Building a backyard rink is a great way to play hockey at home with friends. Unfortunately you can’t just toss a rink up, there is a right way to build a rink and many wrong ways.
This article will help you learn how to properly build a rink suitable for your family. I have entrusted Jim Stoller from NiceRink.com to write this article as he can draw on many years of experience.
ICE is ICE, but for 21 years, since 1991 and 10’s of 1,000’s of NiceRinks in people’s yards later, we’ve got a pretty good handle on what to do AND ALSO what not to do. Most of what we’ve learned, written and solved has just been reworded and reposted by others. Since 1991 the goal has been SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for the backyard rink builder. With time comes experience; with experience comes knowledge, knowing how to use that knowledge is what counts.
Hello Everyone, Jim Stoller, President of NiceRink here. A quick background of myself, NiceRink and its 65 year history. That’s right, our main company has been in the plastics industry since 1948, bringing you three generations of plastics know-how to back up our over 150 years of family hockey/skating history. A hockey history that includes playing, coaching, hockey directors, being a dad coupled with multiple state & national titles and years of Junior “A” experience. We don’t just make and provide backyard rink products; we live and breathe hockey and everything that comes along with it.
How cold does it have to be? When can I skate?
The obvious answer to this is 32F/0C. The more intricate answer and what clients really want to know is, after I fill the rink up when can I skate on it. That answer has many variables depending on how and what you build/liner your rink with and the lovely weather.
Best case scenario is that you’re utilizing a WHITE liner to prevent heat absorption from the sun. Using a liner that holds the water, your deep end should be no more than 10”/25cm deep. The outside of your boards should be light in color or covered with the white liner at the start to prevent heat absorption. Let the ground cool down for a good amount of time before lining and filling. If you have all those BCS factors in place and you wait until your NIGHTS are getting to 23F/-5C to 18F/-8C and your DAYS aren’t getting too much warmer than 36F/+2C, you should be able to skate in 3-5 days.
The cold nights are the trick assuming everything detailed above is in place. You’ll build more ice during those night time temps than the daytime temps can melt. Therefore you will be gaining ice thickness each night. “Usually” 3”-4”/8-10cm will hold most kids and average size adults.
Will a backyard rink wreck my grass?
Depending on how you build your rink and what type of liner you use, will determine the health of your grass. With a WHITE liner and the FLOOD method, we have seen a 99.9% effective rate in turf health. On the other hand, if you use a clear, blue “tarp”, black liner and/or just flood the grass, that % goes way down. Several factors are the cause: Not enough sun penetration, too much sun penetration, flooding the root zone of the turf are all causes of dead spring grass.
How big can I make my rink? What size should it be?
The size of YOUR rink should be determined by several factors. The first factor is your available space. If you have the space and budget, go big. You’ll enjoy your rink much more when you have more room, especially when you have skating parties (which I can assure you, you will). Everybody will have plenty of room to skate around without bumping into each other. If you’re not sure if you’ll use your rink enough to make a big rink worth your while, start smaller. You can always decide to go bigger in a year or two, and continue to use the boards and equipment that have already been purchased.
Besides space and budget, the people that will be using the rink will determine the size as well. When your rink is just for children, you can go with a smaller 20’ x 40’ (6M x 12M) rink and be very satisfied, as they don’t need a huge rink to make it feel huge to them and you’ll be able to expand it going forward. The picture to the right shows a 20 x 40 ice rink
On the other hand, if you’re an experienced skater yourself, you’ll be able to cover a 30’/9M span rather easily with one stride, which doesn’t end up being really fun if you’re an avid adult skater.
As a quick “guideline”, when my son was 17-18-19 Jr A, the boys came over and our NiceRink was 44’ x 88’ (13.4M x 26.8M) and it served them very well for 3 on 3 and even were able to play some 4 on 4 with the BIG boys out there.
The choice is entirely up to you, the “rink manager”, but I can tell you I’ve heard time after time, “I sure wish we would’ve made it bigger!” Also keep in mind when deciding size, that plywood and other NiceRink rink materials come in 8’/2.4M and 4’/1.2M sections. This means rinks with widths and lengths divisible by eight or four are the easiest to put up and will have less wasted material. As a general skating guideline, about 100Sf/3.5Sm per skater will allow for all on the ice to have ample space to skate without bumping into each other all the time. The rink to the right is a 52 x 100 ice rink
Does my yard have to be level?
I’m not aware of a single yard that is “flat”. That said, no your yard does not have to be level. You just have to make sure to measure your slope BEFORE you start acquiring components and building the rink boards. WAY easier to know the pitch and build it right the first time, than it is to find out later with 16”/41cm of water in the deep end against a 16”/41cm board and no water in the shallow end. A simple video showing checking slope/pitch can be seen below
Buy It or Build It?
This basically comes down to time vs. money. There are a LOT of great problem solving NiceRink products available that you can simply “install” instead of having to “build”. Custom NiceRink Brackets, NiceRink Boards, BumperCaps, KickPlates, Nets and endless other options. Then there are always those people that are very handy and have the tools AND the TIME to create their own board system. That’s fine too! It can be as simple as a bunch of 2×4 (5cmx10cm) wooden stakes and plywood, or as eccentric as a complete refrigeration and board system and range from $200 to $100,000 and virtually anywhere in between! Once it’s built, filled & frozen….ice is ice! It’s just how you get there.
When should I build my rink?
The best time to build/setup your backyard rink is just prior to the weather turning freezing. This is for two reasons. First, you want to be all setup and ready to fill/flood when the cold arrives, not setting up. Secondly, it’s a heck of lot easier and more comfortable to be working outside and installing stakes/brackets into the ground when it’s 50F/10C and the ground isn’t frozen.
When should I fill my rink?
The best answer for this is not a date, but rather the weather forecast. As a rule of thumb, in Southeastern Wisconsin, I usually install my brackets and sideboards the weekend before US Thanksgiving around November 15th or earlier and lay out the liner 2-3 weeks after. By giving it a good 2-3 weeks, it will also give the brackets and boards a chance to “freeze in” and let the grass go dormant. By then you’ll have those good cold nights mentioned in item #1. This will obviously vary greatly depending on where you are located.
How much does a Back Yard Rink cost?
As stated above, it can range from just your time to spray water, to $340.00 for a NiceRink 20’ x 40’(6M x 12M) Starter Kit, to $3,800 for a 44’ x 88’(13.4M x 26.8M) NiceRink Gold Package to $25,000 for a 20’ x 40’(6M x 12M) Refrigeration system. Anywhere in between and higher, all depends what you want to do.
Let’s go into detail on each of those cost options for you, keeping in mind there are virtually an unlimited variety of cost options to suit anyone’s budget and/or rink size:
- $0 = Lots of time and must have cold weather. If you live in say Winnipeg where it gets and stays cold this may be an option for you versus someone who lives in say Central Ohio. Once the ground freezes and you get some snow, pack all the snow down to compact it, spray it lightly to saturate the snow to a “slush”, let that freeze and then spray thin layers over the top of the frozen slush to “build” you ice.
- $340.00 = NiceRink 20’ x 40’(6Mx12M) Rink-in-a-Box. Great-Simple start to your backyard rink endeavors. This is a “key components” kit to get you going and then you can expand upon going forward. You’ll still need 3-5 sheets of ¾”/1.9cm plywood which will run another $200-300, but you can use them to make your rink bigger in the years to come.
- $3,800 = 44’ x 88’(13.4M x 26.8M) NiceRink Gold Package. This is a complete kit including NiceRink Brackets, NiceRink Plastic Boards, NiceRink Liner, KickPlates, NiceIce Resurfacer, BumperCaps and more. Everything in the NiceRink product family is made to last. Be confident in buying once and passing it on or reselling it down the road. The only real replacement item would be the NiceRink Liner as discussed in section #9 below.
- $25,000+ = 20’ x 40’(6Mx12M) regular refrigeration system with Coils, Anti-Freeze, Refrigeration Compressors. This will of course pretty much guarantee ice, but the cost is quite steep, and you’ll have an increase in your electrical bill as well.
Rink Liners vs. Plastic vs. Tarps
This topic could easily dominate backyard rink discussions as this is probably the most crucial element to having a successful outdoor rink experience.
WHITE-WHITE-WHITE-WHITE! Make sure to get an Ultra-White liner on *BOTH* sides!
- To help keep your ice as cold as possible by reflecting the UV rays away from your ice
- To save your grass! Clear & White/Black liners as well as Blue Tarps are known grass killers, BUYER BEWARE!
NiceRink Liners vs. Woven Tarps: NiceRink Liners are 5, 6 or 10 mils of solid water holding poly. Woven Tarps on the other hand are yes maybe 6, 10 even 12 or 14 mil thick, however the bulk of their thickness comes from the woven reinforcement in between two very thin ½ to 1 mils of coating to hold the water. The reinforcement doesn’t hold water; the poly is what does that. Once that ½ mil coating is compromised you you’re basically left with a woven fabric that doesn’t hold the water. They are heavier and harder to work with. Also, thicker doesn’t always mean better. NiceRink’s layered liners at .005 mil are 50%+ stronger than most others .006 and even .008. You’ll get what you pay for…..Be informed.
- Get the ONE-PIECE size you want. NiceRink has ELEVEN different widths IN STOCK available in ANY length you’d like. No need to buy extra and throw it away in the landfills. No waste!
- Liner warranty: NiceRink liners are warranted to hold the water when you get it. Some warranties on the market are for a 5 year “UV warranty”. That’s fine, but UV damage is not going to be the problem as the liners are covered with snow and ice during usage, so the UV doesn’t affect the liner. You need a good strong liner to do the work and add KickPlates if at all possible.
- Liner life expectancy, everything except the liner will last for many-many years, most likely 10-15+. The liner life on the other hand, will be determined by two things:
- 1. What the rink is being used for; Hockey or just general skating.
- 2. How the inside edges of the liner are protected. The inside edge of the rink right at ice level is the most vulnerable part of any outdoor temporary rink system. If the inside edges are not protected with KickPlates, the liner will be continually hit with sticks, skates, pucks, toe-picks, etc. That area will have little nicks and cuts in the liner. If that’s the case the liner, no matter what you use for a liner, will be a one year liner, or you’ll have to shrink your rink the following year so the little nicks/cuts are above the water line. If the edges are protected at ice level, you can expect 2-5 years of life out of the liners. Regular Poly liners, probably 1-3, NiceRink #1 & #3 2-5 depending on the rinks use and how the edges are protected.
How thick does the ice have to be to skate on?
A good finished shallow side ice thickness is 4”/10cm. The deep end will be determined by the pitch/slope of your site. If you have an 8”/20cm pitch, then you’ll have 12”/30cm of water on the deep side. 4”/10cm will give you a good solid base to work with and usually enough thickness to maintain ice during the mid-winter thaws that have become unfortunately all too familiar.
Should I fill the rink up all at once or do it ice layer by ice layer?
There’s a lot of back and forth on this topic. Usually people layer because they are not using a liner, with a liner you can easily fill and forget. In my opinion there’s no reason not to use a liner other than the money a liner costs. Layering the ice will create a stronger ice block as long as that original ice block doesn’t melt or get soft. Filling a liner will take WAY less time and give you a great base ice to work with.
Using a liner might take 30-45 minutes to install; layering ice could take weeks and sleepless nights of spraying. Once a liner is filled to 4”/10cm of water on the shallow end, let it freeze and done. This first ice will be more like pond/lake ice. That means it will be a “softer” ice containing small air bubbles and you can cut into it. Once it stays cold and you can layer your top coats during resurfacing you’ll then build that hard ice you’re looking for on top as long as that top layer stays frozen.
There’s water around the edges my rink?
All rinks built with a liner will have a shallow end and a deep end. The water the rink was flooded with will ALWAYS freeze from the top down. Most of the time it will NOT freeze all the way to the ground and there will be water under the ice, especially in the deep end. When you have the backyard game going and 2-3-4-5 skaters head to one corner, the weight of everyone will force the ice down, and subsequently force a little water up in between the ice and the liner. It will even “gurgle” sometimes. Most of the time it’s fine and the little water that does come will either retreat and/or freeze at the edge.
How to deal with slush on a backyard rink?
All is not lost! The BEST thing to do is nothing! If you have just filled your rink and it froze over with a little ice and you get a big snow storm, the weight of the snow on the ice will force the ice downward. The underlying water will be forced up by the weight and pressure of the snow in-between the liner and the ice, turning the snow into slush on top of the skating surface.
If your ice is too thin to get on and clean, you basically can do nothing. The best scenario is for the weight of the snow to push the ice down enough to force enough water onto the top of the ice so it ALL turns to slush. Let the slush freeze, and then you can skate on that base if it’s smooth enough or resurface a few times to get it back to smooth.
If it snows on ice that is already pretty thick, 5”+ and the slush is only around the edges of your rink, then you can tackle cleaning it off. Personally, I would call “more than a few friends” over to help with this. Once you start cleaning slush off of a rink DON’T STOP, it must ALL be cleaned off and smooth. Whatever you leave on the ice, such as left over slush, or stopping half way will freeze at night and your ice will be full of FROZEN foot prints, shovel marks or the step-up where you stopped. Once it’s cleaned off, let the surface harden back up, then resurface as needed to get it back to glass.
How much water should I flood/resurface with?
There are several methods of maintaining the ice. There is the flood method, spray and squeegee method, spray-spray-spray-spray, Hand Resurfacer and the Zamboni method. I’ll go through all of them in detail and you can make your own decisions for your rink, as you are the “rink manager”.
The Flood –The flood method is simply that, flooding. To flood the rink you’ll need to have the availability of large hoses and above average water pressure. You’ll need to get the entire rink completely covered with water before any of it starts to freeze. Do not use the flood method on smooth ice, you’ll wreck it.
Spray and Squeegee- Again, simply spray water onto the ice surface and squeegee it out to the spots that need the most attention. Do not try and squeegee areas that have started to freeze. You’ll end up with mounds of frozen slush, which will have to be chipped or scraped off later when they freeze.
Spray-Spray-Spray-Spray- The name says it all! The trick to spray coating ice is “wet ice is done ice”. In other words, start spraying a spot on the rink until it’s glossy and move on. Put the layers of water on as thin as possible to get a “Nice” glass like finish and also to prevent cracking or “lifting”. How water freezes will help explain this.
Water normally freezes from the top down and it also expands as it freezes. Therefore, if you put too much water on the surface and it starts to freeze, it will first freeze the top and you’ll have your base ice, a layer of water and the top layer of fresh ice. Three layers; base ice-water-top ice. The water in between the two ice layers will then start to freeze and expand as it does so. As it expands, it can only expand up into the fresh ice, therefore causing the “lifting” of the fresh top ice layer and making it bumpy and/or uneven again which is called “shale ice”. If thin layers are applied, it will freeze solid with no expansion to give you the glass like finish that ice-skating has become accustomed to.
The above mentioned method is the most time consuming, but will give you the best ice surface without the use of the NiceIce resurfacer explained next. A 44’ x 88’(13.4M x 26.8M) rink will take anywhere from ½ hour to 1 ½ hours by spraying to get the ice back in glass shape, depending on the temperature and ice condition you have to start with
NiceIce Resurfacer-The NiceIce ice resurfacer is the best and most economical method of resurfacing any ice rink. My personal backyard rink is 44’ x 88’(13.4M x 26.8M) and takes me a whole 12 minutes to put on a fresh coat of ice.
It used to take me at least an hour to spray coat a new layer of ice and now, as mentioned takes about 12 minutes or less, with less water and a much better ice surface to skate on when done. I usually put two coats on when I’m out and the second coat takes less time than the first and provides a surface that rivals indoor ice quality.
The single biggest detriment to ice is the oxygen/air contained within the ice. You’ll remember skating out on the ponds and lakes and when you made a sharp cut you’d get a big groove in the ice. The groove could be formed because too much air was contained within ice, allowing the skate to easily dig in and groove out the surface. Your base ice is basically the same as pond ice until it gets resurfaced and layered a couple of times.
While utilizing the Patented NiceIce resurfacer, you will be laying down a very thin, fast freezing layer of deoxygenated water that will then become your skating surface. You now have the same ice surface that is laid down on the indoor rinks and sometimes better as air temperatures determine outdoor ice quality. Indoor ice is kept at about a constant 21-24F/-6-4C degrees. Your ice can be as cold as the outdoor temperature, 15F/-9C, 10F/-12C, 5F/-15C and so on.
Hard, de-oxygenated ice is good, fast ice and will not get chewed up as much. It requires less maintenance time so there’s more skating time!!!!! The NiceIce resurfacer is also great when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate like we would appreciate her doing so. When she dumps snow, rain, sleet or slush, it has a definite tendency to mess up a rink surface very quickly. The NiceIce resurfacer can lay down approximately ¼”/.635cm to ½”/1.3cm inch of ice in an hour, depending on the outside air temperature which usually takes care of even the most severe rink surface in a maximum of 3-4 hours of walking.
Ice cracked, how can I fix it?
Inevitably when it gets cold the ice will obtain some cracks. You can do two things to get them repaired and help prevent further cracks
Just like you may have seen on TV or the local rink when a hole is created in the ice, the ref/players will scrape some ice shavings, pack them in the hole, wet it and then smooth it over with a puck. Same goes for your backyard rink. Grab some snow, assuming you have some, and pack it in the holes and cracks, wet lightly and smooth over the best you can with a puck, or even a concrete trowel and let it freeze.
Before you get any cracks and/or when you fix any holes/cracks you have in the ice, and it’s cold enough and going to stay cold enough to keep your ice frozen, you can and should put many “thin” layers of water/ice on the rink, letting each layer freeze before adding another layer. This will give you a harder ice surface on the top and be less prone to cutting, chipping and cracking as long as it stays frozen.
ALL in ALL…..A backyard rink can bring you years of unlimited Frozen Memories to last you, your family and friends for a lifetime. The choices at NiceRink are infinite, the possibilities are limitless, and our product reputation is second to none. Backed up by a superior customer service staff and years of knowledge to help you.