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Tools and Supplies for Building an Outdoor Ice Rink

1/20/23

An outdoor skating rink can help turn a long, snowy winter into an icy wonderland. Whether you plan to build an outdoor ice rink in a public park, at your facility or even in your backyard, a small ice rink can be a simple project to build and maintain when the conditions are right. All that’s needed to get started are consistently freezing temperatures and some tools and supplies you may already have. 

There are many variations of how to build an outdoor ice rink, but each one shares three main parts: boards, bracing and a liner. While construction techniques often vary, the following are some important considerations, tips, tools and supplies for building an outdoor ice rink. 

Getting Started

Important Considerations:

  • Check local codes and restrictions: Before you start planning your project, contact your local code inspector to determine what, if any, permits you may need. Otherwise, you may be required to remove your outdoor rink after you’ve spent the time and money to install it.
  • Access to a water source: When planning the rink, try to position it with easy access to water to make flooding the area easier.
  • Electricity: Look for a spot with adequate lighting or access to an electrical source. 
  • Monitor temperatures: The best time to start planning and building your backyard ice rink is typically before the first freeze in late November or early December. It’s important to build the frame before the ground freezes, or it can be difficult to get the bracing into the ground.

Boards

There are a few options for boards: plywood, lumber, PVC pipe or manufactured boards from various suppliers. Which option you choose depends on your budget and the availability of materials. 

Bracing

Bracing the perimeter of your rink helps keep water in and allows it to freeze. What you use to brace often depends on the surface, its slope, product availability and budget. Many different bracing design options are available online, including wooden stakes and rebar.

Liner

A puncture or tear can ruin your rink-building efforts. You can use a waterproof tarp or plastic sheeting as a liner to cover the rink area before filling it with water. Rink builders recommend using a medium-thick liner (approximately 5-6 millimeters) and choosing a liner or tarp that is white or clear since darker colors can attract the sun and impact ice quality. Whatever type of liner you select, it should be larger than your rink area since it needs to cover the insides of the boards to completely line the area before filling. 

Lighting

Lighting is another thing to consider. Adequate lighting is an important safety feature and is helpful when resurfacing the ice since nighttime temperatures are typically ideal for this process. Ground-mount LED floodlights, landscape lighting, waterproof spotlightsoutdoor lampholders and string lights are popular among rink builders. Extra outdoor extension cords are also good to have on hand to help illuminate your ice rink. 

Rink Barrier

Adding mesh fencing or netting can help protect your rink from drifting snow and act as a safety barrier around your rink. Consider adding netting with a high break strength to serve as a backstop around the rink to help protect bystanders and nearby structures from flying hockey pucks. 

Tips and Tricks for Building an Outdoor Ice Rink 

Outdoor ice rinks have a variety of sizes and configurations. How you build your rink depends on many factors, including your budget, location and material availability. The following steps provide general tips for building an outdoor ice rink. 

1. Check for slope

An ice skating rink requires a flat, level surface. Snow can be used to level out small uneven areas before filling the rink, but a very uneven or sloped surface isn’t well suited for building a skating rink. Ice skating rink manufacturers typically recommend no more than a 6-inch slope because, with more slope, the perimeter walls need to be higher to contain water. If you are building an ice rink for your facility, parking lots are popular choices since the area is relatively flat with little slope. 

2. Determine size and layout

When planning, try to position the rink with easy access to a water source. Consider the length of your garden hose and where you can access a water spigot. Avoid areas over a septic or drain area and ensure the surface can be well-lit. 

3. Prep the rink area

Plan to prepare the rink surface area on the same day you plan on building the frame. It’s important to build the frame before the ground freezes or getting the bracing into the ground, if you are on a grassy surface, won’t be easy. Make sure nothing could puncture your liner, like twigs or rocks. You can use stakes or spray paint to measure and mark the rink area before constructing the frame.

4. Build the frame

Depending on the rink design and your budget, you can use large-diameter PVC piping, lumber or plywood to build the frame for your rink. If using lumber or plywood, This Old House recommends using galvanized or corrosion-resistant brackets and lag screws to help construct the sides of the rink and using corrosion-resistant screws to help attach the corners with heavy-duty corner brackets. If you’re building the rink on grass, it’s important to level and secure the frame with stakes or anchors.

5. Add the liner

After the frame is built, you may have to wait to put in your liner and fill the rink with water. Once the temperature is consistently around freezing, it’s time to put in the liner. This Old House recommends placing the liner or tarp inside the frame, ensuring it hangs loosely inside the rink and overhangs the frame by at least 1 foot. Then staple the liner to the outside of the frame. 

6. Make the ice 

Once the border and liner are ready, the rink can be flooded. The time it takes to fill the rink will vary depending on the size. The freeze time will also depend on the volume of water and the overall weather conditions. For a solid freeze, one National Hockey League team recommends freezing your rink when the ambient temperature is between 14 to -4 degrees Fahrenheit or -10 to -20 degrees Celsius for several days. Ice rink builders recommend spraying thin layers of water over the entire rink rather than allowing it to gather in a large pool. 

7. Maintain the rink

Frequent skating causes chips in the ice and may even crack it. Periodically flood the rink with additional water to ensure the ice remains at least 3 inches thick. Adding a new layer of water with a floor squeegee can also help fill in holes and cracks. After a snowfall, use a lightweight plastic or push-style snow shovel or broom to clean the ice surface. 

8. Dismantling the rink

Taking apart the rink is simple when the season is over. First, unclamp the liner, unscrew the frame and either roll up the liner or throw it away, depending on its condition. You may also be able to reuse the framing lumber, plywood or PVC the following winter. 

9. Draining the water 

Remove the boards and liner when temperatures start warming in later winter or early spring to avoid damaging grass or the surface underneath the rink. After the ice melts, you can drain the area with a siphon or a submersible pump. You can also cut small holes in the liner to help it drain. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What tools are recommended for building an outdoor ice rink?

A: Tool and supplies will vary depending on the design and layout of your rink. The following list provides some general recommendations that can help with your project:

  • Construction lumber, plywood or PVC pipe depending on the rink design
  • Waterproof tarp or plastic sheeting
  • String or line level 
  • Tape measure
  • Masons line or twine
  • Galvanized brackets
  • Corrosion-resistant screws
  • Anchors or stakes
  • Garden hose
  • Shovel, snow pusher or broom
  • Floor squeegee
  • Hammer
  • Cordless impact driver or screw gun
  • Stapler
  • Spray paint and marking tools

 

Q: Is it better to make ice with cold or warm water?

A: Depending on the temperature, warm or cold water is suitable for making ice. One National Hockey League team recommends using warm water for best results when the temperature is colder than -4 Fahrenheit or -20 Celsius.

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.