A synthetic lawn surrounds a large koi pond in the front yard of Sigrid and George Galgon's Eagle Point home.

How green is your lawn?

There are some who will tell you that green lawns are basically an ecological disaster: 800 million gallons of gas a year are used to mow 50 million American lawns. Not to mention the air pollution. Or the water, chemical fertilizers and pest treatments needed to maintain them. Yet Americans insist on maintaining more than 50,000 square miles of lawns.

For those who really need to look out their windows onto an expanse of green, there is an alternative. Synthetic lawns have come a long way from the early days of "fake grass."

Sigrid Galgon and her husband, George, bought their hilltop acreage in Eagle Point 10 years ago and finished building last year. Though they wanted a lawn, George Galgon is no longer able to do the work. They discussed alternatives with their landscaping contractor, Stacey Page of Greentime Landscape in Ashland. He told them about the advances in synthetic lawns and had them look at high-quality SYNLawn installations.

The Galgons had a small stream built on the side of their house that looks out over the valley below. The stream is around 10 feet wide and falls in four, small waterfalls over its 60-foot length into a 20-by-40-foot koi pond. They selected a synthetic lawn to edge the stream landscaping.

"The advantage of the synthetic is there is no maintenance," says Page, "just a perfect lawn all the time."

Peter Cislo, owner of Leave your Mark in Phoenix, started carrying SYNLawn synthetic grass several years ago. He says it works for young families worried about pollution and allergies, as well as older families who no longer are physically able to maintain a lawn. It comes in a wide variety of styles and qualities, priced from $2.32 to $7.39 per square foot.

Cislo particularly likes the one with simulated brown thatch at the roots. "The newer models are so realistic, it's easy for people to be fooled," says Cislo. "Everybody likes the money-saving attributes: no watering or mowing, no fertilizers, just blow the leaves off."

Before he started carrying the grass, Cislo sent some to a private laboratory in San Francisco for testing. SYNLawn uses an "EnviroLoc" backing system that encapsulates the chemicals the product is made from so they don't off-gas or rub off. Cislo says the lab assured them the product was safe.

SYNLawn is 60 to 70 percent green, made from soybean oil rather than petroleum products. It qualifies for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. It also is pet-friendly: An antimocrobial is included, which means fleas and ticks can't live in it, and urine doesn't harm it. Zeolite crystals in the lawn keep it from carrying smells. It is too strong to be damaged by digging or chewing.

Installation of the lawn is fairly simple. The area is dug out to a depth of several inches. If there is a mole or gopher problem, wire-mesh, hardware cloth is laid down first. A layer of gravel is laid down, then it's leveled. The synthetic grass goes in and is fastened with screws. If the lawn has to be pieced, a tape similar to carpet tape is used to join the pieces.

Cislo is quite willing to help do-it-yourselfers learn the process.

"We'll come out and make a home visitation, and you can call anytime during the process if you need advice," he says.

Sigrid Galgon is pleased with their synthetic lawn.

"There is literally no upkeep," she says, "it just looks the same all the time. We just have to rake up the dead leaves once in awhile."

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