How to Start Your Own Backyard Ice Rink Project
What kid wouldn't want a little bit of Canada in their backyard in the shape of their own personal backyard ice rink?
This is the ultimate backyard DIY project for any parent that can be shared by the whole family and enjoyed by all.
It will also automatically put you on the list for the following awards:
- "Parent of the Year"
- "Parent of the Neighborhood"
- "The Real MVP"
- "Super Cool Parent"
A project this size will keep you on these lists for years.
If these acknowledgments are too much to pass up, we need to ask you to pause.
You've come to this article to understand what you're getting yourself into, and that's understandable.
DIY ice rinks have a few moving parts.
Here's how to get things set up and what you need to consider before pulling the trigger.
Understanding Backyard Ice Rinks
The backyard Ice rink has been around for decades.
Long ago, skaters had to depend on lakes and other bodies of water to freeze before lacing up their skates.
If these weren't available, they had to go to professional rinks, which were scarce and even expensive to use.
While there are more professional rinks around today, there's now the possibility of building your own rink using some simple materials and tools.
Of course, rinks can take some time, so we recommend that you enlist a friend or two, regardless of the size.
Rinks need three things: a dedicated space, lots of water, and the right weather conditions.
Backyard ice rink builders must have these tenets in place first before taking the next step.
Things to note:
With backyard ice rinks, there's a Golden Rule:
Go big or go home. (Well, since you're already home, you can probably just go inside and get some hot cocoa.)
Use as much space as possible as the project is already time-consuming.
You don't want a rink that's too small that you can't stretch your legs and build up some real speed.
The goal here is not only to build something that's effective but reusable.
You want to easily disassemble your rink, store the components, and bring it back out for next winter.
After confirming your geographical location and referencing the Farmers Almanac (to know when it's freezing time), start to outline the materials and price out what the costs are associated with starting your rink project.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Yes, we said to go big, but you'll have to consider the age and sport of your skater(s). Smaller skaters just starting only need enough space to perform a figure eight to work both their inside and outside skate edges. Consider a bigger rink for more than one skater. Larger rinks allow for stickhandling for hockey players or jumps for figure skaters.
- Assess how much dedicated space (square footage) you have for your outdoor (or indoor for synthetic ice) rink. Using the total dimensions will help you draft a list of materials necessary to complete your rink project. If synthetic ice is your best or only option, you may want to choose a solid core panel that will withstand outdoor temperatures over time. More on synthetic ice later.
- Keep growing your rink as your skater grows and continues to show an interest in their sport which will help keep your start-up cost to a minimum.
The next step is to measure your rink. You'll need a combination of a tape measure, stakes, string, and a level. Place stakes at each corner while connecting the line to measure your rink.
The string helps you to use a level to check the ground.
An uneven surface will lead to a poor skating experience.
If there is some uneven ground, you'll need some extra material to compensate.
Keep this in mind.
With those particulars confirmed, it's time to get your materials.
Here's what you'll need:
- Several pieces of 2 in. X 12 in. X 8ft. Prime lumber. Since you know the exact length and width of your rink, you can purchase enough board to make your rink walls.
- Extra lumber is necessary for parts of the rink that is uneven. These walls may need to be slightly higher.
- Several concrete stakes to secure each piece of lumber. Each will go into the ground and connect to the board with screws.
- Each piece of wood needs securing at the seams. Metal mending plates work well here.
- L-shaped metal brackets for the corners.
- A large roll of white plastic or tarp. This tarp is the foundation of the rink and holds the ice securely. White reflects the sunlight versus another color like black, which can absorb light and melt your rink.
- Enough screws to hold a small house together.
- Rubber bumpers that will cover the tops of the walls. These will prevent possible injury.
- We can't emphasize enough that you measure the location first. This simple step saves you time and money.
Are Plastic Walls Better?
There are rink-building companies that provide rink walls made of plastic.
These rink walls have pegs that connect, removing the need for mending plates.
If you're only looking to keep the puck on the surface and want to save money, check out "The BounceBar" by PolyGlide Ice.
Wood walls are very effective and reusable but run the risk of absorbing water, so the choice is yours.
Installing Your DIY Backyard Ice Rink
With all your supplies ready to go, it's time to install.
It would help if you had your measurements already in place when it's time to put the rink walls together.
- Use the mending plates to connect one board to the other. Stand the board up and use the stakes or brackets to keep the walls upright. You should have a friend who can help with the brackets and ensure the rink stays level. Start with the length and then move on to the width and corners. If you're using plastic walls, lay them out and connect them using the manufacturer's mechanism.
- Each corner needs at least one L-shaped bracket to hold it in place. Use the screws and a handheld drill to get them installed. Move on to the other length and final width to complete your rectangular rink.
- In some cases, the backyard is uneven. When the rink fills, it can bring the ice to the top. You'd need to install an additional board above or below to compensate. Measuring in advance would ensure you purchase the extra material necessary for this change.
- With the rink walls secure, it's time to place the white plastic. Make sure the area is clear of any debris that can puncture the plastic. Roll it out and cover the inner rink.
- A commonly overlooked step is ensuring there's enough to drape over the walls of the rink. The walls and ice place extra weight on the plastic. At least one or two feet is enough to prevent the plastic from slipping into the rink.
- Now, it's time to fill your rink. Get your hose, place it in the rink and turn the water on. The rink can take at least 8 hours to fill. Water will flow to the lowest areas first, then to the higher parts of the rink. You'd want at least 3" of ice, so be patient.
- It's time to get those feet wet! Check the liner periodically to remove any large creases or bubbles which can impact your ice.
- Now we wait! It can take at least two days for the water to freeze, depending on the weather. Once it's done, it's time to skate!
Obstacles in the Way
Building the rink sounds easy and fun, but there are some challenges you'll encounter along the way.
Understanding how to navigate these obstacles is essential for a wonderful skating season.
- Minor details
If you live North of the US, backyard rink cost border, you actually have a shot at an opportunity for some thick ice for a few months out of the year should mother nature decide to smile on your rink building dreams.
Heading South into the States, the ice time duration starts to melt depending on which way the wind blows from January through February.
As you head South of Route 80, synthetic ice becomes a primary consideration as the actual duration of sustained ice seriously starts to dwindle.
The rink building project itself may take longer than the lifespan of the rink, which you may wind up branding as a one-day "Winter Classic."
Traveling further South becomes a polymer paradise for Artificial Ice as the only option unless you prefer to mortgage the house for an ice compressor, piping, and brine and 100 hours of labor (forget it).
Synthetic Ice: The Difference Maker
Even if the weather is not in your favor, you can still skate.
Synthetic ice panels are made of a unique polyethylene material that connects and forms a smooth skating surface.
The material is infused with a special compound that allows for fantastic skating with reduced friction.
The Benefits of Going Synthetic Include:
Ease of Installation: Once you have your dimensions, you purchase the number of panels needed for the rink.
The panels are shipped to your home, and you can have a fully installed rink in less than an hour.
If you include the time to build the walls, it can take about 2-3 hours.
Cheaper than Refrigerated Ice: Refrigerated ice can cost tens of thousands of dollars in installation and maintenance costs.
Synthetic ice is a one-time purchase.
Reusable: Ice panels are easy to clean and maintain.
A soft brush and warm, soapy water are all you need to care for your rink.
If ice forms on the rink due to a storm, you can shovel the top layer, use hot water to melt the additional ice, then clean it again.
Once you're done, you can skate again!
Time is On Your Side: With backyard rinks, the earlier you start, the better.
There's a higher chance of the ice freezing, which will last longer.
If you started late in the season, synthetic ice ensures you can skate well into spring.
You Can Scale Over Time: Panels at a specific size means you can increase the size of your rink as needed.
Timing is Everything
Backyard ice rinks work best at the beginning of winter as it preserves the health of your lawn.
Lawns become dormant at the beginning of winter, making it the perfect time to lay down the components for a rink.
Much later in the season and you run the risk of ruining your lawn.
That's an added cost later in the year you could avoid.
Rink Maintenance is Often Overlooked
Wintertime could be unpredictable, and the changing weather can impact the quality of your rink.
Snowstorms can add layers that can make skating impossible.
You'll have to shovel out the excess snow, then use warm water to resurface the rink.
Snow buildup will happen several times during the winter, so be prepared.
Even when snow does not build up, rain can freeze on the rink.
To resurface your rink by misting the surface with warm water.
You'd want to do that multiple times, avoiding over-soaking any one area.
There are rink resurfacers on Amazon, or you can do a DIY resurfacer.
Thanks to objects that melt it, your ice won't stay the same level throughout the year.
Anything from a puck left on the ice to a leaf can absorb energy from the sun.
Each can melt into the ice, disrupting the smooth surface.
Make sure to clean the surface after use.
If an object melts the ice, pack some snow in the groove, then use water to help freeze it.
Don't Skip the Minor Details
A rink is not complete without some added details to make it feel authentic.
If you're making a hockey rink, you can add a centerline by spray painting a piece of PVC or other plastic red or blue.
Lay down the colored line before filling the rink.
Also, consider dasher boards for the inside of the rink. Dasher boards line the walls so hockey players can have a smooth skating experience.
Skating is fun in the evenings, but you lose sunlight fast at this time of year.
So you may need floodlights so that the kids can tire themselves out well into the night.
Floodlights encourage your neighbors to come over and skate, so be careful when you're turning them on and off!
Invest in goalposts, nets (so you don't lose a window), and an area where everyone can stay warm.
Think about these features in advance, so you can get them all done beforehand.
Make it a Team Rink Project
Think about making your backyard rink a team project and enlist the help of family members and friends as volunteers that would surely enjoy lacing up and skating on your rink.
If your construction costs exceed your budget, perhaps other teammates and their families would help you raise the necessary funds to complete your rink project if all will benefit.
The skating community, be it hockey or figure skating, is dedicated to their related sports and can be pretty creative in fundraising ideas to make any rink build project a reality!
For instance, you can have an ice skating party or event covering several days.
Each person pays a cover charge, which goes towards building the rink.
A DIY backyard ice rink project can feel like a big undertaking.
It can be a breeze as long as you prepare a budget, get the right supplies, and have some help.
However, some factors are out of your control, like the weather.
You'll need to navigate the snow or storms should they come while you're waiting for the rink to freeze.
Rinks also need continued maintenance for a fantastic skate.
A synthetic ice rink is a better option for warmer climates or shorter winters.
You can install it without the hassle and start skating almost immediately.
The other rink components remain; however, your synthetic ice replaces the water.
If you need help with setting up your synthetic ice, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team for help.
We love building backyard outdoor rinks and can help you avoid many of the mistakes that are common with the project.