Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Building an Outdoor Racquetball Court


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
The first step of course was to plan it out.  I started with just a simple sketch of the wall, along with the site plan.  I checked with the city to see if I would need a permit.  Because it was not enclosed, I didn't need a permit--in their eyes it was just a sports court.











original site plan by landscape architect
I had a landscape architect do a rough design when we first built the house in 2011 so that we could have a general idea of where we wanted to put different things in the yard.
Site plan modification 
After playing some Pickleball that summer, I decided that as long as we were pouring a pad, we should have one big enough to play pickleball and a variety of other activities as well, so the site plan was modified.

When we researched trampolines, we ended up going with the olympic size rectangular tramp so we modified the site plan again.


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.



While the Prep work was being done and they were moving dirt and retaining walls around, I asked them to just leave a hole where the trampoline was going to end up.  It worked out perfectly - I was able to frame a retaining box out of pressure treated wood, then just drop the trampoline frame in place and back fill the remaining space so the in-ground trampoline was ready to go!
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!
Back to the pad, the saw cuts were made every 10 feet and allowed to cure.



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.

The wall was coated with a surface bonding cement with muddy river dye added to compliment the color of the house (the neighbor's shed is adjacent to the court)




We had a new baby boy in February, so it took some time before we got back on this project.

With the help of a good friend we prepared the pickleball post holes with a concrete saw, jack hammer, and a sizable auger.  The sleeves are set in concrete  3' deep.  Obviously we don't want to run into the poles or net while we are playing racquetball so the sleeves are critical.  If I planned this out better from the beginning I could have saved myself a lot of work.  It took two of us about 4 1/2 hours to cut the holes and set the sleeves.  It would have been far better to pour them into the pad in the first place.

I didn't get many pictures of this process because I was running around like crazy.



Gorilla Tape was used as a quick way to mark out approximate lines one Saturday morning so we could play.  It stayed in place for over 2 months of variable weather from 20 straight days of rain to a month of 90+ degrees without even a hint of peeling.  Crazy sticky and tough! The only problem with leaving it was that it was just a little slick if you stepped right on it.   Removing it turned out to be a little bit of a chore -- there was plenty of residual adhesive that I had to remove with a pressure washer.


Striping the lines turned out to be fairly straight forward.  Measuring, triangulating to keep things square, chalk lines, then masking.  I talked to some tennis court companies to get advice on lines--high temperature tape was recommended but I didn't find any locally so I went with regular masking tape.  Some of the local home depot folks recommended duct tape but after my experience with the residual adhesive of the gorilla tape, I didn't want to mess with that again.  There was some bleed through because of the irregularities of the concrete, but not enough to worry about.  The paint was just rolled on with a 2" roller, two coats.  I tried 3 different types of paint--the blue (for the pickleball court lines) is an exterior semi-gloss paint by Valspar called StormCoat.  The black for the racquetball lines is a regular paint + primer interior matte also by valspar (it was just leftover from some inside trim work I did last year) and the yellow service lines are striping spray paint (like what is used for parking lot stalls).  They will all eventually fade and have to be redone, so we will see what holds up best....  The striping spray paint was my least favorite due to overspray but I'm sure my technique wasn't quite right.  Just a pan and a roller are pretty easy.  Pull the tape up right after painting the last coat.





The posts pull out easily to make room to cover out-the-door shots.  It takes about 2-3 minutes to convert from pickleball to racquetball.  



Rough Price break-down (without the pad):

~900 salvage Blocks - $900
65 U block - $130
~100 lengths of 10 ft, #3 rebar - $350
~ 100 bags 80 lb concrete - $355
Quikwall topping material & dye - $250

Total Cost: approximately $2000 and many hours of my life...but it was fun!


Next steps:
Add Lights for nighttime play
Add speakers
Build an Outdoor Kitchen for entertaining








11 comments:

  1. Great question - I tried to add everything up and it was around 2k for the wall, assuming you have a pad.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this essential information. Anybody waterproof plastic connector may follow : Waterproof Junction Box supplier & Waterproof Junction Box for sale

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great article. I'm interested in presenting a recommendation to my local city parks department for construction of a court such as this. Any suggestions regarding the construction or maintenance of an outdoor racquetball court? Thanks for your help. -Wade

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    1. Wade, sorry I am so late responding - I just noticed your comment. If it was a city park I would recommend some solid concrete foundation walls or tilt up walls. They will get much more consistent and heavy use at a park for all kinds of activities so they will want it to be as maintenance free as possible. So far my wall has been through three years of Utah heat and snow. It has held up great, but I'm sure I'll have to recoat it down the road.
      I'm no expert on the construction, but that is my opinion anyway :)

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    2. Ron is correct. Anything in the public MUST be bullet-proof and must be high quailty materials and finishes. That means more $ but it also means longevity and a better playing vanue.
      I can assist with modelling and much more with proposals to build. Look up CourtFormz on Facebook. You can also contact me at rickyrocchetti@gmail.com

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  4. Hello Ron - not sure if you are still checking this web site - I live in salt lake city and I am working on a proposal for SLC city government to try and get them to build some outdoor racquetball courts in Liberty park on the backside of the tennis center wall. They have a couple of 1 wall courts there now that are in bad disrepair. basically just old paint markings on some old cracked asphalt. I'm hoping to try and get them to put in 2 or three half wall courts. in that area of liberty park that is currently used for nothing. Do you have any budgets / plans etc that I could have to send to them? i love the outdoor game as well - I play in the Vegas event each year. Any advice is appreciated - and great video wish I could build one of these at my house. Thanks Trev U.

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    Replies
    1. Hello RUnknown, I may be able to aid you with getting courts approved for construction there. I had been away for quite a while but I am getting back into developing my second biz CourtFormz. Look CourtFormz up on Facebook and you will see for yourself. I have all the contacts within WOR, USRA, IRT and more that can help promote caourts anywhere. I truly believe Outdoor rball is going to boom along with other outdoor sports including what I am promoting also is Outdoor Squash. I know they battle with Outdoor Rball but we can remedie that with time. Feel free to write me at rickyrocchetti@gmail.com

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  5. I didn't know you went to the Vegas tournament! I am going to try to make it this year.
    My plans were really just the simple sketches included above. I don't want to post my phone number here but you can get it from the utah racquetball board members and give me a call if you want to! I'm happy to brainstorm with you - that would be awesome to get more courts

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