Courts: Crack Shooting
What can you do when you notice cracks in your asphalt courts? Here are some options.
Cracks in asphalt tennis courts are unavoidable, and a natural part of the aging process. It’s safe to say that at some point, every asphalt court will crack, no matter who built it or where it is located.
But cracked tennis courts can be repaired. And while you can’t have a completely new court without reconstruction, you certainly can have a court that looks better and plays better.
This is the second in an annual series RSI will be offering about crack repair techniques. The first part of our series in the March 2011 Court Construction & Maintenance Guide covered proprietary crack repair systems. (That article is available in our online archives at tennisindustrymag.com.) This segment focuses on a variety of techniques court contractors use to address badly cracked courts.
Remember that there are many different types of cracks in tennis courts, and that while some are relatively minor, others can indicate more serious underlying problems. In addition, the reason for cracking can vary from court to court, and cracks on a court may have more than one cause.
To a court owner or manager, many cracks can look alike; a tennis court contractor can examine the facility and diagnose the underlying cause of the problem. Those who want to learn more about types of cracking and causes can obtain a copy of the book Tennis Courts: A Construction and Maintenance Manual, available from ASBA. The book includes a diagram showing different court problems, including various cracks and recommendations for them.
As always, there is no one-size-fits-all (or even one-size-fits-most) repair. Your choice of repair method should be predicated on the type and extent of cracking your court has (and any underlying problems), your budget and other factors.
There are several levels of repair. From the most simple to the most complex, they are:
Targeted Crack Repairs
Small cracks on the court may be treated with a crack filler designated for use on tennis courts. This, says Pete Smith of the CourtSmiths in Toledo, Ohio, "is the least expensive method." A very small crack can be treated with a crack filler that is worked into the crack so that it completely fills the space before the surface above is leveled so as not to create any irregularity.
The larger the crack, the more work is involved. "Generally," notes Smith, "the crack is cleaned out, filled partially with sand and leveled with an acrylic crack filler. In northern climates, this should be done before the freeze to help prevent moisture in the sub-base."
However, he notes, putting a filler into any crack is a temporary fix. "This is more maintenance than anything else. It doesn’t cure the crack; it only helps retard the expansion of it. Cracks will begin to open up again."
Larger cracks will require full-depth repair. After the crack is cleaned out and all broken materials are removed, a contractor will begin a multi-level repair. However, notes Smith, even this is just a matter of time, since "cracks will begin to split by the following spring."
If this type of work is undertaken in several places on the court, the surface may be left with a patchy, freckled appearance. Contractors often will recommend resurfacing (the process of applying thin coats of an acrylic tennis court resurfacer to the court) and recoating to create a more pleasing appearance.
In the case of a court where cracks are too numerous to perform targeted repair, and where other problems exist such as an aging or crumbling court, drainage issues, etc., a contractor may recommend a complete asphalt overlay — in other words, laying a new pavement over an existing one. The process may include, first, the installation of a fiberglass or asphalt-saturated geotextile membrane or a layer of stone screenings. Cracks generally reflect up from the base to the surface of the court itself, and this extra layer can help slow down this process. The contractor will then install the new pavement in lifts, then recoat and re-line the court.
While an overlay is an extensive repair, it is still a repair, and is not defined as reconstruction (the process of removing one tennis court and building another). Overlay systems will retard reflective cracking and deterioration of the original pavement, but to some extent, the condition of the remaining base will be an unknown quantity that may affect the newly laid court somewhere down the road.
Note: Another option may be a post-tensioned concrete overlay, which can significantly extend the life of the court.
One tactic used to deal with severely cracked courts is conversion to another surface. This may be done on a permanent or temporary basis. For courts with proper slope and drainage, the following options may be considered. Advantages include quick installation and the ability to avoid making changes to the existing landscape, fencing, net posts, light posts, etc.
- Modular surfaces: Interlocking tiles can be laid over an existing pavement to give a court a like-new appearance and feel.
- Roll goods: A synthetic surface may be rolled out, in a manner similar to a carpet, over a cracked surface, allowing play to continue without making changes to the court itself.
- Infilled turf systems: The synthetic turf market is growing rapidly, and is becoming a viable option in tennis court use.
Note that if a new surface is laid over a badly cracked or unstable pavement, these problems may be apparent despite the presence of the new surface. For example, interlocking tiles laid over a deep depression on the original court will only create a “bridge” over the low spot and may cause unpredictable bounces during play.
Some courts with multiple problems or profound structural failures are better off being reconstructed. While overlays and conversions may extend the life of these facilities, they cannot be used as anything other than a temporary fix.
Reconstruction may include the removal of the existing asphalt or concrete pavement, removal of base materials, addressing underlying issues with the subgrade or drainage, followed by regrading, reconstructing the base and pavement, and finally resurfacing and relining the court. When reconstructing a court, net posts must be removed and re-installed. A portion of the fence may need to be removed to allow access for machinery, or the entire fence may be removed and replaced. Other aspects of the court including light poles, electrical conduits, etc. may also be affected by the work.
Note: The existing asphalt base, once removed, may be disposed of, overlaid, or pulverized and reused as the base for a new court. Pulverizing is often chosen, since the cost of recycling old asphalt at an asphalt plant can be high, and many landfills do not accept asphalt. A tennis court contractor will be aware of the options that exist in your area.
If the court owner wants, once the base has been reconstructed, the court can be converted to a clay or fast-dry court, or to a post-tensioned concrete court. Other options exist as well once a stable base is in place. A contractor can provide more information about the viability of all these options.
The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA) is a non-profit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators and users understand quality sports facility construction. The ASBA sponsors informative meetings and publishes newsletters, books and technical construction guidelines for athletic facilities including tennis courts, running tracks, athletic fields and indoor structures. Available at no charge is a listing of all publications offered by the Association, as well as the ASBA’s Membership Directory. Info: 866-501-ASBA (2722) or sportsbuilders.org.
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.