Technology and engineering combine to keep rinks flush, below freezing, an efficient enough to turn a profit in even the balmiest climes.
ROBB OLEXIN HAS spent the better of his life making ice. Although he's now the general manager for Ice America Inc., his passion for building rinks actually began in Canada, where he grew up. This same passion eventually led him to Plano, Texas, a Dallas suburb that is Ice America's hometown.
Texas? Sure, Olexin said. Texas boasts more professional hockey teams than any other U.S. state. Southern rinks often stay open all year, he said, a business boon to arena operators. Northerners don't skate much in the summer, it seems. They prefer spending their skimpy allotment of short-sleeve days in the sun.
Yet, professional hockey teams and their arenas still seem to be oblique additions to the Sunbelt's landscape. Has technology played a factor? "In the sense that it has become affordable to operate these facilities there--yes," Olexin said. "If you couldn't make the technology energy efficient, the owners of hockey teams wouldn't look south because operational costs would be so high."
A big difference between snow-country rinks and their southern counterparts is the spacing between pipes in the rink itself, Olexin said. In the northern United States, there are approximately 13 miles of pipe in the average floor, spaced 4 inches on center, he said. "In the south, pipes are spaced 3 inches on center just to have the better heat transfer."
The most important consideration for any rink, though, is the refrigeration system. "We prefer ammonia as the primary refrigerant," Olexin said, "and brine, or calcium chloride and water, as the secondary, because less horsepower is needed to move ammonia compared with freon." Sizing the refrigeration system is important, too, he said. Ice America sizes its plant compressors to run about half the time. "That's one thing we like to do--not necessarily overdesign--just design them properly so they aren't running to where they never shut off," Olexin said. "You've got costs later on, obviously. Maintenance is less. Overhauling your compressors will have to be quicker if your plant's going to run 24 hours a day," he said.
Keeping the ice surface at the right temperature is one path to energy efficiency. Keeping the ice at an optimum thickness is another, Olexin explained. The sweet zone lies between 1 and 1 1/2 inches, he said. A rule of thumb says that for every eighth of an inch the ice deepens, 10 percent more load piles onto the compressors. "It's easy to add an eighth-inch to a 1 1/2-inch slab," he said.
PUTTING IN THE ICE
Freezing the water for a 17,000-square-foot rink is no trivial undertaking, Olexin said. By the time a rink bed is chilled, its ice sprayed on layer by layer, and its red line, blue lines, and white base painted, two or three days have gone by "It's a big process," he said.
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