Guy Fills-In Pool With Dirt to Create an Ice Rink!

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We moved to Central Iowa in the Summer of 2017. Being from Kansas, all I could think of was how far North we were moving, and how I might finally be able to pull off an ice rink in the backyard. Our realtor was smart, when showing us the house she showed my wife the kitchen and got her hooked. When I walked into the kitchen, all I could see was a small backyard, and an old pool. My dream of putting an ice rink in our backyard was fading quick. I told the realtor the pool looked like it needed some work. She said, “you can always fill it in.” That’s exactly what we did.

Supplies:

Fill the pool - Dirt, Dirt, lots of Dirt. 22 Dump Trucks for us. Mini Excavator, Skid loader, Grass (or Sod).

Ice Rink - Ruler, Laser Pointer, Liner (IronSleek.com has the best), 2x4's, boards, wooden stakes, hose, water, the right weather, squeegee, shovel, ice pick, shrinkable hose, and skates.

Okay so the supplies are not overly complicated. Neither is this Instructable, which is why I wanted to show you how un-intimidating it can be, installing an ice-rink.

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Step 1: Condition of the Pool

Okay… we didn’t fill it in right away. We didn’t open it late in the Summer of 2017, as we had missed the swimming season. However, I did wait to see how many “Frozen Days” I would have in our backyard that Winter (late 2017, early 2018). Turned out to be just over 90 day. Which ironically is close to the same amount of swimming days. In the Spring of 2018, I assessed the condition of the pool, to weigh my options. It didn’t have an electric cover, and we have young kids. That made my wife and I nervous to even let the kids in the backyard. It needed a new liner which would be just under $6,000 to replace, and there was no heater. It made it an eaiser decision to fill it in. I worked with a local contractor who was up for the task of filling in this pool with me.

Step 2: Drain the Pool, Fill With Dirt, Tear Out the Sides.

To start – Drain the pool. We used an electric pump and drained it to the street.

Once the pool was drained we cut into the old liner (just with a utility knife) and sliced it up into manageable pieces and threw them away. There was a lot of it. Next for the good news, our pool had a galvanized and sand base. Sand from the bottom up to 4 feet, and galvanized for the rest. I say good news as we didn’t have to jackhammer concrete at the bottom. We used a mini excavator to tear out the galvanized metal and used a sawzall to cut it into about 75lbs piles. This way we could move the metal to the side of my house and put it out on craigslist for a metal scrapper to come and take it. Which happened. I tore out most of the old fence that surrounded the pool and put it on craigslist. This was 40-year-old wrought-iron. Do your research on wrought-iron. I didn’t, and could have tripled my money on it. I know, because the buyers told me. My contractor had a friend who was digging basements in another part of town. This was the perfect time to ask for fill dirt. As the basements were being dug, the trucks were dropping off the dirt in my street. My contractor then took a skid-loader and would scoop up the dirt and dump it in the pool. Our thought was to get enough dirt on the bottom, to get the mini excavator in the pool portion, to pull in the sidewalk and patio surrounding the pool.

Note – This pool was over 40 year old. It did not have functioning drain. There was also not actual plumbing coming from the house. This pool was filled with a hose and then water was circulated with a sand filter. Plumbing was a non-issue. We did need an electrician to come and unhook anything electrical (Sand Filter, lights to the pool, etc.). The electrician then shut off the “Pool” on our electrical breaker in the basement.

Step 3: Compact the Soil.

As they filled the pool with dirt we made sure to drive the Mini and Skid-loader all over it, to compact it down. The Patio / Sidewalk was knocked into the bottom of the pool, and filled with dirt. Continue to compact. You could rent a compactor, but with the condition of our dirt (it was not loose), we didn't find it necessary.

Step 4: Prep the Soil for Sod

We opted to sod the yard as opposed to growing the grass, for fear of a rainstorm washing the seed away, and we didn't want to wait too long to see grass. We continued to compact and drive over the soil minus the last 4 inches. We left it as loose dirt. In-fact in some areas we needed to till it up to loosen it up. Then we laid the sod.

Step 5: Water the Sod.

We kept our sod watered well. You always want it to get a little squishy. Third picture here is once the grass started to go dormant. In the process of watering the grass we noticed we started to get a lot of standing water near the back wall of our yard. We do live on a slop and the contract overcompensated for the hill and kept a slight slope in the yard. This was fine, but made it hard to keep the grass mowed, as it was always wet. The walls also leaked with every storm. We took on lots of water with each rain. The grading near the back wall is something I would tackle in the Spring of 2019.

Step 6: Measure Your Yard, and Put Stakes in the Ground Before It Gets Frozen.

I measured by backyard space. It was about 28 feet wide, by 50 feet long. A liner the exact same size would sit inside of this area. You want to order bigger so you can drape the liner over the sides, leaving you a bit extra if needed. I ended up buying a 32' by 55' liner. You can purchase liners from a lot of places, but do your research. I opted to purchase mine from Iron Sleek (www.ironsleek.com). They sell a 6mil 3 Ply Liner. You cannot tear this, it is very strong. It is also white which helps reflect the sun. A few people I know who also use Iron Sleek, told me their grass looks best after the winter where it was covered with an Iron Sleek top. I wanted this liner so it would not kill my grass.

About the same-time your grass is going dormant for the winter, is the same-time you want to get your base setup for your rink. Now, my backyard I had existing landscape walls on 1/2 of my rink. I just needed to establish walls on the other side. I put the stakes in the ground while I still could, before it got too cold outside and I couldn't hammer them in. I used wooden stakes and a mallet. There was not a science to my stakes. I did what I thought was a straight line and just spaced them out be eyeballing it.

Step 7: Check Height of Your Boards

Not all backyards are created equal. To build an ice rink you want at-least 3-4 inches thick of ice to skate on at your shallowest part. I knew my yard had a slant to it. I used a black and decker laser lever at 1 end of my yard at 4 inches above the ground. I then held a board between my feet to mark where the laser was hitting on the far end. As you can see from my pictures, pic 1, you cannot see the laser. Pic 2 you can, giving me a straight level line across my yard. I then marked the board. This gave me 4 inches on one end, 14 inches on another, as the water will always choose to lay flat when putting it in. The end with 14 inches I needed to make extra strong.

Step 8: Adding the Boards

Okay - Full disclosure, we got a snow-storm out of nowhere, and I was too busy with work to finish the ice rink before the storm. It snowed all over. This was difficult as once I had time to finish the rink, I needed to spend 2 hours shoveling snow as I didn't want to put my liner on top of snow. I cleared the snow the best I could and laid out my wood. My wood was purchased from a neighbor down the street for $77.00. They used it in a Halloween display and then wanted to unload it for penny's on the dollar. Like putting in the stakes there was not a science to this. However, I knew I wanted the end that was 14 inches to be strong enough to hold all of the water that would be pushing on the wood. I used plenty of 2x4's, screwing them into the stakes. I then screwed the plywood into the 2x4's. Nothing overly complicated about this step. I made sure to overlap the 2x4's, and plywood whenever possible. I pushed a lot on the boards to make sure they were strong enough. We had a large freeze coming the next afternoon, so I worked from about 5:30pm until 10:30pm getting this put up. I had not cut any of my wood until this night. My corners are pretty tight but not water tight. This is also where having a good liner comes in. Iron Sleek Liners at 6mil will fill any gaps and its strong. Very strong.

Step 9: Drop in Your Liner

At 10:30pm my pictures did not turn out well, plus I was working hard to beat the hard freeze that was coming. The Iron Sleek Liner I used comes in a large box. Be very careful opening it as you don't want to tear or cut into the liner. Simply open the box and stretch out the liner across your rink. It is best to have 2 or 3 people for this. I did it by myself and it took extra time. I draped the liner over by boards and held them in place with some wood working clamps. I then draped my house down the side and trend it on. These 4 pictures are of the rink filling up. Just like a pool, this fills in the deepens first and moves to the shallow end. My deep end was 14 inches with my shallow end being 4. I also got side guards (blue piping) from Iron Sleek. These are great to protect your young ones on the sides of the rink, they also help keep the liner in place while it's filing up.

Step 10: Ice Tools Needed

I'd love to tell you, once you fill the ice with water you are done with maintaining it. That's not true. It will snow, you will want to shovel it. The ice will get choppy after a lot of skating, you will want to re surface it. Leaves might fall on it, you will want to sweep them. Tools I found best were a large flat metal snow shovel. This helps scrape the ice and keep it flat. An ice breaker to remove any chunks of ice that might appear,

Step 11: Now Its Time for Fun.

My kids had never really ice skated before so I purchased a couple skate trainers they could walk around with. I also purchased a lot of skates from a used sporting good store. This allowed any kids in the neighborhood who were sad to see a pool go, still enjoy the same space, just in a different season. I was really proud of my kids, this gave them a chance to play outside when it was really cold! We ended up with about 97 frozen days. Of course not all of those days we could skate. Weather happens!

Step 12: Weather Happens!

Like I said, it will snow, rain etc on your rink. When weather happens you have to sit back and let it do its thing. The first snow we had once the rink was up was a wet one. I went out and tried to shovel during it, and it made it worse. Let it happen and once frozen solid, remove the snow and spray the ice down with water. There are different theories out there to use hot or cold water to resurface the ice. Hot is ideal but hard for everyone to use. Iron Sleek does sell a Zamboni in a bucket kit which I heard works great. I use cold water, a shovel, and a squeegee.

Step 13: My Uncle Rico Pics!

I had a timer on my phone... so I wanted to try and capture a hockey stop. Something I think Uncle Rico would try, if he had an iPhone, and lived in cold weather.

Step 14: Learning From My Mistakes

As I stated earlier, this is not a hard Instructable, or an exact science. It's a fun easy project if you have cold weather you can enjoy. Being able to ice skate in your backyard anytime you want can save you a couple hundred dollars of ice time in just one season. Next year I plan on making a few modifications to make my rink even better.

Use a large garden hose to fill the ice rink. I used a small hose that shrinks back up when finished. This is not ideal as it took twice as long to fill the rink. The mouth of my hose couldn't handle the volume. I shrinking hose is great to refresh the ice, but not great when filling. To refresh the ice, use a hose you can take off and put in a bucket to thaw out, and big hose to fill it.

Spend the extra money and get nice boards. Iron Sleek has some great boards, and stake alternative. It would save you extra drilling time later. Of course there is the cost. They have lots of kits, and sizes of everything. I also used cheap 1/2 plywood. This plywood might hold up for a couple years and I'll be buying new ones. Next time, I will buy 3/4" treated plywood, so I won't also have to use 2x4's. This will save my time drilling and screwing them together.

Have an exit plan. I didn't for my first rink and it was hard to remove all of the ice. I would remove small sections. For the freeze of later in 2019, I plan to have yard drains installed. If you can start with yard drains great. If you can't, think of a way to get your water to the street, and not right at your house.

If you get a wet snow on top of your rink, leave it alone. It will refreeze and you can scrap it off once hard. Don't try and fix it while wet, you will only make it worse.

If you play hockey, label your pucks so you remember how many you have. You will lose them in the ice.

Step 15: Staying Ahead of the Next Freeze

As I told you earlier, I live on a hill. When it rains, the sides of my walls leak with water, and the the back area pools. I wanted to divert all pooling water and keep it from sitting in my yard. To do that I needed to build a new wall, with drain tiles behind it. I will probably post a later Instructable on building a wall, but this is a brief version of it.

Start with removing the old wall. Like many other things I sold the old bricks on craigslist. Then I needed to dig out existing dirt at least 10 inches behind where my new bricks would go. This would give me enough room for my 1" clean rock, and my 4" drain tiles. I made a few large mounds of dirt in my back yard like the ones pictured above. I then set down roadstone (crushed rock) for my base. The first layer of blocks needed to sit under the ground, and you want at least a 4" base on the roadstone. For my 8" blocks that was 12" underground I needed to dig. I set my first layer of blocks and built up from there. I wanted my walls a little bigger to better support my tarp in the winter. My walls all the way around are 10" taller than my old walls. This will better support the ice rink, and allow proper drainage with water coming down the hill.

Of course kids love playing in rocks. Kept my son busy for hours.

Once the wall was in place and I rented a concrete saw to cut the caps of the wall into the shape I needed them. I never mastered the saw as you can see my jeans were completely soaked.

After the caps were in place I ran my drain tile behind the wall and into the ground. I then added 3 yard drains to also tied into the tile. Tile behind the wall is perforated (with holes). Tile buried in the yard is solid. You want the solid drain to be buried at least 4 inches below the dirt. This allows your grass on top to grow. The yard drains pick up any standing water and immediately diverts the water to the street... out by the side of my yard. This way after we are done skating for the year, I can poke holes in the liner and all of the water will leak into the drains and immediately be gone. I won't have to worry about pumping it somewhere, or water coming close to the house.

I'm excited for the next freeze to see how much better I can make the ice rink this year, and how much better skaters my kids are. There are no regrets removing the pool. We also now have a space to put up a tent and play with a dog. Thank you for looking at my Instructable. Questions or comments please let me know.

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    2 Discussions

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    -Atlantics-

    18 days ago

    wow, that is so cool!

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    seamster

    18 days ago

    This is an incredible transformation, and very interesting to see the details as the work progressed. Uncle Rico comments and pics gave me a great laugh too. Well done!