Here are important tips to consider before you go buy the materials to make an ice rink at home.
You'll need to measure your yard's flat area and determine the dimensions of your rink. Our yard has a relatively flat area of about 24 feet by 40 feet.
Make sure you have a tarp larger than your area by a few feet in both directions.
Place some markers in the yard to plot the area. Level out any spots in your soil if needed to make sure your rink doesn't require more water than necessary.
Prepare to spend the better part of an afternoon laying out your boards and building the frame. You'll also need to run your garden hose for several hours, depending on the size of your rink. For a 24 x 40 frame in our yard, the first fill ran about 8 hours!
Don't fill to early in the season. From other resources online you can learn about how grass will behave when covered up for long periods of time. Grass likely won't go dormant until a good solid freeze. A good rule of thumb is to wait until after Thanksgiving to lay down a tarp, but your weather situation will vary, don't kill your grass by starting early.
Watch the weather forecast and try to fill the rink 24 hours before a good solid drop in temperatures. The ice may take 2-3 days to freeze completely, so you need a string of colder days before you should fill up with water.
Your hardware store may not carry every size and color, but I'd recommend you find a white color tarp that's at least 3 feet longer than the frame you plan to build. We got a 30x50 blue tarp for our first season because it was cheap and this was a trial run. I suspect that the blue tarp color attracts more sunlight and thus heat to melt the ice faster on warm days. Next year we'll upgrade to a white tarp to ensure less melting on mild and sunny days.
Be careful not to damage the tarp with sticks, shoes, rocks or shovels. The last thing you want is a hole in your rink.
Here's a list of things you need to have on hand or go out and buy from the hardware store. You should budget $300 or more for the materials (lights and a good tarp take up most of the budget).
An extra set of hands helps, but you should be able to lay your boards out in the perimiter you staked out earlier. Start with a corner and pre-drill holes for 2 longer screws (3" should work fine). Drill holes through both boards and secure the L-shaped corner. Then begin working your way along the perimiter with screw plates to join boards that run along the same side of your rink. Stabilize the boards with plastic tent stakes so they don't begin to fall over as you're working.
For good measure you may want to verify you have 90-degree angles and the proper length and width before finishing your frame. Remember the tarp will flow up and over the boards, which is why an extra 3-feet of tarp is needed.
If you encounter lower areas along your frame, find extra 2x4 boards or add some dirt under your grass to help level out the area of your yard the rink boards will sit on top of.
Check boards with a level and ensure all 4 sides are level.
We chose to add a small fence on one end, to prevent pucks from flying off the rink. For this setup, a few 4-foot metal fence posts with clips and a 25-foot plastic garden fence roll worked just fine. The fence posts add additional support to the frame too.
Remove any interior tent stakes once the frame is up and stable, you don't want these to damage the tarp.
When the winter chill arrives, layout your tarp. Ensure it is flat as possible, ripples and bumps are not a deal breaker, but you should spend a little time making sure it's nice and flat.
Roll the excess tarp under your boards to hold it in place, while ensuring the tarp is flat against the ground and the boards. Keep any stakes to the outside of your boards so they gently touch the tarp and still help support the boards from bowing outward.
Flood the rink with water and let it freeze. This will take several hours... Skate and resurface with warm water as needed throughout the season. Enjoy!
We plan on making modifications to our rink next year, and any tips or tricks we can learn are appreciated. Send us your comments and rink photos on our Facebook page!