Ice rinks have been around for over 150 years.
Millions of people continue to enjoy ice skating for winter sports or just plain having fun!
Over the years, the rinks have evolved from large public rinks to versatile, at-home rinks.
Today, more and more people are interested in setting up ice rinks for hockey training, figure skating, or simply as a great form of exercise.
There are three types of rinks you can set up in your home or business space:
- Refrigerated Rinks
- Natural Ice Rinks
- Artificial Ice Rinks
Each has its pros and cons.
But when it comes to a “greener approach,” which one is better for the environment?
Everyone wants the world to be a cleaner, better place.
That won’t come from sweeping changes but the little things we do every day, from how we consume energy to the materials we use in our daily lives.
Something as simple as choosing the suitable rink for the environment can improve your carbon footprint, save you energy and time.
If you’re about to set up an ice rink or you want to set one up during the following winter, here’s the impact it will have from a “green” standpoint.
Natural Ice Rink
The first ice rinks were frozen lakes and ponds.
At a specific temperature, the pool of water freezes and is safe for skating.
That concept translated to at-home skating rinks, which became popular in Canada and Europe, eventually translating to northern parts of the United States.
During the winter, you could fill a space with water and let the weather do its job.
Creating an ice rink takes just a few simple steps.
You’ll need a level backyard or large space.
From there, you’ll need strong plywood boards to create the walls of the rink and a tarp for the water.
When everything is set, the area is filled with water until it’s ready.
You would, of course, need to time this with the weather, namely the first sign of freezing (the first freeze).
When the water freezes, you smooth off the top with water, and you’re ready for skating.
Natural ice rinks have the advantage of getting natural ice, of almost any size, at a relatively low cost.
However, the ice lasts as long as the temperature stays consistent.
Your Natural Rink and an Environmental Footprint
Are natural rinks better for the environment?
Natural rinks use no electricity, except lighting for late-night skating.
Natural rinks may impact the environment or may not be a “green” approach by its water usage.
Filling a standard size ice rink can take up to 10,000 gallons of water, increasing the size of the rink.
You’ll need more warm water over the months to resurface your rink if rain or snow settles on top.
For that period, the cost of the rink feels like the cost of the water bill.
But since clean water is a finite and scarce resource, it can be costly for the environment.
When deciding on your natural rink, take this into account. Is there any way you can save water?
Can you store up water naturally over the hot months to use at the end of the year?
Can we use recycled wood or sustainably sourced materials instead?
Natural rinks are excellent, and we’ve set up our fair share over the years.
When we find eco-friendly alternatives, we’ll be doing our part for the environment.
What’s a Refrigerated Rink?
Between 1882 and 1892, the first recorded refrigerated rinks were constructed in Germany.
As the name suggests, the rinks use refrigeration to keep the water at a consistent temperature.
Refrigerated rinks make up most community rinks, private rinks, and public rinks that pop up during the Holidays.
Because of the advancement in refrigeration technology, you can even install a small rink in your home or small business.
Like the natural rink, you’ll have to set up an ample space for your ice rink, complete with watertight walls and a lining. Instead of water, you’ll first need ice rink mats.
These mats contain narrow pipes that will carry the coolant (glycol, brine, or ammonia, for instance) to and from a chiller and compressor.
The refrigeration machine keeps the water at a consistent temperature, constantly removing heat from the surface.
Once everything is in place and the coolant is at the right temperate, water is added to the top to make the ice.
Refrigerated ice rinks are fantastic for large families, communities or neighborhoods.
Everyone can come together and skate on natural ice.
It will also last a month or two longer than a natural rink.
While there are many moving parts, anyone who has a refrigerated rink says it’s worth the effort.
Refrigerated Rink and Your Energy Footprint
These rinks have incredible benefits, but from an environmentally conscious standpoint, there are some drawbacks.
Energy consumption is the biggest red flag.
Over the years, refrigerated ice companies have made massive strides in energy-efficient systems.
However, there is still a significant amount needed to keep the rink operational.
Some use 100 amps per 2000 sq ft, which can add up over time.
You’ll also need more gallons of water and regular maintenance.
Like your refrigerator, you’ll need to decide if to keep the chiller on when it is not in use.
When you’re setting up the rink, make sure to keep energy consumption in mind.
Speak with the supplier about your concerns.
A simple way to protect the environment is to opt for a glycol coolant instead of ammonia, as ammonia can be toxic if leaked.
All About Your Artificial Ice Rink
Both natural and refrigerated rinks have pros and cons.
A common thread is that both allow you to skate on natural ice.
However, you don’t need natural ice for skating, especially at home.
With artificial ice, you get all the advantages of skating with none of the hassles.
Artifical ice panels are made from a special infused polyethylene polymer that can be used for skating.
We can trace the first artificial ice panels to more than 30 years ago.
Today, the technology behind artificial ice makes it close to the real thing.
On the best synthetic ice, most skaters should feel a 10% coefficient of friction.
Athletes actually enjoy the added friction for training as it makes them faster and stronger when it’s time to compete on natural ice.
The biggest appeal to artificial ice comes from its versatility.
You can have the tiles cut to almost any size, and they can interlock like puzzle pieces, making them easy to move and store.
It’s more accessible, and of course, since it’s not natural ice, you can use it at any time during the year.
While it’s not entirely natural ice, you barely feel the difference, especially if you take good care of it.
Synthetic Ice Sounds Terrible For The Environment... But Is It?
If we were doing a word association, “synthetic” would immediately bring the word “plastic” to mind.
Plastic is our environment’s natural enemy.
We use and waste hundreds of thousands of tons of plastics every year.
It’s invaded our waters and affected our wildlife.
It sounds like if you’re investing in synthetic ice tiles, you’re causing harm to the environment.
This couldn't be father from the truth.
Today, many synthetic ice panels, like ours, are made with non-toxic, environmentally friendly materials AND ARE RECYCABLE!
More importantly, an artificial ice rink lasts at least ten years with the proper care. In the long run, you’ll save significant energy and water.
Imagine the expense and carbon footprint of running a refrigerated ice rink for ten years when you only have to purchase your synthetic tiles once.
That does not mean there are no drawbacks.
Synthetic ice tiles made with harmful chemicals and materials do exist.
Make sure to research the provider and ask about environmentally friendly panels and accessories like resurfacing liquids.
There are pros and cons to each selection.
Natural ice rinks can use a significant amount of water which is then disposed of at the end of winter.
Refrigerated rinks use water, energy, and potentially harmful chemicals as coolants, while some synthetic ice tiles can have toxic materials.
In the end, choose the one that has the least amount of impact on the environment.
If there are ways you can minimize your carbon footprint, don’t hesitate to ask!
Synthetic ice tiles are the best choice if you only need a small rink (for instance, a driveway, spare room, or deck).
For a larger space, natural ice rinks hold the advantage but remember their limitations.
Synthetic ice panels also come in panels large enough to cover massive areas, so you can consider those as an option as well.
At Polyglide Ice, we’re committed to providing non-toxic, environmentally friendly tiles, training aids, and accessories.
We construct our panels with the highest degree of quality, giving you a long-lasting, smooth skating experience.
Although the panels are “synthetic” over the long term, they can be an advantage in your quest to save energy, water and be “green” in your way.
Keep on Skating!! - Jim Loughran