How Ice Rinks Work
By: Katrina Sharpe, Marketing Communications Coordinator
Published: April 6, 2015
When someone takes pride in their work, you can see it. Their work stands out like the shine of freshly-made ice on the rink. If you’ve been to a Gwinnett Gladiators game here, you’ve seen that shine that trails behind the Zamboni as it rides over the ice.
So, how is this ice made? Who better to ask than Gwinnett Center’s own certified ice technician and Zamboni driver, Billy McConnell. We’re about to give you a sneak peek into what this process looks like behind closed doors.
- The water that is used to make the ice is a whopping 160°F! (We’ll go into why a little bit later.)
- The ice is anywhere between ¾ inches to 1 inch thick.
- The Zamboni is 6,000 lbs…when it is empty. (That’s as heavy as some elephants!)
- The floor itself is 8 inches thick to support all of that weight and more.
- The temperature inside The Arena is between 60°F-65°F and the humidity is around 40% (this is why you don’t see the players’ breath and why the glass doesn’t fog).
- 9 miles of 1 inch tubing in the floor winds below the ice to refrigerate it.
- It takes 10,000 gallons of water to make 1 inch of ice covering the rink. That’s not a typo.
Let’s start off at the ice rink. The ice rink, believe it or not, is the floor of The Arena. Whenever concerts or other events come to The Arena, our operations and engineering teams will cover the ice with boards, known as floor covers. Next time you’re at a concert during hockey season and have floor seats, you can look down and know that you could be sitting on top of ice!
After leaving the ice rink as we work our way through the maze that is backstage, we end up in the engineering offices. Here there is a computer that monitors and adjusts the ice temperature. The temperature is checked every 2 hours, 24-hours a day during hockey season. An infrared light is used to read the temperature of the ice surface. Whenever the floor is covered, like for concerts, this infrared light must be turned off or it will tell the refrigeration unit to keep running as it tries to freeze what it is reading as 50-degree ice to reach that ideal surface temperature of 23°F.
Connected to the engineering offices is a large room that houses the refrigeration unit that keeps the ice cold. This unit takes up the entire room and even has a massive cooling tower that is part of the unit located outside of the building. This room is where the magic happens. Here is where we will get a bit technical, so stay with us :)
The watered-down version of what happens goes like this:
Remember the 9 miles of 1 inch tubing underneath the ice floor? Well, inside those tubes is brine, or salt water. We use brine because it doesn't change state. The brine senses the heat from the fans inside the building, the bright lights, the hot water used to make the ice, and the warm air from outside. The brine travels from the pipes into what we call the chiller, bringing with it the unwanted heat to be cooled. The chiller is half filled with brine and half filled with liquid ammonia. Ammonia is our primary refrigerant because it can change states, in this case from a liquid to a gas.
From the chiller, the ammonia is sent to the compressor where it is compressed into a really hot gas. The gas travels to the cooling tower, gets cooled down, and changes back into a liquid. Then it is sent through an expansion valve where it gets chilled even more and sent back to the chiller. The chiller in turn releases the cold brine back underneath the ice. This cycle keeps the ice at the right temperature.
Zamboni & Making the Ice
Frank Zamboni is the originator of this ice resurfacing machine, the Zamboni. Before this machine was created, it would take a team of 3-4 people at least 1 hour to resurface the ice one time. With the Zamboni, it can take a one-man team as fast at 6 minutes to resurface the ice. What a difference!
Billy describes driving a Zamboni as similar to driving a forklift. It uses a 4-cylinder Volkswagen engine, so it’s like a Beatle. How fast can a Zamboni go? That would be 9 mph. The Zamboni shaves and makes the ice. It consists of a very sharp, 6-foot blade that scrapes the ice. You don’t want the ice getting too thick. After the ice is shaved, it is picked up by a horizontal auger. An auger resembles the ridges of a large screw. From there, what is now snow is propelled upwards by a vertical auger into the bucket part of the Zamboni.
Next, cold water is released onto the ice to wash it. Then a squeegee is used to level out the ice and any skate marks. If you don’t know what a squeegee is, it’s a rubber blade, like what you would use to clean your windshield at a gas station. Hot water is now released to make the new layer of ice…And that’s how the ice is made!
Painting the Ice
Building the ice from the bottom up is a process that can take around 36 hours. First, the floor has to be spotlessly clean. Next the floor is sealed 3 times with 160 degrees of hot water. This hot water creates a strong bond to the floor. After that, Billy switches from using hot water to using cold water for the remainder of the ice installation. Three layers of white paint are added and sealed 4 times. A team then paints the lines and logos by hand (yes, by hand) using stencils. After sealing in the lines and logos, the team builds up the ice ¾ inches to 1 inch, still using cold water. Using hot water would melt the paint. Once the ice is where it needs to be, and also for the remainder of the hockey season, the hot 160-degree water is used as it freezes faster and clearer than cold water.
Thanks for reading!