Short Wall Outdoor Racquetball
My doubles partner and I went down to the big Huntington Beach tournament in the summer of 2009 and got converted to how much fun the outdoor game could be! We spent that summer practicing on a very make-shift plywood court that only stood 8 feet tall. It gave us a feel for the game, but obviously we couldn't hit any lob serves!
Since I live in Utah, there isn't much of a market for outdoor racquetball courts. When I first decided I wanted an outdoor court in my backyard, I looked all over the internet for instructions or ideas about how to build one and I found nothing. Not even a hint! And definitely nothing for the do-it-yourselfer.
|The only outdoor racquetball courts in Utah are "long wall" 40-ft side wall poured concrete courts in Centerville|
I contacted some of the guys who run the World Outdoor Racquetball association and tried to be very helpful. If you haven't gone to one of their tournaments you should check it out http://worldoutdoorracquetball.net
At one point someone shared a set of plans they use for the portable courts at the 3wall tournament they hold in Las Vegas and other places. They look like this
It was a nice idea, but not practical for my situation in Utah. Since we have a few months of "The Greatest Snow on Earth" each winter, I couldn't leave a plywood structure in place without expecting it to weather badly. And the cost of the marine grade plywood added up pretty quickly if it was going to be replaced regularly. I toyed with the idea of coating the plywood with stucco or something similar. I looked into plexiglass or comparable material. Everything was surprisingly expensive considering the questionable final result it would provide.
Of course I looked into having a foundation wall poured, but the cost was close to 20k. Most of the residential foundation contractors wouldn't touch the project because they couldn't stack their forms that high. Commercial contractors could do it, but that pushed the price up. Tilt up panels were similarly priced and difficult to even find.
Eventually I settled on cement block as my best compromise between structure, cost, and low maintenance. Concrete masonry units (CMU) or "cinder block" is about $2 a block at Home Depot or Lowes. But I found an even less expensive source--there are salvage yards that "recycle" a lot of materials after a demolition. One of the local places had piles and piles of concrete block that had been part of the high school that was torn down 30 years ago! The disadvantage to recycled block of course is that it isn't perfect. Much of it required that I remove chunks of mortar that were still clinging on, some of it was painted, there were different colors, etc. The positive side (in addition to half price) is recycling/repurposing materials is always great, and these will last longer than I will, so I felt it was the right choice.
|First wall concept sketch|
|original site plan by landscape architect|
|Site plan modification|
I hired out the prep work for the pad. I didn't have enough experience with the tractor work to get the grade right, plus I had a contractor friend whose wife needed some work on her teeth so we did some trade.
I also did trade work with another friend to pour the pad. (not much of a diy project so far). We had footings all along the wall area, using the "L" type foundation shown below which may not have strictly been necessary, but I wanted to make sure we had plenty of support. Plus if we ever decided to, we could convert this into an enclosed structure. We also placed rebar in the footing then poured a standard 4-inch pad with extra remesh throughout.
You want the trampoline frame about 2 inches higher than the retaining box. This allows for air to pass freely between them and avoid the "thwomp" sound of the pad getting forced up by the air every time someone jumps. So far (in the last two years) no toys have made it in there yet...
I placed several inches of gravel in the bottom of the trampoline pit (after placing the frame) to act as a sump. For extra insurance I decided to add a drain that lets out downhill in the lawn so it doesn't become a swimming pool in the spring when the snow melts!
After pouring the pad, I decided I would want some power for lighting and speakers on the court when it was finished, so I started trenching 24" deep. If you buy the properly rated wire, it doesn't need to be in a conduit, but I couldn't find the 10/3 wire rated for underground use, so I used conduit instead.
|inexpensive conduit for electrical|
The ground was incredibly hard to trench in some areas. I started with a walk-behind ditch-witch, but after an hour of accomplishing almost nothing, I returned it and found a ride-on instead. It worked SO much better. In addition to the ground being hard, I was churning up rocks 12+ inches in diameter, so the walk behind was never going to cut it.
|24" deep coming out of the house|
|electric and speaker wire in separate conduit|
|Tennis balls were used to cover the exposed ends of rebar so no kids (or adults) got injured. Much cheaper than the orange hazard hats they sell for this purpose at the store. Then when you don't need them anymore the dog can play with them.|
I started on a sunny day and almost had a disaster with an unexpected rain storm. The rain hit as I was just closing up the boxes. Fortunately the PVC cement sets fast, because I had a river running through my trough at the end of the day. I finished my electrical and speaker wire runs with junction boxes behind the court and closed everything off with weatherproof junction boxes so it could sit for the winter.
Finally it was time to start building the wall! The lower half of the wall was made from some older heavy block - close to 50lbs per block. As you can see, they were three cell blocks. This became a little bit of a challenge later when I got some bond beam block for the middle and top courses because everything that was new at the store was two cell, so I just had to work around it and bend some rebar to make it work. The mortar was mixed in a wheelbarrow and placed with a shovel. A trowel finished and cleaned up the excess, checking level every 2-3 blocks.
|A blue chalk line was used to help keep straight and square|
|The first course was laid with mortar|
|I could haul about 100 blocks per load|
|dry stacked block|
After the first course was laid in mortar, it was allowed to dry before starting on the second course. Since I wasn't experienced with this type of work, I decided to just let it harden before I messed with it any more. From there, the job sped up for a while--I dry stacked the blocks, just alternating the pattern until we got up several rows. I was concerned about some strong winds knocking the wall over before we added cement reinforcement, but those blocks were heavy enough and had enough friction that they didn't budge.
|very old used cement mixer|
I bought a used cement mixer that I found online for $75 to speed up the mixing process. I knew I was going to pour concrete in at least one cell per block for the entire wall. It ended up taking over 100 of the 80-lb bags of concrete, so I was very glad to have a mixer! I also looked into hiring a pump to just fill the whole wall at once, but I was concerned about filling the cells adequately if I waited until the end; I didn't want to hire the pump more than once, and in the end it was of course cheaper to do it by hand. If I was using brand new blocks from home depot with the large two-cell pattern, a pump probably would have worked great.
Reese took the first swing at the wall when we just had a handful of rows up.
After I reached about 7' high, it was clear that I would need some scaffolding or some way to reach the upper levels. Fortunately, a friend let me use a scissor lift. If it wasn't for the use of the lift, I would probably still be stacking blocks right now! It really sped things up. However, to get it to the court I had to drive it up the neighbor's driveway, which is pretty steep. I put the lift in gear and only got about 10 feet up the driveway. Eventually Greg gave me a good push up the hill and we got it up there. Driving it back down at the end was actually a little scary!
|Lifting 50lb blocks above head gets tiring after a while!|
|I tried cleaning the block with a pressure washer--didn't do much...|
At this point I started filling the vertical columns with rebar and concrete. Once they were all filled, I added the U block. The middle course of block (dark grey running horizontally in the photo) is a U-shaped block that allows for rebar to overlap and tie with the vertical rebar. This is sometimes called a bond beam. Another row of U block is added at the top to tie everything together.
|The dark grey rows (middle and top rows) are bond beam U block. The excess rebar was cut off with an angle grinder.|
|Once the blocks were stacked and poured, we gave it a test run|
To fill in the defects and give uniformity to the playing surface, I chose to use a product called Quikwall. It is a Quickrete product this is designed for waterproofing and reinforcing dry-stack walls and one of its primary uses is...for racquetball courts! Who knew there was a product made specifically for that purpose?! I special ordered the product through Lowes at their service desk.
QUIKWALL® Surface Bonding Cement (No. 1230-1231) is an alkali resistant, fiberglass reinforced, portland cement based surface bonding cement used for construction of dry-stack (without mortar) cement block walls. Add color with QUIKRETE® Stucco & Mortar Color.
We've add some features over the last few years. Here's a quick summary
My brother-in-law painted silhouettes of our kids swinging on the outside of the court wall. The process was really cool - I took videos of the kids' shadows on the wall while they were swinging. Then we froze the video and projected it against the wall at night and he transferred it onto the wall. He is a very talented artist and does massive murals in the Denver area - caseykawaguchi on Instagram
We recoated the walls with foundation plaster. This was after a couple of attempts to repair the failing Quickwall. First I used a diamond disc on an angle grinder and removed the larger irregularities. This was the best thing I did to make the playing surface more even! I should have done that at the very beginning. The plaster is new, so we will see how it holds up.
We also added concrete block caps to help partially protect the wall from direct precipitation and pooling of the liquid on top of the wall. Speakers were mounted in the corners of the front wall - these are great while you're playing or while you're doing yard work and playing with the kids.
We will be putting in a pool over the winter. So in the Spring, my racquetball friends can have their spouse and kids in the pool and hopefully we can play more racquetball!