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How to Build a Backyard Ice Rink

In this video, Ask This Old House landscape contractor Jenn Nawada and carpenter Nathan Gilbert help a homeowner build a backyard ice rink for her kids that they can use year after year.

Landscape expert Jenn Nawada and carpenter Nathan Gilbert help a homeowner build a backyard ice skating rink. Jenn and Nathan explain the best time of the season to build a rink and then ensure that the yard is level enough for the project. Nathan then shows Jenn and the homeowner the hardware and lumber he plans to use to build the rink so it’s level and easy to assemble and disassemble. Jenn then explains which type of plastic to use to form the base of the rink.

After determining the size and layout, the three set out to build the rink. Jenn shows the homeowner how to determine the height for the top of the ice before Nathan details how to use the hardware to create butt and corner joints. Then, after adjusting the rink’s frame for height, the three fill any gaps with extra wood to ensure it can hold the ice. Finally, Jenn and Nathan roll out the plastic tarp, secure it in place with staples, and fill the rink with a garden hose.

Do Backyard Ice Rinks Ruin Grass?

An ice rink won’t destroy your yard if you install it and take it apart at the right times. The grass is dormant in winter, so if you wait until after the first freeze to build it and then take it apart before spring starts, the lawn should be just fine.

How to Build a Backyard Ice Rink

  1. Pick a level spot in the yard. The minimum ice thickness is 3 inches, so sloped yards aren’t good candidates for backyard rinks. Be sure to clear the area of any snow and yard debris.
  2. Determine the layout by measuring and driving a concrete form stake at each corner.
  3. Pull landscaping string from one stake to the next and use a string level to determine the height of the frame of the rink. Since 3 inches is the minimum height, the string and level will determine how deep the lower end of the rink will be.
  4. Using galvanized brackets and lag screws, attach the framing lumber end to end to construct the sides of the rink. Use the galvanized screws to attach the corners before securing them with heavy-duty corner brackets.
  5. Square the frame and drive concrete stakes along the outside of the rink’s perimeter. Be sure to drive them lower than the top of the frame.
  6. Level the frame and secure it by screwing through the concrete form stakes and into the frame. Fill any gaps under the frame with scrap lumber.
  7. Lay the plastic sheeting inside of the frame and unfold it. Allow it to hang loosely inside the rink, and ensure that it overhangs the frame by at least 1-foot. Staple the plastic to the outside of the frame.
  8. If desired, coat some PVC boards with red spray paint to simulate the centerline in a hockey rink. Also, fashion a face-off circle from red PVC tubing. Place them in the middle of the rink.
  9. Fill the rink with a garden hose. The amount of time it takes to fill will vary depending on the rink’s size. Also, freeze time will depend on the volume of water and the conditions.

Resources

Jenn and Nathan built the ice skating rink out of a series of 2x10”x16’ KD boards, which can be found at home centers and lumberyards. To secure the boards together, Nathan used a series of galvanized brackets, which are manufactured by Simpson Strong-Tie.

To hold the water in the rink, Jenn and Nathan used a 28x64’ 7mm white polyethylene from J. Freeman, Inc. Outside of New England, look for a local plastic distributor company that makes products such as boat wraps. Some companies might even specify plastic for ice skating rinks.

For the details around center ice, Nathan used a piece of PVC board and some red PEX pipe, which can be found at most home centers.

Expert assistance with this segment was provided by Kelstrom Landscaping, Inc.


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