Community February 24, 2012

How to Build a Backyard Hockey Rink





So you want to build a backyard hockey rink….

“It’s a labor of love,” says Pete Whitehead of Hailey. You can get it done from as little as $250 (or less if you are packing snow and spraying water, as Eric & Stephanie Carlson of Ketchum did…check out their backyard rink pictures, and many others, in last winter's Backyard Hockey Rink story). Or you can spend a lot more. “Just don’t track the actual hours of labor you have into it,” counsels John Lee, who lives out Board Ranch in Ketchum and is in his 4th year of building his backyard rink, “because it adds up, and it adds up fast.”

To help ensure your success (and hopefully limit the hours you invest), we have compiled a step-by-step guide on how to build the best backyard hockey rink. Followed all the steps and still having issues, visit our Trouble Shooting Guide at the end of this post for tips and ideas from local experts. Or check SVM's Backyard Hockey Rink Sources & Links for resources on additional instruction, videos, construction materials and hockey supplies.

Have fun and happy skating!

Materials Needed:
     • Boards (2’x12’, 2’x15’ or plywood) + Bracing
     • Screws (for the boards + bracing) + Drill
     • 1 Rink Liner
     • Access to a Garden Hose (to fill your rink)

     • Shovel + Broom (for clearing the ice surface)
     • Lighting (for around the rink)
     • Nets, pucks, sticks, bench for putting on skates, etc.


1. Choosing Your Site

This is perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT step (aside from “filling”) because you need to determine the most level site in your yard. “Your yard may not be as level as you think,” says Pete Whitehead, who adds that it best not to eyeball this. “I eyeballed it the first year,” recalls Whitehead, “then used a laser level to double-check it and discovered I was more than 12” off on one side.”

Try to be methodical about this step. Use a laser level or line level method—you’ll need stakes, string, a tape measure and a line level (stake all the corners, tie a string around the 1st stake and run it level, using the line level, to the 2nd stake and tie it off again, then measure the distance from the string to the ground at each stake to determine the difference in slope; repeat for the remaining stakes). You can complete this step in the summer when it is still warm and balmy in your yard (an added bonus, because much of the rest of your rink construction and maintenance will be completed in below freezing temps). You may need to reposition your rink if the slope difference is too great, but the main reason for this step is so you know how high to build your boards around the perimeter of the rink. Water always levels, but also always runs downhill to gravity. So, if your boards are not high enough, your water will be overflowing on the deep end of your rink, while the other end is dry liner—which means you have to start all over if you don’t measure correctly before you start.

2. Prep your Surface

Remove any sticks, stones or sharp objects that might puncture your rink liner. Remove all leaves if possible—they can create dark spots that act as a heat conductor for the sun, leading to holes or “soft spots” in your ice.

3. Build your Boards

Boards can be as simple as plywood sheets (which are cheap and easy, but can flex and don’t usually last more than a season or two) or as fancy as long-lasting commercial NiceRink boards you order online. Most people use 2’x6’ or 2’x12’ boards, with either a system of stakes (metal or wooden) or a bracket system (L-brackets or triangular wooden braces or metal brackets, both of which can purchased at local hardware stores or ordered online). The stakes or bracket system help to help secure the boards and provide stability (Remember: water does not like to be contained and will work hard to move out of your enclosed rink boards, so stability is important). And be aware of your sprinkler system location if using metal stakes, as the last thing you want is holes in your irrigation lines come spring when hockey is over . Using packed snow banks as boards is not recommended—no matter how hard you pack the snow, a puck traveling at the velocity of even a 4-year-old’s “slap shot” will fly right through and be lost until spring in a pile of cold snow.

4. The Liner

The widest width of any liners currently available in the Valley is 20 feet. So if your rink area is larger than that, you will need to order a liner online from a backyard hockey rink site or greenhouse supplier. See the list of Backyard Rink Resources at the end of this blog for links. Most heavy-duty liners are typically 5 or 6 ml in thickness, but new products online can be 3 ml weights and still work great. White or clear work best (don't use dark colors for your liner as it will conduct heat from the sun and melt your ice sooner than needed). Remember to leave at least 1.5 to 2 feet of extra liner on each side of your rink so that it has room to move when you fill it with water. Tuck the liner gently into the corners and drape it over the side, but DO NOT staple it until after you fill it (use bumpers or rubber coated clamps to hold it in place if necessary, but do not nail or staple yet). And don’t unroll your liner in place until you know you are ready to fill your rink (this is temperature-dependent, see #5 below). It is just not worth risking a dog, small child or other critter walking on it and creating holes while waiting for the right temperatures, because holes in your liner can ruin weeks worth of prep work and waiting, which will make your life miserable!

5. Filling the Rink

You’ve prepped, cleared, leveled, pounded, drilled and assembled. You’re ready. Now it’s time to watch and wait. Filling the rink is probably the trickiest step in the whole process—it can either be a snap, or a total living nightmare that requires weeks and weeks and weeks of painstaking modifications, alterations and repairs.

The key to filling is waiting for the correct temperatures. You need a good solid week of below-freezing temps to ensure proper ice formation—less than 32 degrees F during the day, and colder at night, for 4 days or more (preferably with no snow forecast, as snow can turn to slush that bonds to the ice and creates bumps and ripples that need maintenance).

Once the weather forecast is optimal, fill your rink to about 3” in depth the first time and make sure it freezes all the way down to the ground before adding any more layers. You will know it has frozen solid through when the ground is no longer visible through the ice (the ice turns opaque and cloudy). This can take anywhere from 2 to 7 days depending on temperatures and conditions. It is best to fill at night to help guarantee a good freeze (hence the need for decent lighting around your rink, as most of your maintenance will be done at night when it is cold—in fact, Ketchum Parks Department director, John Kearney, who is responsible for building the ice at Christina Potters Ice Rink in Atkinson Park, lays most of his layers on the ice at 4:00 AM for optimal results; and to guarantee good temps he doesn’t even begin the process until mid-December). To make sure your liner doesn’t have any holes, check around the perimeter of your rink while filling it and look for wet board or wet (or slushy) snow or ground. If you spot water seepage, jump to SVM's trouble shooting guide for tips on how to patch liner holes.

A word on temperatures: Filling your rink too early, before solid freezing temps set in for an extended period, is probably the first mistake of “newbies” and can wreak havoc on your ice surface through the creation of freeze-thaw cycles that create air pockets (from different areas of frozen and unfrozen water), flaking, slush, bumps, pock marks or “mashed potato” ice—none of which is good for skating, and all of which create maintenance issues that adds hours to your labor calculations and even more to troubleshooting challenges and trials.

6. Final Steps & Maintenance

Once your ice is frozen, staple your liner to the edges of your boards. Keep the surface shoveled from new snow and sweep to the edges after shoveling (snow can bond to the ice where it falls, which creates ridges or bumps if not swept clean). Sweeping after usage is also important for the same reason. Bottom line: keep your ice sheet clean.

To create a perfect sheet of ice, you will need to add thin layers periodically that smooth out the surface. Theories abound on how best to do this—do you use hot water or cold, spray or dump water, employ a cloth or squeege method, etc. The easiest, and perfectly adequate, way to create smooth ice is to spray a light layer over your rink no more than ¼ inch deep (preferably done at night, with no wind, and definitely no snow). If cold enough, it should freeze in minutes, which will create a ripple-free, smooth ice surface perfect for your next neighborhood game or practice. And don’t forget to bring your hose in when you are done (so it doesn’t freeze overnight). To simplify this process, you can even purchase a ice shaver or backyard rink Zamboni to help with this process—or check back next week to see our short blog with photos from some enterprising and engineering locals like John Lee, Gunnar Whitehead and others, who have made their own zambonis for their backyard rinks.

You’re ready to go, now get out there and skate!

After all…the Idaho Pond Hockey Championship is waiting!


(read on for SVM's Trouble Shooting Guide and Links & Resources)

Q: Holes in Your Liner

If you find holes in your liner when you unroll it, patch them right away with underwater tape. Duct tape works in a pinch. Actually, in our view, duct tape works for almost everything and has worked without fail for backyard rink liners as well. But a waterproof tape is the official “approved” method for patching liners. Either way, make sure you patch it thoroughly so you don’t encounter issues when filling it with water to create your ice.

If you see wet or slushy snow or wet patches of dirt or grass around the perimeter of your boards when filling your rink, then you’ve got a leak. Look and see if you can isolate where it is coming from and use the underwater tape or duct tape to patch it. Sometimes you can see bubbles, but this may also mean checking your boards for screw ends that may have come through the other side or other debris that may have caused a small hole. If you can’t find the hole, you either have to hope for a good freeze (letting it freeze below the leak, then spraying thin layers of water that will freeze more quickly until you get past the leak). Once it freezes you are okay. If this doesn’t work, sadly, your only option is to start all over again—ordering a new liner or, if you have enough excess, repositioning it beyond any potential holes or tears.

Q: Bumps and Ridges

Bumps and ridges are usually caused by falling snow that hasn’t been cleared or swept clean. It can also be caused by high winds while laying down a deeper layer of ice (wind moves the water as it freezes, causing ridges or waves). Pets, critters or children and adults walking across the ice after a snowfall can also cause bumps (footprints that bond and freeze into mounds). If the bumps and ridges are small enough, you can simply lay down a thin “maintenance” layer of ice to smooth out the surface. The maintenance layer is about ¼ inch think (ideally sprayed on at night, with no wind, and definitely no snow; see #6, previous page). This layer should freeze in minutes. If the bumps or ridges are larger (as in the case of paw prints or footprints), you may have to shave the ridge or bump down first before laying down your thin maintenance layer of ice.

Q: Uneven or Lifting Ice

This is often caused by uneven freezing of your water surface—temperatures that aren’t cold enough for proper freezing all the way through OR from overfilling, too deep a layer of water, with your initial layer. If too deep or not cold enough, the water that is not frozen below the surface moves around and pushes the upper, frozen levels of water into lifting icebergs or uneven, broken ridges. It can also push frozen bits of ice against the liner, creating small holes. This could also happen if you walked or skated on the ice before it was frozen to the bottom, which would create a layer of heavier ice that dropped through the water on the bottom, leading to a huge plate of uneven ice.

Either way, if this happens, you just have to WAIT until all the water freezes all the way through to the bottom. Then you begin your process of shaving down the larges ridges and bumps and building up a smooth layer of ice little by little around these islands, ridges or bumps (follow the “Bumps and Ridges” trouble shooting guidelines above). It’s not fun. It takes a while. But it can be resolved with diligent maintenance.

Q: Flaking Ice

Nobody we’ve talked to seems to know the real cause for flaking ice—is it because it froze too quickly, or is it just from air pockets from a former leak or something  else? Who knows (if you do, please add your comment online here). Regardless of the cause, the best way to remedy this is to chip out the flaking patches, breaking them up and sweeping away the debris. Then begin applying a series of thin maintenance layers of water that will fill the chipped out patches and slowly build up a smooth layer of ice.






Nice Rink — online source for bracket, boards, liners, resurfacers, plastic sideboards, "rink in a box" and custom packages. — beginner kits, ice resurfacers, bumper kits, hockey goals, pucks, shooting aids and all manner of hockey accessories for the backyard rink enthusiast

Greenhouse liners (recommended by Gunnar Whitehead of Whitehead's Landscaping, who has been building his backyard rink for more than 6 years) — cost effective and easy to use, and at 3 ml, lighter than typical rink liners, but just as strong. 

Remember to allow 3-6 weeks for delivery of online liners. So plan ahead and order early. Even better, split a large roll with another backyard hockey rink addict and save costs on supplies.

Backyard — everything related to backyard hockey rinks, including instructional videos, blog posts, pond hockey tournament lists (in Canada and the USA), the rink builders commandments, forums and even a step-by-step instructional guide on how to build your own "homeboni" (homemade zamboni)

My Backyard Ice Rink — a website dedicated to building backyard rinks, including how-to instruction, types of rink construction (ranging from fully-refrigerated systems to the traditional packed-snow method) and which would be right for your yard. Includes rink dimensions and layouts, as well as links and accessories.


This article appears in the Winter 2014 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.