Want to build your own back yard ice rink for home?  

Build a home DIY ice rink? Well if your answer is Yes, let’s get down straight into it! It’s a big project – imagine building the ice rink on our featured picture. We will explain how they do that further down the article

Inspecting your back yard ice rink site?

First and foremost to build a home DIY ice rink, you need to have flat ground at home, the flatter the better.  It needs to be a level surface to get the best result, but who has this!  Not only a flatter surface will help but it is imperative to have a relatively dry surface and solid ground. If you have found a suitable space, you are ready to go. The ice needs uniformed, suitable thickness throughout to remain stable under pressure. Now because you won’t be using refrigeration or brine water-filled pipes (professional ice rinks), your climate must achieve -5C/41F to -8C /46F and daytime temperature must not go higher than +2C/36F.

Measurement of the back garden ice rink site

Once you have identified the space you need to measure the size of your rink. It is e essential that you make the measurements precise with pinpoint accuracy so that your ice rink will be perfectly built. After taking measurements, make sure you remove any extra and unwanted things from the site.  Choose the rink size wisely as the bigger ice rink requires more maintenance work and more time to set up as you will freeze the water naturally. 

Building up the ice rink walls 

After inspecting the site for making your home DIY ice rink, now it is the time to establish the rink walls. Construct the walls specifically from plywood, as it is strong and resistant to heat loss. Put brackets and outriggers to support the walls of the ice rink and corner brackets to link the walls with each other. If you are making a rectangular block make sure the corners are perpendicularly fitted to avoid any irregularity at the end. Once you have firmly installed the walls, inspect joints and corners carefully both inside and outside of the frame. Remove any sharp objects that can tear and damage your tarp or liner.  Example picture below of bigger scale supports.

Home DIY ice rink, how to protect and make your walls stable

Mind your ice rink wall gaps

If your site for the ice rink is grassy or uneven, make sure to check the gap at the bottom of the walls, if there is any gap fill it with wet sand or a small piece of wood to reduce the gap. Remember not to use ice or snow to fill the gap.

Choosing your home ice rink tarp

Now entering into the critical part of building a home DIY ice rink. The lining or tarp that you chose will determine the life of your ice rink. The tarp comes with different colours, sizes, and thicknesses. Choose it wisely, you do not want to make your home ice rink expensive and you want it to last longer. You may find it cheaper by purchasing in bulk a larger Sq. ft /M2 , then slicing it in half – saving the other piece for next year.  The most common colours in the lining are white and blue. The white colour will be more suitable because it is a bad absorber and emitter of heat during sunnier days.

You must also measure not just within the frame, but measure over and the above the frame edge by 5ft all around. You will be surprised how water settles into cracks bringing tension on the tarp, make sure there is plenty flex.  Another important aspect is the thickness of the tarp. The usual thickness of the tarp is 6 mm, 8 mm, 10 mm, etc, the heavier duty tarp means thicker tarp but it does not necessarily mean stronger.

For example, keep away from woven liners they have a very low level of poly coating, if that thin coating is ripped, then water will escape through. However, if you want to start small these strongly recommended tarpaulin packs here on Amazon. They can go as big as 10m x 14m. As long as you don’t have a full ice hockey team on top, they may last a few years for the average family.

Laying lining of your home DIY ice rink

The lining must be laid very carefully. Stretch the tarp, slack it around the corners and tuck it into the bottom corner of the inside of the walls of your ice rink. Drape the extra tarp over the walls of the frame. Make sure the excess tarp does not fall inward of the ice rink. When laying of the tarp is completed, make sure that nothing is inside the frame to prevent impurity getting into the water, this will reduce its freezing point.

Fill your home ice rink up with water

Now the big time comes, filling the rink with water, the time to fill the rink will wholly depend on the size of the frame and the speed of the water coming from the hose. The depth of the water should be two and a half inches to three inches at least to make a reasonable rink. Adding too much water will take too long to freeze.  There are many views on how you should fill the rink, i.e. layer by layer or just all the way up. For our installment just go all the way up, see our maintenance section on how you perfect the ice.

You must also keep in mind what time are you filling up your rink because if there is a snowfall in the garden between freezing the water, you will spoil all your hard work. So keep an eye on the weather forecast of your area and make sure there is no snowfall when you are freezing the water. Not only during the freezing process but when you are laying the tarp there must not be snowfall. It is another debate that you can skate during the snowfall but you definitely can not build a home DIY ice rink at this time.

It is also not definite how long will it take to freeze as it depends on the size of the ice rink and the temperature of the surroundings. How long will my home ice rink take to freeze? Generally, a two inches deep ice rink with -15° C temperature will take four to five days to be ‘completely’ frozen. Our table below is what you may find on the web, however we interviewed a few families and they said 5 days to be 100% sure.

A graph to show home ice rink ice formation time

Don’t be overexcited!

Do not go berserk and over-excited at this moment, be patient and don’t skate on the ice rink, or you will ruin five, six days diligence. Walk on the ice rink before skating to see everything is nice and solid otherwise the blades of the skates can damage the ice and even the lining. You may at this point see water bubbling under the ice sheet, this is because of the ice forming from the top to bottom. You will notice water flowing over the ice sheet edges next to the tarpaulin, this is common and it should freeze over.

Strenuous maintenance of your ice rink

One the ice has formed for the first time, you will see small bubbles in between the bottom and the surface, these may produce cracks. Not to worry, when you resurface the ice these will fill in.

Make sure you have an ice resurfacer or Zamboni (if you are lucky) to smooth out the surface of the ice rink. A homemade Zamboni can easily be made but the whole maintenance thing is more difficult than making the ice rink. You can build a Zamboni out of plastic water pipes, construct it in the shape of a handheld razor or T shape structure.  

In practice, attach a hosepipe to the long end to allow water to penetrate down into the connecting pipe that runs tangent. This pipe will have drilled holes along its length allowing water to flow out, it is then covered by a large towel.  The pipe with holes will apply pressure down on the ice, whilst the flow of water and towel will gently melt and smooth out divots.  Check out endless YouTube clips on how to build one.

If there is snowfall lumps will build, you need to chip it off every time otherwise it could damage your ice rink. It is sometimes frustrating but it is highly imperative to maintain your back garden ice rink properly, no one wants to build it every week so make sure it lasts longer and better maintenance will prolong its life.  Mass snowfall will insulate the ice, hinder ice formation and will thin the ice rink layer.

A large ice scraper or blow torch can help to efficiently dislodge large imperfections in the ice. Pro Tip: Give a fresh coat of water every after 30 minutes of use in order to keep the ice level.  Or even a splash of warm water will level out areas.  

You may also want to protect the exposed edges of the tarp around your home ice rink. The worst area for damage are the walls level with the ice, they will be kicked with toe picks and blades. Examples of protection are kick plates or bumper caps for the top edges.  You can make your own bumper caps, these are very cheap and we have recommended a good set on Amazon called Funnoddles or Pool Noodles.

Back Garden Ice Rink Wall Protection is easy with Pool Noodles

How Are Real Ice Rinks Made?

Whether the ice rink is built for recreation or it is built for professional skaters, it requires suitable conditions to be prepared. The main thing for any ice rink is frozen water, but the way to freeze the water differs by different types of ice rinks. Many of the ice rinks are built naturally in the weather which can freeze the water, no refrigerant or antifreeze is used for the cooling of water. Whereas in artificial and synthetic ice rinks more complex and intricate methods are applied. 

Let’s take a look at what the professional ice rinks are hiding under them.  

Generally, ice rinks are made using antifreeze or refrigerants to freeze the water and keep it at a certain temperature throughout the season. In synthetic ice rinks, as the name suggests, no water is used and rather a synthetic material is used which has the qualities, characteristics, and attributes of ice. But why is an ice rink made without real ice?

Benefits of Synthetic Ice Rinks

The first and fundamental benefit of using a synthetic ice rink is that it does not have water to use which means no water bills and no electricity needed to turn it into ice, which means no electricity bills too. Therefore, it is a significant and considerable cost saver. 

The synthetic sheets can be used in any season and any condition. Hence, it can be used throughout the year, indoor or outdoor, winters or summers, no limitations and restrictions for the professionals or the skating lovers. It is available in customised sizes and can be placed anywhere, just requires a flat ground.

The synthetic ice rinks are environmently friendly as they do not require any refrigeration and electricity. No use of electricity means there would be less resource exhaustion and utilisation. The use of synthetic material also ensures that the more valuable resource i.e. water is not wasted.

It gives you the feel and experience of real ice. High quality synthetic ice rinks are so real that it can not be discerned and distinguished by the skaters. It is extremely easy to set up and it might cost high initially but it has barely any cost in maintenance compared to a building home DIY ice rink!

What is Under an Ice Rink and How Does It Work?

A typical ice rink works on artificially freezing the water through antifreeze or refrigerants depending on the size of the field. There is a great debate on the usage of refrigerant as some of the refrigerants are harmful to the environment. The purity of water is extremely vital in creating a proper ice rink, therefore water purifiers are used and play an important role in the making of a rink. Water that has dissolved alkaline salts may provide stickiness on the surface of the ice rink. The ionized water may affect the blades of the skates.

Hockey skaters prefer fast ice which is harder and colder with a slippery and smooth surface, as the skaters in ice hockey need fast and rapid movement. Figure skaters prefer slow ice which is softer surface as the skaters in figure skating sports need a surface that holds up more while landing. 

To set up an ice rink, installers use prodigious tarp, typically in white colour to avoid heat loss.  It’s placed on a flat surface covering the entire field. Then a series of pipes that look like a giant carpet is laid out. Brine water will run into the extensive pipe network and distribute across the rink. Brine water is impure, where its salts, usually sodium chloride or calcium chloride, are dissolved to lower the freezing point of the water. After the pipes are filled by the brine water completely, it then freezes using a mammoth heavy chiller. 

After the brine water solution freezes, pure water is then added layer by layer. Commonly, an ice rink which is between a ¾ inch to 1½ half inch thick requires 16 layers or 32 layers to make a perfect ice rink. The rink is painted white with other decorations including logo painting. A final few layers are then added to complete the rink. It will take around 48 hours for the ice rink to be completely built.

Once the water is frozen the top surface is then cleaned up with the Zamboni (looks like a road sweeper) to clear up any roughness and maintaining the shine and sheen. The layering of water can not be done in an area where snowfall is going on as it makes lumps on the surface and makes it impossible to make a flat and smooth surface.

How Synthetic Ice Rinks are Different?

Synthetic ice rinks consist of sheets made of solid polymers that are similar to ice. The two polymers closest to ice characteristics are high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMW). The ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene is more expensive but delivers a more ice-like skating feel than others. 

In synthetic ice rinks, many sheets of thin polymers’ panels are placed on a smooth flat surface. The sheets are surrounded by wooden supports to hold it in place firmly. The best part of synthetic rinks is that it can be set up anywhere and it just requires a flat surface to be placed and nothing else!

On a natural ice rink during skating, as the blade causes pressure it generates heat and melts the ice creating a thin layer of water that provides the frictionless smooth glide. In synthetic ice rinks when the blades cause heat on the surface of the polymer, it releases a lubricant that gives the same smoothness and frictionless glide. The top and bottom layer in the sheet of polymer is usually identical and therefore it is interchangeable increasing the life of the ice rink.

We hope this provided a good overview on the different types of ice skating rinks and how to build a home DIY ice rink! If you want to submit any of your DIY garden ice rinks for inclusion in this post, please send them to info@skateperfect.com and we will provide a shout out for you on the page & social media.

Read our next article which asks why do we always ice skate anti-clockwise / counter-clockwise – will you find yourself skating the same way in your own back yard rink ?