Millions of dedicated hockey players around the world learned that they could build their own synthetic ice rink at home and not have to brave the crowds during the pandemic in order to practice their ice skating skills. Although there is a difference in the way that the skates glide across the surface of fake ice, once the skaters get used to it they can skate the same way that they could as if they were on real ice.
As technology continues to expand and evolve synthetic ice is becoming more and more comparable to real ice in a number of ways. This leads to a question. Why continue to prefer real ice to artificial ice when it comes to the Olympics and real hockey games? Which platform is actually greater than the other? Let’s take a look.
Synthetic Ice in General
There is plenty of talk about synthetic ice flooring, but what exactly is it? What many people don’t realize is that it is actually engineered from a molecular structure based on synthetic polymers.
Polymers are naturally occurring molecular chains that make up the solid structure of many forms. As a matter of fact, human DNA is a polymer chain. There are many types of plastics and resins that are created from synthetic polymer chains.
Synthetic ice, in particular, is formulated from the ground up – so to speak. The old style of artificial ice was made out of polyoxymethylene plastic, which is an older cruder form of polymers that can be created today. The synthetic ice of today is created by infusing hand-picked molecules together and formulating a substance that is as much like real ice as possible – without the burden of needing to be frozen.
In the creation of the flooring, additives such as lubricants and conditioners can be infused into the molecular structure of the flooring so that when activated they can be released onto the surface of the flooring. This method provides the added luxury of self-lubricating flooring, and other attributes that allow the flooring to be more ice-like.
Frozen Water Ice Rinks
When the ambient temperature is 32 degrees or lower water changes from its liquid form to its solid form, which is ice. Of course, most people already know this. What many people don’t know is that the reason why ice can be so slick is that it only takes a tiny amount of friction to heat the ice up and turn a small amount of that ice back into water. This tiny layer of water can make the ice so slick that there is virtually no resistance when skaters glide across it.
As the metal ice skate blades dig their way into the surface of the ice they create heat. This heat, in turn, melts a little bit of the ice. As the skates glide by, the blades create a perpetual friction that causes an endless supply of natural lubricant so that the skates can continue to glide as long as the skater continues to skate.
When ice skaters maneuver about on the ice rink there is no comparison to the freedom that they experience as they glide. Although synthetic ice has come a long way, it is just not the same as ice skating on real ice.
However, as nice as real ice is to skate on, it only works under the control of an environment that is not easy to achieve in warmer weather and climates. When the ice melts, it turns back into water. Most people do not have the skills to ice skate on water.
Building a Synthetic Ice Rink
There are only a few factors that need to be in place in order to build an effective ice skating rink out of synthetic ice. The first major factor is that there needs to be a flat, hard surface that is large enough to accommodate as many synthetic ice panels that are needed for the project.
Concrete platforms are the best sources to build upon, however, the rink can be built on plywood flooring that has been leveled and is stationary. When installing an ice rink it is recommended that you build on level ground that will not shift or move around as you skate on it.
If the foundation that you build your rink on is weak, then your whole rink will be weak as well. The best places to install synthetic ice hockey rinks are in a garage that has concrete flooring, or on a patio that is made out of concrete.
Once you have your foundation dialed in and ready to go all you have to do is purchase your hockey panels, if you have not already, then install them on that foundation.
Most panels that you will get will have interlocking tabs that snap together as you build the flooring. It is important that when you interlock these panels that you make sure that none of them protrude higher than the level of the flooring. Tamp them all down with a rubber mallet just to be sure that there are no raised areas in the floor that will cause a skater to trip.
In any event, the cost to build an in-home synthetic ice skating rink could be anywhere between $500 to $5,000.
Building an Ice Rink
There are several ways to build an ice skating rink out of ice. The easiest, by far, is to go to an area where the ambient temperature stays below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. You could simply place a watertight foundation such as a dug-out area, or a plastic mold that is shaped like a rink and fill the area with water. Within a few days, the area will be completely frozen and you will have your own natural ice rink, ready to skate on.
However, if you want to build one in a climate that is above the freezing point, you will have to make provisions in order to keep the water frozen throughout the year and the changing weather.
For the sake of this article, we will use a warehouse as an example. You could rent, or buy a warehouse and convert it into an ice rink simply by constructing a hockey rink area within the warehouse that is controlled with enough cooling power to freeze the water for the rink.
You may have to dig a deep pit for the skating rink to be lowered into, or you may just be able to purchase a premade rink that will fit where you want it to be placed.
Ice rink cooling systems can be very sophisticated, so depending on the amount of energy you will need to keep your ice cool enough to skate on will determine the type of system that you need.
The cost of building a year-round ice rink can be anywhere from 20K to 10 million dollars.
It is easy to see that although there is no way to beat ice skating on traditional ice, the cost to build an ice rink compared to the costs of building a synthetic ice rink are extremely different. When comparing the two types of rinks the deciding factor of which one is better depends on the expectations and the needs of the person comparing them.