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Making and Maintaining an Ice Rink

making ice rinkIndoor ice rinks are marvels of engineering, offering pristine, clear ice surfaces not matter what the time of year. It takes ingenuity, some complicated engineering, and no little artistry to make and maintain an ice rink. Here’s a brief explanation of how ordinary water becomes the clear, cold surface where ice skaters perform breathtaking jumps and hockey teams duel for supremacy.

A Foundation of Refrigeration
Beneath the ice surface is a complex web of brinewater-filled iron pipes embedded in a concrete slab. Chillers cool the brinewater to temperatures of 16F, then pump the chilled cooling agent through the pipes to cool the concrete. Up to 9,000 gallons of brinewater travel through as much as five miles worth of pipes to maintain the correct temperature for the ice.

Beneath the concreate slab is a heated insulated layer to keep the ground below from freezing. Were the ground to freeze and thaw, it would cause cracks in the ice surface. The base of the system is a thick layer of sand and gravel, with a groundwater drain at the very bottom.

Once the slab is chilled, water is applied in thin layers to ensure even thickness. A delicate balance is at work here. Make the ice too thick, and the rink’s surface will be soft and mushy. Make the ice too thin, however, and a skater’s blades could cut right through to the concrete. Once finished, the ice will be approximately an inch thick and amount to 12,000 to 50,000 gallons of water.

Ice Maintenance
Once the complex work of layering ice is finished, you don’t want to have to repeat the process more than necessary. If the rink is used for other purposes, a protective layer is placed over the ice.

Over time, dust and debris dulls the ice, causing grooves and pits in the surface. When this happens, rink owners deploy their ice cleaning machines, or Zambonis. The Zamboni scraps off the top layer of ice, then cleans the ice surface by flushing dirt out of imperfections on the ice surface. The machine then sprays a thin covering of hot water over the ice, which quickly freezes to form a new, sleek surface.

Rinks do sometimes need to be completely redone. Should this become necessary, the brinewater refrigerant is heated, softening the ice and allowing it to be broken into large chucks for removal. Then the concreate is recooled, and new ice surface applied.

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