May , 2001

Tennis Court Coatings – Equal or Not Equal

Very often specifications for tennis courts include the name of a particular product and then allow the substitution of other products by inserting the words. “or equal”. Believing tennis court coatings are equal is far from factual and is a common misconception. It is obvious they provide a surface on which to play tennis or similar activities. Therefore, it would be more accurate to substitute “or equal” with the words, “or approved substitute” or any other appropriate wording. By the way, it is legal for a buyer to list one product and not permit the use of any substitute. This is true whether it be at the private or municipal level.

The majority of coatings manufactured use 100% acrylic latex as the primary vehicle for production. Due to the fact that various grades and quality of acrylics are available from the acrylic supplier and because other products (too numerous to list) are blended with the acrylic stock to produce the end result, there is no way any two surface coatings are exactly the same. Even if competing companies use the same additives to blend with the acrylic stock, for the end result to be the same the manufacturers would have to use the same amount of each additive to duplicate a coating and create an “equal” product. Manufacturers treat their products with secrecy so that equal duplication is virtually impossible. Because surface coatings perform the same function, tennis court products should be though of a s similar but not equal.

Furthermore, the system of surfacing a tennis court a recommended by the manufacturer can produce a surface that will not be the same or equal to that of a competitor. A system may use various companion products and different steps in the application of the coatings and can, therefore, affect the play characteristics of the surface as well as the wearability, color retention, and adhesion.

It is apparent that a buyer or designer/specifier such as an architect or specification writer, has two important choices to make: 1) selection of the coating system and 2) awarding the contract to a qualified contractor/applicator. It should be mentioned that some of the best-qualified applicators of surface coatings do not become involved with the actual construction of the tennis court. Therefore the buyer may want to deal with two separate contractors (builder vs. applicator) in order to get the best-completed project.

In selecting the product to be used, the buyer should compare surfaces that have been in place at least two years and have received similar amounts of play. Look for signs of sand abrading from the coating in the high traffic area (surface will feel smooth as compared to areas in other sections of the court) as well as the obvious wearing of the color. These tell-tale signs indicate the surface is wearing rapidly and the normal life expectancy of 5-7 years will not be met. In addition, notice whether or not the coating is retaining its original color or is showing signs of accelerated fading resulting in cosmetic deterioration.

Priority consideration should be given to the manufacturer that has their own Research and Development laboratory staffed with qualified personnel. Having an R&D facility is a good indication the company strives to improve and/or increase their product line; that they want to be a leader and innovator in the industry and not a follower. For example, a few manufacturers realize the importance of the type of sand used in the finish coats and provide a companion product containing the proper sand to which color is added. This is available to ensure contractors have access to a premium sand to obtain optimum results when quality local sand is not available. 

Admittedly, a good, caring, qualified contractor can use most any material and make the surface appear good at the time of completion. Obviously, the opposite is possible, an uncaring, unqualified contractor can apply a superior product and make it perform poorly and appear an inferior surface. The good contractor will mix material and execute the application in accordance to the manufacturer’s recommendations and specifications so that maximum performance of the coatings is achieved. Unless the buyer is familiar with mixing and application and monitors the progress, an uncaring contractor can cheat the buyer without his/her knowledge. Referrals and site visitations can be very beneficial in judging a contractor’s qualifications. Don’t rely solely on the contractor’s years of experience. To obtain the best results and satisfaction requires researching the best products and locating the most qualified contractor.