Life of a Tennis Court
This is a guide to better understanding of maintenance, repair, resurface and re-build for outdoor Tennis Courts. I will try to answer the many questions that we are asked about tennis courts on a daily basis at MTJ Sports. Hard courts are the primary courts in the United States.
The US Open Tennis in New York is played on hard courts, as is most all high school and college tennis programs. Falling in line with the rest of the nation, ninety percent of the tennis and sport courts in Illinois are hard courts. They are typically constructed of a layer of crushed stone and a layer of asphalt with an acrylic surfacing system. The reasons for their popularity are low maintenance, low cost of construction, and good durability.
The tennis industry states that if an asphalt hard court is properly maintained, the average life for it is approximately 25 years. In the Central and Upper Midwest, the average life is below 20 years due to the four seasons climate. Proper maintenance entails simply keeping the court clean on a monthly schedule (removal of leaves and blowing off the courts) and keeping any outside vegetation from encroaching onto the tennis courts. Every five to seven years the tennis court should be resurfaced with a fresh acrylic surfacing system.
Many of the problems that hard courts develop as they age are:
Birdbaths (depressions), caused by the settling of the court
Coating delamination, caused by standing water over prolonged times
Net post and center straps issues
Water management issues
The severity of these problems will depend on the quality of the original construction, site location, time of year it was constructed, quality of material, and whether the court has been maintained.
Whether you have hard or soft courts, they’ll eventually need work. How do you know what your courts really need?
No matter how well built your court is, eventually it’s going to show its age. In a hard court, that might mean cracks, worn spots or uneven areas. A soft court (clay or fast-dry) might have areas where surfacing is thin or irregular.
Problem is, you’ve asked for advice from a few of your colleagues who went through this not too long ago with their courts. It turns out that one person’s courts needed recoating. Another needed an overlay, while the third required total reconstruction.
How do you know what your court really needs? How do you avoid being oversold and get the best value for your money? Basically, say tennis court builders, it helps to have an understanding of how a tennis court is constructed and how it wears.
According to one industry poll, more than 70 percent of the tennis courts in the U.S. are hard courts — asphalt or concrete pavements with an acrylic surface coating system – and in certain areas like Central and Upper Midwest Region, the percentage is over 90%. Asphalt courts make up the majority of all hard courts. Asphalt is a flexible pavement, able to “give” slightly with ground movement due to settling or freeze/thaw cycles. As it ages and weathers, it oxidizes, shrinks and hardens, making it less flexible and more prone to cracking. (Concrete, while harder and generally more expensive than asphalt, has fewer cracking problems.) To the untrained eye, cracks just plain look bad.
To a contractor who specializes in tennis courts and sport courts, however, certain cracks mean certain things. Some signify a need for resurfacing. Some indicate the court could be renewed using a membrane, stone screening or overlay process. Some must be totally reconstructed.
To explain the resurfacing vs. reconstruction issue, it’s helpful to go over the basics. I like to remind the customer that underneath every hard or cushioned tennis court and sport court surface is a pavement. A serious evaluation of any tennis court and sport court surface must include an evaluation of the underlying pavement and the issues that impact that pavement, most importantly drainage and compaction. Problems with the court surface often can be traced to problems in the underlying pavement.
In terms of tennis and sport courts, repair and recoating (also known as resurfacing) is generally the least expensive option. It is normally required during the life of the facility, and addresses the surface of the court, where wear and tear first becomes apparent. Resurfacing leaves the existing substrate, typically asphalt or concrete, intact. The existing surface is thoroughly cleaned by pressure washing, cracks are filled — with the understanding that they may reappear or lengthen beyond the current repair — birdbaths are filled, high areas ground down, and new surface coatings are applied over the existing surface. Resurfacing is usually done if the courts drain reasonably well after a rainstorm, the existing coatings may be worn down but are still bonded to the substrate, cracking is relatively minor, and there is no extreme unevenness in the court surface.
Resurfacing includes pressure cleaning, crack repairing, birdbath removal and typically a 3-coat acrylic surfacing system and line striping. Everyone needs to realize that the cracks will typically re-appear the first time there is cooler weather. Cracks act like expansion joints, and they open up and close with the cooler weather. When having your tennis courts resurfaced, make sure you have a complete understanding of what to expect with the cracks on your tennis courts. Contractors will not provide a warranty on standard crack repair when resurfacing. For a more permanent crack repair and warranties you would need to include Fiberglass or Armor Crack Repair Systems.
If resurfacing is considered the lower end of tennis and sport court rehab work, then membranes, stone screenings and overlays are the middle level, and may be advisable for badly cracked courts. A composite membrane, or a new asphalt overlay, is applied, sometimes directly on existing repaired surface, sometimes over a stone screenings, or both, are installed, with the court being recoated. Commonly referred to as a very good alternative that falls between simple resurfacing and a total reconstruction. This method is less expensive than reconstruction, but more than resurfacing. Essentially, it allows a new court to be built on top of an old base, without having the cracking or instability of the old court mirrored in the new facility. Whenever you can use the existing base, it is a better and stronger alternative to reconstruction. Often facilities and managers are not clear on when and how to plan for mid-level resurfacing, as this looks expensive and not sure what to expect on return on investment, or simply just don’t understand the tennis and sport court life and repair cycles. Only qualified court builders should provide recommendations at the mid level repairs.
TitanTrax Shield is an economical alternative to both expensive crack repair systems and total pavement replacement of cracked tennis courts. TitanTrax Shield is a special fabric installed over the entire tennis court surface instead of only individual visible cracks. When the cracks widen during the cold winter months, this fabric bridges the weak pavement areas. Shielding your pavement with the TitanTrax Shield fabric is effective because it is purposely not bonded to the court surface allowing the base to expand and contract at will. The TitanTrax Shield protects your court from the harsh elements and also will prevent cracks from developing elsewhere on the covered tennis court. With the “Shield” rest assured, cracking will not reflect through to the new surface.
Nova ProBounce and ProXtreme are advanced membrane re-surface system at the mid-level repair and provide for a longer lasting tennis and sport court without the normal stress on joints associated with traditional hard court systems. Additionally, either system is ideal for putting the “ultimate solution” on courts damaged by weather, elements and time. Installed right on top of existing asphalt or concrete, our systems alleviate the need for a “quick” fix of cracks or delaminating of your courts. Warranted against reflective cracking, your playing area stays aesthetically pleasing and playable for years to come. Ideal for indoor and outdoor installation, as well as for new construction, these courts provide the answer to the problems associated with traditional hard courts today.
Laykold CushionPlus, Laykold Micron, Laykold Masters; LM 5 & 8, LM Gel and LM Float Cushioned Hard Court Systems - cutting-edge polyurethane/rubber/acrylic composite court systems - each utilizing a custom shock-design/pad system with force reduction levels ranging from 10% up to 21%. Superior performance and warranties.
But low-level and even mid-level fixes won’t work if structural problems are profound. Then, reconstruction is warranted. Typical problems indicating a need for reconstruction: Large structural cracks, structural cracks throughout the slab, settlement in the foundation in part or whole. With asphalt foundations, the asphalt binders deteriorating exposing the rocks, stone screenings, deep pockets in the asphalt. The asphalt foundation is wearing out and this condition many times goes along with the structural cracks, settlement, and also heaving of the asphalt foundation.
Like the other options, reconstruction is a multi-step process. Reconstruction includes pulverizing an asphalt surface, stripping and hauling the surface, examination of the base materials for suitability, application of a new all-weather surface, installation of new net posts, application of acrylic color surface and lines, and fence repairs or replacement. (Growing in popularity is the environmentally friendly technique of recycling asphalt by pulverizing it and mixing it with the existing aggregate, then re-grading, compacting and leveling it to form a new base). Reconstruction is the more extensive but long-term solution to be used in courts with severe problems. If a project is in such condition that it needs reconstruction, I would not recommend resurfacing with asphalt or an acrylic coating system. This will only hide the problem temporarily.
While there are three main approaches to problem hard courts, other options exist. Conversion to a different surface can be accomplished with a modular or a roll-goods product, or a sand-filled turf system. Occasionally, following reconstruction of the sub-base and/or base of a hard court, that court may be converted to clay or fast-dry, or to post-tensioned concrete. Only qualified court builders should provide recommendations.
In soft courts (those with natural or synthetic clay or a fast-dry surface), a base course of processed stone is installed over a stable sub-base. A leveling course is installed over the base, and a layer of surfacing material (either clay or fast-dry) is spread on top. Natural Clay courts need to be compacted by rolling periodically, and requires at least annual removal of any dried material and replacement with new surfacing, patching of low spots and leveling of high ones.
A new technology, high performing alternative to Natural Clay Courts and Fast-Dry Courts is the Aussie Clay – a Low Maintenance Synthetic Clay Surface, or ProClay – a Natural/Synthetic Mix Clay System – also a lower maintenance clay surface. As long as the base layers remain stable, compactable and porous, there is not any reason they should ever need to be replaced or the court reconstructed. Another solution is transforming to a Synthetic Grass Court.
However, periodic renovation is inevitable. Regardless of how diligently you maintain your courts, the surface is going to wear. In fact, from the moment a new court is built, the forces of nature and everyday use are altering its profile. If left unchecked, the results could be poor drainage, worn and slippery top surface, bad bounces, and stone screenings popping up from the base below. Only qualified court builders should provide recommendations.
Mats J. Jonmarker
CEO & President of MTJ Sports