Choosing your Rink Liner

A key aspect to your build is your liner. If you live in a cold enough climate you can get away without one by packing the snow up to create the walls. However, if you get a mid-season thaw, you could very well be in trouble!  The topic of liners could easily cause quite a discussion among backyard/outdoor rink builders, and everyone has their own philosophy, but I am going to go with my experience and research and share that with you. The biggest thing I do suggest is shopping around. There are a handful of vendors that sell liners and the costs seem to vary, so get out there and google away.

Does the color matter?

Most definitely color does matter. There are many different types of liners or alternatives, but in the end you want to make sure your liner is WHITE. The issue with a dark color facing up is going to potentially cause different issues with your rink. White on the side facing up towards the sky will help reflect the UV rays away from your ice and hopefully keeping your ice as cold as possible so that you can maintain that great skating surface we are all working so hard at.

There is, however, some debate as to whether your liner needs to be white on both sides. I haven’t been able to find any definitive answers that either confirms or denies the need for white on both sides. So, I think you are safe either way. The issue with not killing your lawn boils down to making sure you get your liner up early enough in the spring and not letting it sit there with water in it until almost June.

Liner Thickness

You might be researching liners and see them differentiated by thickness (6 mil, 8mil ,10 mil, etc). So what does that mean? The thickness is generally measured by mil (unit of length equal to .001 of an inch).  Liners can typically range from 6 mil thickness all the way up to 14 mil thickness, and maybe even more. As the mil number increases that means the liner is getting thicker and the thicker the tarp the heavier duty the liner is. However, you might think that ticker is better, but that isn’t always the case with regard to your rink build.

Choosing a liner

This is where it gets difficult. The bigger your rink the more it’s going to cost you, but you have to be careful about what you are buying. You have to choose a liner to be big enough to cover your entire skating surface and then some. The liner should reach all the way up your boards and drop down the outside of your boards a bit, if you are using low boards around your rink. Typically you would add 4 or 5 feet to the length and width. For example, a rink that is 30 by 50 should use a plastic liner or tarp that is at least 35 by 55. It is always good to have extra liner just in case you need to use taller boards due unexpected slope issues. But of course you shouldn’t have that, because you already measured your slope right?

Buyer beware when choosing your liner. There are liners that are woven. Woven liners are typically 6, 10, 12 or 14 mil thick, however the bulk of their thickness comes from the woven reinforcement in between two very thin ½ to 1 mils of coating to hold the water. The woven reinforcement doesn’t hold water; the poly is what does that. Once that ½ mil coating is compromised you you’re basically left with a woven fabric that doesn’t hold the water. On top of that they are heavier and harder to work with. So make sure you know what you are buying.

NiceRink made a great video showing that the quality of the material used really does matter. Give it a look.

 

Protection and Life Expectancy

The life expectancy of your liner depends on your usage of your rink and how well you are protecting it. You can expect your liner lasting somewhere between 1 to 2 years. It could last longer, but you have to be taking very good care of your liner.  Two things that will help protect and extend the life of your liner is bumper caps and/or protecting the exposed liner from pucks and skates. I personally wouldn’t use the liner repeatedly, but would use last years liner as a protection layer underneath this years liner.

Bumper Caps

NiceRink Bumper Caps
NiceRink Bumper Cap
NiceRink Kick Plate
NiceRink Kick Plate

Many rink manufacturers sell their version of their bumper caps. They do look like a glorified pool noodle, but it has a purpose of protecting your liner and it does this job well. I researched just buying pool noodles and using them, but it wound up being cheaper to buy them from NiceRink. Pool noodles typically come in 4ft lengths where as the bumper caps usually come in 4, 5, or 8ft lengths depending on the manufacturer. The other issue with using pool noodles is that it’s very hard to get just one color, as they are usually shipped in assorted color packs.

Protecting The Exposed Liner

The exposed line is that liner that is showing from the ice level to the top of your boards. Now some people trim the exposed liner so this isn’t applicable, but for those that don’t there are a few ways to protect the exposed liner. NiceRink has kick plates that will help protect the liner from getting cut.

Brace Yourself: A quick guide to bracing your rink boards

In building your rink you need to determine what you are going to use for your boards and how to brace them. One of the biggest parts of picking your bracing is measuring your slope and knowing if you have to hold back a lot of water or not.  This was one of of the toughest things for me, I knew I had about a 18″ difference from highest to lowest corners and wasn’t trying to bust the bank. You have three choices: build braces, buy braces or simply use stakes or rebar. I suggest you really dig into these options. If you are handy give the build option a whirl. The NiceRink brackets are a really great product and can work with plywood as well.

Build Option

This options is where you can really get creative with your build. The options are endless and below are a few examples of bracing.

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Small brace with rebar

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Tall braces with rebar

Buy Option

The brace below is a major brand producing an amazing product.

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NiceRink bracket

Wood Stake Option

This is the simplest option but you need to be careful when it comes down to your slope.

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Simple wooden stake

Sport Court/Pond/Lake Rink Build

If you happen to be building your rink on your sport court, pond, lake or some other body of water, you can still build boards. You can go about this using two methods previously discussed. You can build your braces or you can buy your braces. If you go the build route you would build just like we showed above. On the other hand, if you want to buy your braces both NiceRink and IronSleek have a version of their brackets that can be installed on flat surfaces like a pond or sport court. Each bracket also allows you to reinforce with a stake or rebar.

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NiceRink

Got Slope? How to measure the slope of your rink area

One of the biggest issues when trying to build your rink is the slope of the area where you want to build. Not checking this before building could potentially cause you major headaches when you get to the flooding stage. There are a few ways to to check your slope. The first is the string and stake method and the other is the more expensive method by utilizing a laser level. You can usually rent a laser level from your local tool rental shop. If you want to use the laser level, make sure the level has the ability cover the distance you are trying to measure. Some are meant for short measurements and some for longer.

String and Stake

What’s needed for this method? A tape measure, marker, a string long enough to each your corners and a minimum of two stakes, but Ideally enough stakes for each corner you are checking. Additionally, you could use paper and pen/pencil to draw out the site so you don’t forget the different measurements.

  1. Identify the highest corner (where you think it is at least) and place a stake there.
  2. Take and tie one end of the string to the stake at a minimum of 4″ off the ground. (This is typical ice depth for your outdoor rink)
  3. You would now take the string and run it out to each of the corners where you would have ideally placed stakes in the ground to help this process along. It’s not necessary but it helps.
  4. At each corner you would pull the string as tight as possible and place a line level on the string. Then adjust the string up and/or down until the bubble is centered on the level.
  5. Once the bubble is level, mark the stake appropriately. Then take your tape measure and measure the distance from the mark on the stake to the ground, not to the top of the grass but directly to the ground. This will represent the ice depth at this stake.
  6. Repeat at each of the other corners to get a good perspective on the slope of your site.
  7. Optionally you can document the whole thing so you know what you are dealing with.

Laser Level

Whats needed for this method? A tape measure, a piece of plywood  or something that the laser would show up against for measurement and laser level. Again additionally, you could use paper and pen/pencil to draw out the site so you don’t forget the different measurements.  You would perform this method similar to the string and stake method except replace the string for the laser level. The guys from NiceRink have a quick video on this process.

  1. Identify the highest corner (where you think it is at least) and place the laser level there at a minimum of 4″ off the ground. Pointing it at the first corner you want to measure.
  2. Go to the corner where you want to take your measurement and hold up your piece of plywood so that laser is hitting it.
  3. Measure from the ground up to the dot from the laser. This will represent the ice depth at this stake.
  4. Repeat at each of the other corners to get a good perspective on the slope of your site.
  5. Optionally you can document the whole thing so you know what you are dealing with.

 

So you want to build a backyard/outdoor rink?

Congratulations on making the best decision ever! It won’t always be easy but in the end it’s was one of the best decisions I made for my family. Here is a basic outline of what it takes to get going on your new endeavor. We have articles covering the various topics of this process.

Common Ice Maintenance Problems

The following chart describes some of the common problems with outdoor rink ice and suggests some remedies for consideration.

Problem Cause Remedy
Shell or Shale ice Heavy flooding, leaving ponds of water which freeze on top and run away underneath
  • Scrape away, and fill with wet snow, or gradually build up with warm water resurfacing/flooding.
Cracked Ice Cold temperatures
  • Fill cracks with a wet snow slush and resurface/flood.
Pebble or Rough Ice Too much snow on ice, or flooding while snowing, or scrapers not flat or not sharp enough, or you could be using too little water, if it ripples you are using too much water
  • Make sure the ice is clean of all snow before resurfacing/flooding, or repair/sharpen scraper or blades or use warmer water.
  • Make sure you are applying the correct amounts of water.
Ice Chipping Brittle ice from severe cold weather
  • Resurface/flood with warm water.
Spring Deterioration Warm weather or painted lines absorbing sun’s rays or sun reflecting off the rink boards
  • Do not allow skating and place snow on melting areas as a thicker layer of ice will help prevent melting in warm weather. Some rinks may have as much as 30 cm (12″) of ice by the end of the season.
  • You can also try and bank snow up against the outside of the boards throughout the season will have an insulating effect in the warm weather.
Low Spots on the Ice Excessive use, usually in goal crease, behind net, at players boxes, etc.
  • Flood utilizing the bucket dump method in the evening after all the patrons have left.

Cracks in the Ice

One of the scariest feelings is resurfacing/flooding the rink and the ice is cracking. The sound puts a pit in your stomach the first time you experience it. I immediately went and started to research to make sure I didn’t do anything wrong. I luckily found a Facebook post by the guys over at NiceRink.

The short answer is that it’s normal.The moisture in your slab is acting as the glue to keep it all together.  When it’s extremely cold out that moisture dissipates and can cause settling. You then go and shock the ice with a resurface and which in turn can cause cracks.

Luckily it’s not that big of an issue and its a pretty straight forward fix:

  • Pack any larger holes, chipped cracks, etc. with a slush mixture of snow and water. Make sure you pack it in and smooth it out and let it freeze. Don’t just fill it with with water, as the water will expand when it freezes and you’ll have little bumps.
  • Then commence resurfacing/flooding and apply a layer of water. You can repeat this over and over again pausing between each flood allowing it time to freeze. Usually a minimum of 15-20 minutes or as some have told me, the time it takes to drink a beer.

The Joys of Shell Ice

A topic I see come up frequently on a Facebook group (Backyard Ice Rinks) I am a part of is shell ice. It is a big pain and there are various methods for taking care of it. So lets get into this.

So what exactly is shell ice? Shell ice is created either naturally or after a resurfacing and is really brittle ice that tends to be formed in small areas from a couple of square inches but can range up to several square feet or more.  It is formed when the new water (rain, slush, or from resurfacing) is much warmer than the ice surface and the air temps are really cold/windy.  The new water doesn’t have a chance to form a bond with the existing ice, so it creates it’s own layer of ice, thus the shell affect. Using hot/warm water for a resurfacer is definitely better if you have it, but try to avoid resurfacing in extreme cold conditions or extreme hot water as you might be making the right conditions for shell ice.

Well you now know the basics of shell ice, so how does one take care of it? I haven’t found one common theme when researching this topic so I will share the different methods that are suggested.

  • One method is to chop this shell ice up completely with something like a heavy duty ice scraper, remove it from the ice surface, and make a couple of resurfacing passes. Some say to fill the areas with snow so that when you resurface it creates a slush that should then freeze.
  • You can also use a sharp object, such as an nail, to make holes in the shell ice. Then the next time you flood, water will fill up the empty space in under the thin layer, and if the temp is low enough, it will freeze to form solid ice. This is better than just destroying the shell ice, as very few ice fragments are created this way, which means there is less chance of getting a rough surface when you flood.
  • There is more of an extreme method and that is to perform the “bucket dump” method. We will be covering more on that in another post.

 

Photo credit: Joe Mason

Review: ManPlow Revolution 44 Snow Pusher

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Maintaining your rink is the key to a successful season and one of the biggest headaches is snow removal. When I have several inches or more I use my snow blower to get the bulk of it off the rink I then go back and do a more precise clean up process. In this process I was just using a regular 24″ snow shovel which worked out ok, but it was time consuming. That’s when I went on the quest to find something that would help not only with snow cleanup but also regular ice maintenance like post stake snow removal. There are many products out there but when I stumbled upon the ManPlow, I just had to try it out. I ordered one up through Amazon, using Prime (the best thing ever) and it was at my house in 2 days time, just in time for the next snow storm.

The Revolution 44 was an easy assembly and within 10 minutes was ready for action. One of the neat features about this was that the blade was reversible, so as it wears down over time and use you can flip the blade around and you are back in business. The blade is also replaceable. so once you have gotten you money’s worth out of it order up a new blade and throw it on there.

I went with the Revolution 44 because of course bigger is better, right? But really, my rink is 30’x60′ and I wanted to move snow quickly. Well, that was definitely the right call for me. This thing really moves the snow. One of the advertised features is that snow does not stick to the blade and this definitely lived up to that. Another advertised feature is that it is light weight and I can confirm that this thing is indeed light weight, only coming in at 9 pounds. The U-shaped aluminum handle makes for easy use as well and is durable as well. Now this is just a snow pusher and it is not designed for throwing snow, so I push the snow around the rink making various piles and come back with a regular shovel or my snow blower to actually remove the snow from the rink.

I have been using this thing for a few weeks now and have used it both for snow removal from storms and general rink maintenance and would highly recommend this snow pusher for your rink.