How to Build Your Own Ice Rink
Fun and Effective Here in Canada we love to figure skate and play hockey. The main reason to build a backyard ice rink is to have lots of fun.
It's also a great way to get outdoors during a long winter. For the novice, it's an opportunity to learn skating or hockey skills in a stress free environment.
The convenience is unbeatable. Our family loves it! No need to pack everything into the car to go to an arena for limited skate time. Whenever we want to skate we just open the back door to our house and go to the ice rink.
Climate Change With global warming it has become much more difficult to build and maintain a backyard ice rink.
Technically water freezes at 0°C but for practical reasons that will be explained later, the temperature should go down to at least -7°C. Temperatures still get colder than that around here, but they warm up very quickly.
We used to be able to use a layer of snow as the base for the rink, but now we require a wood frame and a plastic sheet to maintain the rink when the temperature increases.
Also, there's no point in trying to start before Christmas, the January thaw is so warm that it will melt everything away. Mid-January after the thaw is a great time to start. By the time you have the ice rink constructed it will be cold enough to start flooding it.
Selecting a Location One of the most important aspects of building a rink is finding the proper location in your backyard.
The rink has to sit on flat levelled ground. Small bumps are fine, but the area must be flat or the water will spill over one edge.
The best way to determine an area is flat is to use some tent pegs and a string to select a rectangular area. Use a level tool to make sure that one side is not too much higher than the other.
You will need at least 5cm of ice to sustain the weight of skaters. If one side is 10cm higher than the other then you will have to fill it with 15cm of water. This is way too much. The difference in height from any one edge to another edge should be a maximum of 5cm (see diagram below).
Materials and Tools You will need a few materials and tools to build your own rink. There are pre-built rinks but they are much more expensive and not as robust.
If you build your own you can also control the size and shape more easily. The lumber used to make the rink can be used for other projects or easily stored for next year.
Things that you'll need:
*regular clear plastic or plastic for farm use is fine and available at most hardware or lumber stores.
- 2x6" boards to make the perimeter walls
- thick plastic liner*
- special winter tape if you need to join pieces of plastic liner
- 8 corner brackets (2 for each corner)
- straight brackets (2 for each joint)
- box of 100 wood screws for the brackets
- drill bit driver for wood screws
- cordless drill
- measuring tape
Step by Step
1. Measuring: After selecting a good location. Measure out the area and calculate how many boards you will need. We used twelve 8-foot long boards (standard size). They are six inches wide.
Try to make the rink a standard size so that you don't have to cut any boards.
2. Make the frame: Lay the boards out and start by joining the corners with one bracket. After joining the corners, join the rest of the boards.
One bracket is used for each joint until the perimeter is complete to allow flexibility for bumps in the ground.
Once the perimeter is set, attach the rest of the brackets.
3. Prepare the liner: Some people use a white tarp instead of plastic, but it is quite thin and fragile.
A plastic sheet that is wide enough for the rink is difficult to find and very expensive. Inexpensive plastic sheeting comes in rolls and will have to be taped lengthwise to make a wider liner.
The task of taping two pieces of plastic sheet together can be very frustrating especially if the wind catches the sheets and moves them around.
You should overlap the sheets and tape on one side only. You will need a couple of layers of tape to make sure that there is a good seal. The tape can be used in extreme cold. Stepping along the length of the tape will help it to seal better.
The tape can also be used to seal any holes in the plastic. We have used the same plastic sheet for two years but we had to re-tape the seams to make sure that they were waterproof.
4. Install the liner: The liner has to be placed on top of the frame and then wrapped underneath. This is tricky and is best done by two people.
NOTE: Some people drive wooden stakes into the ground around the frame to make it stronger or to make sure that the whole rink doesn't slide anywhere.
5. Flooding the rink: Unfortunately, you can't just fill up the rink to the brim and wait for it to freeze.
The problem is that ice formation is a very finicky matter. Ice forms from the top down.
The surface will freeze quickly but the water underneath will take much longer to freeze.
The water trapped under the blanket of ice can actually warm up because it is protected from the cold and the ground is usually a bit warmer than the air.
Another problem is that if the water leaks out somewhere there will be a pocket of air between the ice surface and the rest of the ice underneath -- you'll have very crunchy broken ice.
Ice has to be built up in layers. The first few layers have to be laid a bit at a time until you have enough thickness of ice to really flood the rink.
If you add too much water to the thin layer of ice, it will melt. Be patient, it will take you quite a few attempts but once the ice builds up it's easy to maintain and to build new layers.
You will have to use a hose with a spray attachment.
If you leave a hose in one place too long it will melt the ice in that area.
Leave tap dripping a bit between flooding sessions or it will freeze up.
To unfreeze the tap, pour a bucket of hot water slowly over the tap.
If you're not going to flood the rink for a few days, turn the tap off; otherwise, it's better to let it drip a bit than waste hot water.
Flood at night. During the day the sun melts ice under top layer.
Flood when it is not snowing too much.
Clear the snow from the ice rink before flooding or you'll get slush.
Use a bucket or plastic box to store the hose so that it doesn't drip on the floor. The hose cannot be left outside or it will freeze.
The optimum temperature for flooding is about -7°C.
Build the ice rink near a shed or garage, if possible, so that you'll have a place to put the skates on.
Alternatively, you can put the skates on in the house and use skate guards to walk to the rink; or you can put some chairs near the rink.
Use broom to sweep the snow and loose ice off the surface of the ice before flooding.
Make sure the ground where you build the rink is as flat as possible.
The area where you want to build the rink may look flat but you must use a level and string to determine the exact offset.
Use a hockey stick to push the plastic underneath the ice rink frame when you are installing the liner.
Build up snow around the edges of the rink to help keep it from thawing and to help keep the hockey puck in the rink.
Start with a small rink the first year so that you can easily correct mistakes.
Be patient! Ice rinks are a lot of fun but also a bit complex to build and maintain.
Figure Skating You don't need much to practice figure skating in a backyard rink. A helmet, snow pants, a warm coat and mittens, and figure skates.
For beginners, the snow pants can be padded in the seat area with pillows.
Figure skates are a bit different than hockey skates.
You need some basic equipment to play hockey in a backyard ice rink.
The most essential being a helmet with a full face cage, hockey sticks, pucks and skates.
Hockey nets are also helpful. We started by using some inexpensive plastic nets but they broke very easily.
We ended up buying a full size steel hockey net.
This is the type of net that is used in professional hockey and great to practice shooting.
If you don't have full body protection it's better to use a lightweight puck.
There are many types of sticks as illustrated in the photo above. Plastic sticks are fine for backyard hockey and usually don't break easily.
The most important safety equipment is a helmet with a full face cage.
- Helmet with full face protection
- Elbow pads, knee/shin protection, hockey pants, shoulder/chest pads, neck protector, etc.
Hockey can be played at dusk just after the early winter sun sets.
A couple of 100 watt lights or one strong floodlight is usually enough.
The Full Cost The lumber, brackets, and screws for the rink cost about $75 (Canadian Dollars). The plastic liner, which comes in roll, costs about $25 and the special ice/snow tape was about $20 for two big rolls.
The total cost was about $120 (the plastic liner was reused from last year and we only used one roll of tape this year.
The steel net was bought on sale for $75.
The plastic sticks are $5-10 each and wood ones cost up to $17 each.
The Environmental Cost I planned everything very well so that I could take just one trip to the lumber store to save on fuel.
Last year I used wood salvaged from construction sites. It's less expensive and old wood is well seasoned. I reused the lumber again to make a big planter for vegetables.
This year I left it too late to go to the salvaged materials warehouse and bought new lumber. I made sure that it was a green product. The cost was no higher than regular lumber because January is off season for building materials.
There is no need to use pressure treated wood which contains many dangerous chemicals. The lumber is frozen and protected by the plastic liner. It won't rot if properly stored in the spring.
Water use is another concern. I use cold water only and waited for rain and snow to build up in the rink before flooding it. I use very thin layers after this and keep the full thickness at 5cm maximum.
If you make sure the liner doesn't leak, you won't loose water and rainwater will accumulate.
In the future I plan to have some barrels of stored rainwater to use for the ice rink.
In the spring, the water in the rink can be used for watering our vegetable gardens. Don't worry; the grass will grow well under the plastic sheet.
There is some benefit to the backyard rink because we avoid driving dozens of times to the local ice rink.