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Build your own backyard ice rink: Boston dad-approved tips

Posted by Melissa Massello  January 31, 2013 01:24 PM

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As New Englanders are fond of saying: "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes." With temperatures in the single digits last week and thermometers pushing highs of 64 today, it's been hard to get a handle on the forecast. Luckily for this DIY project, it's exactly what was needed.

This freak warm weather (projected to be in the high 30s until mid-next week) is perfect for building your own backyard skating rink, providing just enough warmth to soften the ground and make being outdoors for the few hours/days of plotting and building actually possible. Even though experts agree the ideal time to start building a backyard skating rink would be November or December, with freezing temps on the horizon again this is one winter DIY you should try now.

Several ready-made kits are available for building a backyard skating rink, but they can be pricey. All you really need is some lumber for bracing, plywood for boards, and a tarp or liner, and for a few hundred bucks you can be skating on your own labor-of-love backyard rink in less than a half day of work — plus, if you plan correctly, you can reuse your materials each winter.

If you've seen this time-lapse video from Chicago making the rounds on the Internet, you know that anything is possible — and worth pursuing.

Backyard Ice Rink Time-Lapse from Four Winds on Vimeo.

We asked several local dads for their no-nonsense tips, gained after many winters spent building backyard rinks for their kids, and broke it down to this essential list of what to expect when building your first backyard ice rink:


  • Lumber or PVC pipe (for bracing)

  • Plywood (for boards)

  • White tarp or liner (any colored liners will attact the sun)

  • Shovels (for clearing snow/maintaining your rink)

  • Hot water (through a hose connected to pipes protected from freezing)

  • Waterproof winter clothing (pants, boots, gloves)

  • PVC piping, towel & hose adapter to make a "homeboni" ice resurfacer (optional)

Anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on the size of your rink and the elegance of your design.

Dave McLaughlin of Arlington, founder & CEO of local startup Vsnap and dad to two school-aged boys, said he single-handedly built his 30 foot by 15 foot backyard hockey rink in just half a Saturday.

"I am not very handy, but I saw this as fun to try," McLaughlin said. "So maybe all you need is a sense of fun. The actual work takes patience, but it isn't so hard. For people who have a flat yard, it's probably really quick. For me, the space that the rink covers includes a corner that's about 15 inches below the upper end. So I felt I had to use a different approach, which I think I found on YouTube."

Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance and a former Bostonian — who grew up building backyard rinks with his dad each winter in New Hampshire — said the first thing people need to know about building a backyard ice rink is that it's crucial to measure the slope of your yard before you begin. (Slopes can be as dramatic as that 15" drop that McLaughlin referenced, which is what made his building process a lot trickier than those with a moderately level yard can expect.)

"The best way to [measure the slope of your yard] is to insert four wooden stakes in the ground, one for each corner of the rink," Schrage said. "Run a string from one stake to the other, and when it's level, note how high off the ground the string is at each stake. If it's eight inches at one stake and four inches at another, you know the slope of your rink is four inches. The least amount of ice you want at any corner of your rink is four inches."

Anywhere between a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, starting around $350.

According to our sources, the biggest costs associated with building a backyard ice rink are the increase in your water bill (between $30 and $75 per month) and the liner (approximately $120), which needs to be replaced every year. The lumber or PVC piping for the frame, the braces, and the boards (especially if they're treated/painted and sealed) can be reused every year.

Once you've measured the slope of your yard and plotted the area your backyard ice rink will cover, it's time to design your rink and figure out your budget. The cheapest, easiest backyard rink to build, according to our experts, is a simply framed rink using PVC piping or 2x4 lumber for the perimter, plywood boards at least 1 foot high (for safety and to keep hockey pucks on the ice surface, not the grass/snow piles), and either rebar or lumber braces to support the frame, boards, and liner from the weight of the water once your rink is filled and frozen.

While the step-by-step process for building your backyard skating rink will vary based on the on size, sophistication, and design, here's a basic outline:

  • Measure the slope of your yard
  • Build any necessary reinforcements to make up for the slope
  • Frame out the border of your rink with PVC pipe or lumber
  • Build your braces and measure out/place your braces or rebar
  • Place & secure your plywood boards
  • Install your liner
  • Fill with water, in stages (preferably on a day slightly above freezing)
  • Staple liner to boards when 100% full
  • Maintain your rink, keeping it clear of snow & adding water each night

"If you are old enough to shovel snow and hold a garden hose without soaking yourself, you can build a rink," said Brian Presley of What to Do With the Kids, who recently visited Boston with his wife and two school-aged daughters. He also offers a step-by-step guide for building a basic puddle rink or hockey rink on his website.

"Building and installing the boards are the hardest part and extra hands make the job go a lot faster and easier," Presley said. "Where the extra help really comes in is when it's time to shovel the snow off the ice. The more the merrier!"

Dave McLaughlin of Arlington also recommends either making a simple "Homeboni" ice resurfacer (basically PVC pipe and a towel, connected to a hose) or dumping hot water on the ice in increments using a 5-gallon bucket, which will spread out evenly and smoothly on its own.

McLaughlin's big tip for keeping the ice in good shape all season long is to keep the surface clear of equipment when it's not being used by your kids or for a family party.

"If you leave pucks lying around on the ice, they will create divots," he said. "The black puck holds the sun's heat and that causes it to melt a little of the ice around itself. The same is true for the dark red pipes of the net. And of course if it refreezes then you have to dig out the pucks and you wind up with weird divots that you don't want."

Before building a backyard ice rink, be sure to check with your home owner's insurance and your town's zoning department to make sure you're covered in the case of any accidents or property damage and secure the proper permits, if any are needed.

"Everyone, regardless of their age, should also wear a helmet when they are on the ice," Presley said. "For kids, this is mandatory on my rink and should be on yours. We even keep a few older helmets around in case some kids don’t have one. Unless you're Cam Neely or Bobby Orr, it’s a good idea for adults as well. If Cam or Bobby ARE at your rink, tell them I say hi."

Have you built a backyard skating rink at your house in winters past? Show off your finished projects by submitting them to this 2013 Backyard Rinks Gallery on! Check out what other readers have done for inspiration and design ideas, or share your best tips in the comments — we'd love to add them to our guide.

Lead photo: The "Joyce Rink" in Seabrook, NH, courtesy of Shane (submitted to

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the Authors

Melissa Massello is a newspaper journalist turned startup junkie and lifelong Bostonian who prides herself on her do-it-yourself attitude. From making her prom dress out More »
Tara Bellucci is a Boston-based writer that lives for fonts, food, and flea market finds. Whether decorating jars of her homemade jam for The Boston More »

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