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Close-Up: David Hartman

Property owners go fake to go green

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Today the No. 1 reason owners want synthetic turf for their residences is dogs. In the near future, the top reason is expected to be water.

The EasyTurf firm, based in Escondido, sells FieldTurf, a Georgia-made product used by the National Football League, Major League Baseball, NCAA colleges and high school sports teams across the country for their playing surfaces.

FieldTurf, a blend of polyethylene and polypropylene, silica sand and rubber granules, will give years of grass-like appearance and use, without the regular maintenance of natural grass.

David Hartman

The installation process entails installing a layer of decomposed granite, the FieldTurf rubber granule infill system, and polyethylene and polypropylene grass simulating blades.

David Hartman, EasyTurf president, said along with saving water and being able to stand up to dogs, the FieldTurf is resistant to temperature extremes, drains quicker than real grass and is very low maintenance.

Sea World, the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, The Animal Keeper, Humphrey's by the Bay, the Del Mar race track winner's circle and the bullpen at Petco Park are just a few of the commercial venues that have used the turf.

Hartman said private residential owners still make up about 80 percent of his business, but commercial applications are increasingly becoming an important part of the enterprise.

Even the Quail Botanical Gardens uses FieldTurf in some of its displays.

"We do lots of preschools and daycare centers, too," Hartman said. His firm installed FieldTurf in numerous daycare centers at Camp Pendleton.

Hartman has taken an unusual road to become EasyTurf president. He spent most of his professional life -- about 24 years -- as an air traffic controller in Minneapolis and the Bay Area. After he was transferred to the FAA Tracon (Terminal Radar Control) here, Hartman was trying to figure out how his back lawn in the Hidden Meadows area north of Escondido could stand up to his dogs. Then he saw an advertisement for the FieldTurf product.

That was in July 2000. Hartman bought the company in 2002. He went from having just a few workers to 60 employees, including 38 installers, today. The company has 14 trucks and 17 trailers.

"The annual sales were $250,000 when I bought the company. They were $3.6 million in 2005 and $9.7 million in 2006,"

Hartman now has his own 3,500-square-foot FieldTurf lawn -- a lawn that saves him thousands of gallons and dollars a year.

"I fell in love with the product," Hartman said. "We were a customer first."

Darlene White, who rescues dogs, was highly complimentary.

"As a foster parent for large dogs, in addition to two large dogs of my own, I can't tell you how much this product has changed my life," said White. "During the past few years, I have sodded my yard four times. Now that I have EasyTurf in my yard, unruly dogs can't dig up the lawn, and dog urine isn't causing unsightly yellow spots, which inevitably lead to muddy patches. Honestly, I think this is one of the greatest gifts dog owners could give to themselves."

White adds the lawn could actually be a lifesaver -- because people will be much more willing to adopt dogs if they can have a lawn, too.

Simran Zilaro, a spokeswoman with the San Diego Humane Society, said some 8,471 animals came into the Morena-area shelter last year. About 40 percent of these animals were dogs that used a roughly 800-square-foot agility and training yard.

The Humane Society chose one of the short fescue-like EasyTurf products that makes it easy to clean up after dogs.

"We don't have to maintain it ..." Zilaro said. "And with an 18 percent increase coming on our water bill, it looks better all the time."

Hartman concedes that EasyTurf doesn't stay as cool as grass, but Alpine resident Dianne Barnaba said on very hot days in her community, she can hose the EasyTurf down if she wants the feel of cool wet grass under her feet.

Barnaba has in her back yard a type of FieldTurf that is common on high school football fields and a "Supra Nova" style that mimics a shade-loving grass in her front yard.

"We had 12 gopher holes that are now gone, we have two dogs and our water bill has gone down by about half," she said. "If we take away the landscaper we now don't need and subtract the water bills, in four years it will pay for itself."

Barnaba, who had her lawns installed about 15 months ago, said the only frustrating part was having to wait six to eight weeks until the artificial turf was installed.

While the savings may be significant over time, the FieldTurf product isn't cheap. For example, a 300-square-foot lawn installed could cost about $4,000, depending on which of the four primary types of FieldTurf is being employed. The putting green turf Hartman has in his North Citricado Parkway office is an additional option that tends to fall in line with its other more expensive turfs.

Hartman is quick to point out that the cost of each project is different depending on the turf and other factors. These could include the grade of the yard and the accessibility of the property. The overall installation usually takes about two days, but again, it depends on the size and difficulty of the work.

"Our average job is about $9,000," Hartman said, "but there are tons of variables."

As high as this is, Hartman said all these lawns will eventually pay for themselves in water savings and maintenance expenses. He added that EasyTurf has a variety of financing plans available. For example, the monthly payments on a five-year 100 percent financed loan for that 300-square-foot lawn would likely be less than $100 per month. EasyTurf's financing is handled through Wells Fargo Finance.

But Hartman emphasized that the savings could be potentially huge, and in fairly short order.

"It's the water that is getting to be the big issue. Just look at what's happening in the city of San Diego," Hartman said.

FieldTurf isn't only saving water. The rubber for the foundation is made up of ground up tires that would otherwise end up in landfills.

As for how long the product will last, Hartman says he isn't sure. FieldTurf has projected a 20- to 25-year lifespan. The product has reportedly spent more than 15 years in Scottsdale with no ill effects.

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