The down side of having your own backyard rink is that, short of a $50,000 cooling system, your skating opportunities are really limited to 3-4 months of winter. The problem with winter is that you generally only have 8 hours (or less) of daylight available during which to skate. There are three solutions to this dilemma:
1. Skate during the day. Easy to do on holidays and weekends, but not as easy to pull off during the week. Generally, your boss will only buy your feeble excuses for so long, and eventually your kids are going to need to go to school so they can grow up and get good jobs so they can support you in your old age. The notable exception is if you intend for your son/daughter to use the extra daytime skating practice to make it to the NHL, in which case they can support you very easily regardless. Kind of a calculated risk, but good on ya for the positive attitude.
2. Skate day and night, even in the dark. Certainly doable, and there is nothing quite a beautiful as skating on your rink/pond on a perfectly calm and quiet winter night under a clear starry sky. Unfortunately, you tend to not see that crack in the ice and the edge of your rink can sneak up on you rather quickly as you zip about staring at the beautiful night sky leading to some nasty falls and bruised appendages. It’s also maddeningly difficult to find those pesky black pucks in the dark.
3. Cheat the natural world by erecting enough lights so that you can turn night into day and have the aircraft overhead mistake your rink for their intended runway. This way you can enjoy your rink just as easily at 2:00AM as you can at 2:00 in the afternoon. Warning: studies have shown that enjoying your fully illuminated rink after midnight, could theoretically piss off your annoying neighbors who would rather sleep than play hockey.
Option 3 is the method selected by many backyard rink enthusiasts, so let’s run with that one…
The old standby for most rink night lighting purposes is the 500-Watt halogen work light. Typically rugged, not terribly expensive, and available in nearly every hardware store, Wal-mart (and equivalents), or automotive supplier; the halogen work light can be used to flood your ice in a bath of warm yellowish incandescence.
A backyard rink staple: The 500W halogen worklight
The down side of the trusty 500-watt Halogen work light is right there in it’s name: 500 Watts. On my previous rink, I used 6 500 watt halogen lights and they did their job, however I might as well have illuminated my rink with the warm glow of burning dollar bills as my electric bill was downright ugly on those months where the weather cooperated enough to be able to use the rink on a nightly basis. Also, depending on how much illumination you need, you can very easily overload your circuits; unless you have a slew of available outdoor receptacles on separate circuits.
For a typical home with 20 Amp circuits, the max recommended continuous load on a circuit is 1920 Watts (120V x 20A x 80%). Assuming the only thing powered by a given circuit is your rink lighting, you therefore “should” only be running 3-4 of those 500 Watt lights off of each circuit. Thus, you’d need two separate 20A circuits available (with little or no other continuous loads on each circuit) to power your six halogen lights.
For the typical homeowner in a newer construction home, this may not be a problem. How about those of us in older homes? My current house is a 1936 Tudor and the majority of the circuits are 15A , which means I should only be running 1440 Watts continuous off of each circuit. Again, being in an older home with older wiring, I was very hesitant to test the limits and overload any of my circuits/wiring. Although I have two outdoor receptacles within easy reach of my rink, both are powered by the same circuit so I might as well only have the one receptacle. To light my rink, I was going to need those same six 500 Watt work lights (3,000 Watts total) but now would have to split them up between 3 circuits (2 if I wanted to push it).
In pondering my situation, I ran across some fluorescent flood lights on Amazon that only draw 65 watts each. According to the product description each light produces the same lumens as a 500W incandescent or halogen light, so in theory I would still only need six flood lights. Plus, at only 65W each, I could easily run all six lights off of my one available 15A circuit with ample capacity to spare. The downside was that the fluorescent lights were 50% more expensive than their halogen counterparts and the online reviews didn’t give me a warm fuzzy due to their plastic construction. Additionally, I rarely find that the CFL bulbs in my lamps put out as much light as they claim, so I was also skeptical that six fluorescent lights would put out enough light. While sifting through several pages of reviews on Amazon, I stumbled across a lone rave review from a buyer who, as it turns out, used four of the lights to illuminate his 40×60 backyard ice rink. Trusting that a fellow backyard rink enthusiast wouldn’t steer me wrong, I took the plunge and ordered six of the lights.
Lights of America 65W fluorescent flood light (click for link to Amazon)
Once the lights arrived, now the question became how do I mount them? Being that 2/3 of the year, my rink is actually my side yard, I needed a way to make the lights removable and easily storable for the offseason. I also wanted the lights mounted as high up as possible and shining downwards to reduce any annoying and somewhat dizzying shadows caused by having the lights at body/head level.
As with many backyard rink dilemmas, PVC to the rescue. My plan became to mount the lights on top of 12′ lengths of 2″ PVC and then strap the PVC poles to standard green u-channel fenceposts that I could pound in each fall and remove each spring. The only challenge became how to actually affix the lights on top of the PVC poles. The floodlights I purchased were mounted on a 4″ diameter round plastic base that was meant to be screwed directly into a vertical wall or on the flat underside of a roof eave. Mounting them on a 2″ round piece of PVC either horizontally or vertically, wasn’t doable without some further modification.
I came up with two possible solutions. The first solution was to cut some 4″x4″ plywood “mounting pads” and screw or thru-bolt them to the side of the PVC pipe. The second solution hit me as I was staring blankly at the wall of PVC fittings at my local Home Depot. I found a 4″ round PVC floor drain that was designed to fit into either 2″ or 3″ PVC pipe. By capping off my PVC pole with this 4″ floor drain, I could then screw or epoxy the 4″ round base of my floodlights onto the 4″ round face of the floor drain–in either case, problem solved.
2″ PVC floor drain (click for product link to Home Depot)
I opted for the latter solution as, knowing how brittle PVC gets in the cold, was afraid that screwing into or bolting through the top end of the pipe might weaken it enough that a subsequent windstorm/blizzard might catch the wood mounting pad and/or flood light and crack the PVC pole.
You can see the diagram I sketched out below for the details, but I snipped off the female plug end of a 16Ga outdoor extension cord and ran that up through each PVC pole, fishing the end up through the grate in the floor drain. After using wire nuts to splice together the wires from the extension cord with the leads from the flood lights, I tucked the splice up into the base of the light and used a two part epoxy to glue the base of the light on to the flat face of the floor drain.
The assembled light poles were affixed to the six fence posts with stainless hose clamps, which when tightened down, hold the lights securely enough to not blow around too badly even in the highest winds.
Rink light assembly diagram (click for full size)
The three lights on each side were plugged into their own 3-outlet power stake (like they sell for holiday lighting displays) and one extension cord was run from each power stake to my outdoor receptacle. One final touch was to plug each extension cord into an inexpensive wireless outlet control adapter so I can remotely turn on and off the lights with a little keychain device from inside the house. It’s a nice little touch so I don’t have to tromp over to manually plug and unplug the extension cords to turn on/off the lights.
Despite my initial reservations about the amount of light that these new fluorescent lights would produce, I actually am more than pleasantly surprised. The light that they put out is a brilliant white (given a few minutes of warm-up time, same as CFL bulbs in your house) that I actually think I prefer to the yellowish light that my previous halogen bulbs produced. My six lights are spaced roughly 20′ apart from each other and opposite each other on either side of the rink, which really helps to cut down on uneven shadows.
Overall, this is a project which worked out better than I anticipated. In the offseason, I intend to hang the lights from brackets mounted up in the rafters of my garage so they are protected from damage and up out of the way. Time will tell if the plastic light housings hold up from repeated seasons of use.
Edit- 11/30/2012: Quite a few people have contacted me about and/or shared my rink light instructions so I wanted to update it a bit after a year’s experience using the lights. Over the summer, a couple of the light bases came “unglued” from the PVC floor drains. I suspect that stainless metal grate is a difficult surface to adhere to and if a plastic/pvc grated version of this floor drain exists, it might be worthwhile to try that instead of the stainless grate version that I used. This year instead of 2-part epoxy I used some of that gel-type super glue to re-bond the base of the lights to their floor drain mounts to see if that wold hold better. I also wrapped a few turns of white vinyl tape around the junction of the floor drains and the light bases, just as added reinforcement out in the wind/elements. So far so good