Ice Rink Renovations

The Squaw Valley Winter Olympics in 1960--at which the United States won the gold medal in hockey with victories over Russia and Czechoslovakia--catapulted ice skating and hockey into widespread recognition. Prior to the 1960s, there were only about 100 ice rinks in the United States; today there are over 2,000. A majority of these facilities were built in the ’60s and ‘70s, and are in need of renovation. Is yours one of them?

Keeping Cool

Facilities using R-22 Freon refrigerant are affected by the 1987 Montréal Protocol plan to phase out ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and the 1992 amendment to the Montréal Protocol, which established a schedule for the phaseout of hydrochlorofluorocarbons. HCFCs contain ozone-destroying chlorine.

“At least 40 to 60 percent of the systems in the United States are operating on R-22,” says Bob Bebber, owner of Ice Rinks Solutions, which provides consulting services to ice rinks. “R-22 is on the Environmental Protection Agency hit list, and after 2020 it will no longer be manufactured.”

“Facilities using an R-22-based refrigerant system are switching to the original method of refrigerating an ice arena, which is the ammonia-brine-based system,” says Peter Martell, executive director of the Ice Skating Institute, which provides leadership, education and services to the ice-skating industry. “Ammonia and calcium chlorine are the two most-efficient conductors of heat and least expensive.”

Renovation Rejuvenation

Currently, the Pueblo Plaza Ice Arena in Pueblo, Colo., which was finished in 1974, is being renovated. “We are replacing the old refrigeration system, which was R-22, a Freon-based product,” says Mickey Beyer, assistant director of Public Works for the city. “We are going with the ammonia-based system that cools the brine solution that runs through pipes under the ice.”

“The brine or calcium chloride solution is kept under 32 degrees, and remains liquid as it passes through about 10 miles of piping for a National Hockey League-sized rink,” says Bebber.

Dry Ice Rink

Ice rinks also are becoming more energy-efficient by using a dehumidification system. Desiccant systems for dehumidification work by using silica, which has enormous moisture-absorption properties. The silica attracts the water, and a natural gas burner dries out the silica so it can absorb more water.

“There are huge costs with not having a dehumidification system,” says Bebber. “A desiccant dehumidification system helps to reduce the load on the refrigeration system and maintains the quality of ice to a higher standard.”

Besides the comfort level of the participants and audience, one of the problems with too much humidity is the condensation on the ceiling literally raining down on the ice, creating bumps and, in some cases, stalagmites.

Ice arenas should be at a 42- to 43-percent relative humidity. “Some ice rinks are running at 85-percent humidity during the summer months,” says Bebber. “You must decrease the humidity for the ice rink to run properly. If you don't, this taxes the refrigeration unit, increasing operating hours and cost.”

Another method of dehumidification is the conventional mechanical refrigerate dehumidification, which works like air conditioning, and is run through the ice-refrigeration system.

Seeing Clearly, Dasher Boards and Kickplates

Dobson Arena, located in Vail, Colo., was originally built in 1978 and opened in October 1979. Its recent renovations included a new refrigeration system, ice rink, dasher boards, toe plates and glass.

“We decided to go with tempered glass everywhere except for the players’ benches and penalty and score boxes,” says Jared Biniecki, director of Dobson Arena, a 21,000-square-foot ice skating arena for youth hockey, figure skating, and recreation. Arenas undergoing renovation are electing to use tempered glass instead of Plexiglas because the latter becomes scratched and marred, making it difficult to see the action on the ice.

“Dasher boards need to be replaced as they get beat up,” says Bebber. “The kick or toe plate along the bottom, covering eight to 10 inches, should be a half-inch thick. It takes a beating and will need to be replaced every five to 10 years.”

Under The Ice

There are two different surfaces for support under the ice--sand or concrete. If the ice is taken down, concrete serves a multi-purpose function for other events such as concerts. However, concrete can be more than eight times the cost of sand.

Either base requires a subfloor heat system to prevent permafrost. If soil is not heated to the recommended 42 degrees, it can freeze and heave, causing damage to the ice rink. The subfloor temperature can be monitored through sensors and a control system.

“It is critical to keep the soils warm and free of moisture and the subfloor heating system working properly,” says Bebber. “I've seen floors that have buckled 12 inches, and that is a $300,000 to $400,000 repair.”

Automatically Easier

Many new energy-saving devices are on the market today, including automatic controls and temperature controls. “In fact, there are even remote controls, and the ice rink manager can control everything from a computer at home,” says Martell. “The devices available today make ice rink management easier and more energy-efficient.”

Brightening Up The Place

“There have been significant advancements in lighting,” says Martell. “The most popular is the P5 fluorescent bulb, which comes in a star-shaped fixture that provides even lighting over the ice surface.”

The fluorescent lights are more energy-efficient, and produce higher lumens for the energy consumed than the mercury vapor or metal halide bulbs used in the ‘70s.

Banish Radiant Heat

Facilities also need low emissivity ceilings. Emissivity is the measure of a material’s ability to absorb and radiate heat. A low emissivity means that a material does not transfer heat well. “Low emissivity ceilings decrease the amount of heat transferred from the sun heating the roof to the radiant heat entering the building,” says Martell. “Aluminum has a very low coefficient of emissivity, and also helps brighten up the interior of the building by reflecting the interior light.” By installing foil-facing insulation board and a vapor barrier between the arena and the roof of the building, condensation buildup between the cold ice arena and the hot roof will be decreased.

Someplace To Melt Snow

“The most common and efficient way to melt snow from the ice leveler is to have a dump pit with an 18- to 24-inch tall standpipe, which is designed to keep the corresponding water level. Submerged in the water is a coiled pipe in which warm water is heated in a heat exchange from the hot discharge gas from the compressors,” says Martell. “The pipe warms the water in the pit, which melts the snow from the ice leveler.”

Some facilities are even using a pool-like filtration system to recycle water from the pit to be used again on the ice rink.

Smooth Ice

“You must have a policy and procedures manual and the appropriate checklists and logbooks to ensure that the procedures are being followed on a regular basis,” says Martell. “We advocate preventive maintenance to ensure safety and a more efficiently operated facility.”

From the subfloor to the ceiling there are several energy- and resource-efficient and time-saving mechanisms that can be used to operate an ice rink more efficiently. The key to keeping the ice rink operating smoothly for years to come is in the details.

Tammy York is president of LandShark Communications LLC in Greater Cincinnati. She left her state public-relations position to pursue her passion for outdoor recreation and marketing. Her upcoming book, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Cincinnati, is due out in spring 2009. You may reach her at