November 26, 2013

From NEHJ: If you build it, they will skate

By Jesse Connolly

Photo courtesy NiceRink

Whether it’s a TV stand, a baby crib or something as adventurous as a tree house, if we’re going to try to build something ourselves, we always envision the final product being exactly as we imagined.

Experience shows that even the best-laid plans don’t always pan out.

There’s a lot that goes into building a flawless backyard rink. You’re going to need quality parts and the right tools to assemble them on an ideal surface. You’ll need to know the top tips for maximizing the quality and longevity of your ice. You’ll also need to know the dos and don’ts in order to avoid disaster.

New England Hockey Journal caught up with a few of the experts and got their advice on how to build and maintain a great rink.

Before we begin

“Pitch of the rink site may be the most important aspect to consider,” NiceRink’s Jim Stoller said. “If you have a nice level site to work with, all the better. When your site is level, the sides will be very easy to put up, as opposed to a little more effort when the site is not level.”

If your backyard isn’t perfectly flat, however, that’s not a deal breaker.

“A NiceRink can easily be built on ground that is not level as well. That’s why we created the NiceRink system of building a rink,” Stoller explained. “Ninety-nine percent of yards will not be flat, as a yard that is perfectly flat does not have proper drainage away from the house and probably shouldn’t have water added onto it because it may cause flooding problems in the spring. My yard had an 18-inch pitch, which is quite a bit, but we have clients that have built rinks with 30 inches of pitch with no problems. You just have to make your sideboards higher and stronger to support the weight of the water on the deep end. Water will always seek its own level, so make sure you check the pitch first.”

Once you know your yard can accommodate a rink, the next step is fairly obvious: making the right purchase.

“Iron Sleek provides you with everything you need to build a rink except the containment lumber,” Iron Sleek’s Michael Barbanente said. “With Iron Sleek, you can use standard 2-by-12 lumber, three-quarter-inch plywood, your own framed boards, or even various commercially available plastic boards. Rink board lumber can be easily purchased at your local improvement stores, so you do not have to waste money on shipping a common product across the country. 

“Iron Sleek will provide you with the essentials, which are the patented Iron Sleek Support Bracket, our unique corner brackets, screws, installation tools and liner. We even have accessories to build rink rounds and to put up backboards. If you want to enhance your rink look, you can purchase our Rink Topper Foam.  We also strongly recommend you protect your liner from cuts under the boards with our uniquely designed Iron Sleek Base Cove Foam.”

Depending how big and how elaborate your dream ice surface is going to be, package prices vary greatly. Most starter kits cost a little over $300, but customers looking for more have options. NiceRink’s silver package for 35-by-65 rinks is just under $1,600.

“This is the ‘next level’ package, where the user has all the components they need to put a rink together except the sideboards, which they can purchase locally,” Stoller said. “This package includes: liner, NiceRink brackets, bumper caps, kick plates, NiceIce Resurfacer and other goodies.”

Getting started

The Northeast is notorious for unpredictable weather, so it’s hard to pinpoint a concrete date to begin construction. Pay attention to clues from Mother Nature.

“Two things need to be considered when taking into account timing to building your rink: the first is when to build your frame; the second is when to lay out your liner,” Barbanente said. “With Iron Sleek, you do not need to worry about the frost. Our steel brackets will easily cut right through early season frost. Early season frost is actually a benefit for supporting your boards because your brackets will be lodged into firm and secure ground. The Iron Sleek steel bracket systems buys you time so you could relax and be sure that your grass is fully dormant and that your ground is nice and solid. Iron Sleek brackets will not kill your beautiful lawn. If you put your brackets down too early because you are worried about penetrating the frosted ground, you will surely ruin your grass. In short, put your rink frame down after you are sure that your grass is dormant to preserve your grass and to better hold your rink on firm ground.

“The second consideration is when to lay out your liner and fill. This is where you have to become a fan of the Weather Channel. When you see a nice stretch of low 20s during the day and teens at night, get the liner rolled out and turn on your hose. Do not put that liner out too early; you will want that first layer of ice to protect your liner from creatures and twigs. Practice patience.”

“As a rule of thumb, in southeastern Wisconsin, I usually install my brackets and sideboards the weekend before U.S. Thanksgiving or earlier and lay out the liner the week or two after,” Stoller said. “By giving it a good week or two, it will also give the brackets and boards a chance to ‘freeze in’ and let the grass go dormant. The week after Thanksgiving traditionally has temperatures ranging from 30 to 35 degrees during the day and down in the high teens to low 20s overnight. The nice cold nights are the trick! With a few cold nights in the low 20s, you’ll be able to freeze one to two inches of water per night or more. With that kind of cold at night, combined with the reflective and water-holding qualities of the NiceRink liners during the warmer part of the day, you should freeze up a rink, with eight inches or less of pitch, to be skateable in four to seven days.” 

Barbanente warns that builders should never underestimate the force of expanding ice.

“Fully support your corners with the Iron Sleek corner brackets,” he explained. “Also, consider using Iron Sleek outriggers when you have water levels over 16 inches. When the thaw comes rushing in, you want to be sure that your rink will not wash away. Do not take shortcuts in support your rink boards.”

Proper maintenance

As Stoller puts it, you’re now your own rink manager, so your method of upkeep is entirely up to you. NiceRink’s president of sales and marketing offered the following suggestions, in addition to the NiceRink Resurfacer:

“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. I will actually use this method if the water wasn’t frozen and it snows on the rink. You end up with kind of a mess. The best way to overcome the mess is to totally saturate the snow to the point where it is completely slush and no white, dry snow visible. This will freeze up and be somewhat bumpy, at which time you’ll have to use one of the other methods to smooth out your ice. 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.’

Stoller also said that “if your rink is near any trees, periodically leaves, sticks, acorns, etc., may fall on the rink. If you can, get them removed as quickly as possible. The same goes for hockey nets, pucks and shovels. Do not leave them on the ice. All of those items I just mentioned are dark in color and will absorb the sun’s energy and heat up and create what we call ‘burn holes’ in the ice.”


Making such errors as mentioned above can lead to problems, including the creation of a hole in your liner.

“Inevitably some of you will get holes in your liner, whether from skates, sticks, shovels, dogs, deer or the plastic football placekick holder left under the liner,” Stoller said. “Laugh if you will, we’ve had more than that come back to us since 1991. There are basically two options in repairing a liner. You can use either the NiceRink repair tape or the underwater glue.”

Hot water is the key to proper maintenance, says Barbanente, who insists on making sure snow isn’t allowed to wreak havoc on your ice surface.

“Iron Sleek offers a resurfacer that attaches to a bucket,” he said. “The key here is that you can fill your bucket with Hot Ice Healing water. Pack your cracks with snow and then resurface. This will bring you back a clean sheet of winter ice. Resurface at night when it is cold. Also, be sure to keep you rink shoveled at all times. Snow on you rink will start to destroy the rink’s surface. The most common problem is a misjudgment on the rink level. Do not worry, you can still add additional Iron Sleek brackets after the fact while utilizing the Iron Sleek extender bracket to add a second story.”

NiceRink offers help year-round, as customers can contact them by phone or through their website. Iron Sleek has installers in several states who can handle unexpected repairs.

Retiring your rink

When the spring arrives and your outdoor rink is no longer sustainable, the last thing you want to do is botch disassembly.

“Drain your water with a pump,” said Barbanente. “Pull out your liner and cut it into sectors for easy recycling. Disassemble boards, pull out brackets and fill any divots.”

Make sure you’re aware of where that water’s draining to.

“Do not drain to an area where the water is going to end up in someone else’s backyard or basement,” Stoller said.

What’s one to do with everything once the rink’s been broken down?

“The liner is usually a yearly purchase,” Barbanente said. “Lumber boards should last five years or more and could be stored outdoors. Plywood boards are less resilient but have been known to keep for several years as well if stored indoors. Keep you liner long enough to cover the exterior of you rink boards to help protect your boards from snow and rain during the skating season. On the offseason, cut a piece of your used liner to cover your boards until the skating season returns.”

Enjoying your creation

Not everyone has the time, a big enough yard or the proper resources to recreate the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, but if you’ve followed the advice of our experts, odds are high you’re going to be quite pleased with your backyard creation.

 “Imagine, stepping out the back door, into the crisp winter air, past the warm glow of a fire pit, under the winter sky riddled with stars and onto a pristine slab of untouched marble ice that is yours to carve,” said Stoller. “... We don’t just make and provide backyard rink products; we live and breathe hockey, skating and everything that comes along with it.”

“Building a backyard rink is a tradition and experience that brings families and friends together,” Barbanente said. “It is well worth the effort and the endurance of the cold.”

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ