winter

As a specialist installation, synthetic pitches should be handled with care to prolong their life – especially in harsh conditions. The Sports and Play Construction Association shares its essential tips on making sure your artificial pitches successfully ward off the winter blues.

All-weather synthetic turf pitches should in act be called most-weather synthetic turf pitches. They are not, as many think, always playable. Sadly, we can’t stop the weather, but with a little planning most synthetic sports surfaces can be made available in nearly all weathers. So, let’s go through the different types of winter weather we’re likely to get and how to deal with it.

Wind & Rain
Naturally, in autumn, the leaves fall off trees. So, it probably goes without saying that you need to ensure they are regularly swept up and cleared. If not, they can encourage the development of moss and algae and as the natural detritus breaks down will become increasingly difficult to remove effectively. If moss is present you will need to apply an approved chemical and remove once ‘dead’. You can do this yourself or you may find it is included in your service agreement with your maintenance provider.

To help alleviate drainage issues during more prolonged periods of wet weather a pro-active planned approach to maintenance is necessary. By implementing the following procedures the pile will be more fluid and the fill more mobile, both imperative where drainage is concerned.

Use a process that encompasses de‑compaction, extraction of dust, removal of dirt and detritus and redistribution of the infill. Maintenance is not just about what is on the surface but should also cater for what is in the surface. For all of the aforementioned to take place and be fully effective it must preferably be dry. This does not mean that wet weather maintenance should not take place, but you must be sure that the correct wet weather procedures occur.

Removal of dirt and detritus, and redistribution of the infill (with care) can take place during wetter periods. However, rotary brush techniques are not ideal for wet weather maintenance as they may only succeed in driving retained dust particles deeper into the cleaner bottom half of the surface. Using a rigid brush with airflow is preferable.

You may have your own grounds staff and equipment that undertake the above. If using a maintenance company, it is always advised that you choose a SAPCA‑approved contractor to ensure that they take a considered and intelligent view of the weather and adjust the maintenance procedures accordingly.

In the worse cases a pitch may be at a point where it actually needs rejuvenating. This process can restore compacted and contaminated synthetic football, rugby, hockey and tennis surfaces to ‘as new’ performance and appearance using compressed air to remove the contaminated top layer of sand and restore the pile to vertical. However, it is a treatment that has to be undertaken by a reputable maintenance company and is not fully effective if the surface is frozen. In this sense, prevention is most definitely preferable to a cure, that is – regular and methodical maintenance to avoid replacing your synthetic pitch before its time.

Frost & Snow
With a lot of hard work, the correct machinery and good products, it is possible to clear snowfall and ice. Snow can be cleared to the side of the pitch, albeit you need to make sure that the weight of the snow doesn’t cause any long-term issues on the carpet underneath it. Freezing conditions and ice are slightly more problematic.

If you are intending to apply a treatment to prevent freeze or encourage thaw, firstly, check with the surface manufacturer or installer before doing so. Secondly, you need to check that the whole depth of the synthetic turf carpet has in fact defrosted. Appearances can be misleading and a surface may look ice and frost-free when in fact it is only the top of the pile that has defrosted.

In most cases, a shock pad will sit directly below the carpet layer with a further two layers of macadam (Tarmac) beneath that. All of these layers are black in colour and are excellent at absorbing ambient heat from their surroundings. In simple terms, this means that thaw from below (ambient heat held by the earth) can be very slow to reach the base of your carpet. As surfaces get older natural drainage may get slower, meaning moisture can sit at the base or midway in the carpet for prolonged periods. In winter, this moisture, without ambient heat, may freeze. This can lead to a surface that looks safe for play from the top down, but is in fact holding ice further into the pile. Worse still this can occur in isolated ‘pockets’ making the hazard harder to spot.

As previously stated, it is worth noting that a good pro-active (year round) maintenance regime will help to keep the carpet pile open and the fill mobile. This helps fluid and moisture to pass through the surface, helping to negate ice and frost. To choose a reliable contractor to perform core maintenance like this, SAPCA has approved members who pass strict entry criteria and are subject to random installation and performance checks, which you can access on the SAPCA website to give you the piece of mind of knowing that your pitch is in qualified hands.

A word of warning: if you allow the surface to be used and a player sustains injury as a result of the ice, snow or rain, the responsibility will be yours. Make sure the pitch is completely safe before allowing play and always get an expert opinion from a qualified contractor if in doubt.

Valuable Advice
While taking care of your pitch during winter is important, core maintenance for your synthetic pitch should be a year-round routine designed to reduce labour and extend the life of your pitch in the long run. SAPCA has created an essential guideline for maintaining synthetic pitches which gives free, impartial and technically proficient advice – and it is available free to download on the SAPCA website. Simply search ‘Code of Practice’ and whether you have a pitch, athletic track or tennis court, the Code of Practice is an indispensible resource for facility owners and maintainers just like you. L

Further Information