A level yard is critical to your backyard rink success. As you’ve probably heard, there is a HUGE difference between LEVEL and FLAT. My yard for example, is very FLAT. It is very NOT LEVEL, which significantly reduces the size of rink I can build, not withstanding a major landscaping project (don’t worry, I have those plans too, just awaiting budget approval). I’ve used two techniques for checking the slope of a yard. For pretty good accuracy and on the cheap, I’ve used the ol’ kite string and line level method. For professional quality and super accurate, I’ve shot grades with a transit. If your yard is relatively level to begin with, the kite string method will suffice (assumes the plan is to have boards that are way higher than the ice level). If it’s a somewhat sloped yard, the other method will be much more accurate and will tell you where you need to do the “minor” excavation or landscaping work I mentioned above – another excuse to rent some tools (and surely to be another post once I get the green light, likely not until the 2011-12 rink season). Here are the detailed steps for each method I’ve followed. I’m sure there are other methods, so please comment below this post and share the knowledge.
1. Nail a stake where you think the highest corner will be (where the “shallow” end of the rink will be).
2. Tie the kite string at any height on this stake, but I like to tie it around the 4″ mark off the ground (to simulate the ice level).
3. Unwind the string and bring it to the other corners, ideally where some additional stakes are nailed in. *Note: having the stakes nailed in the exact location of the corners of the rink isn’t necessary here, as the goal is to see how level the yard is over the general area the rink will eventually be built.
4. At these remote stakes, pull the string as tight as possible with one hand while clipping on the line level on the string and adjusting up and down until the bubble is centered.
5. Once level, just take a tape measure and measure the distance from the line to the ground (push down on the tape so it’s on solid ground, don’t just measure to the top of the grass). This will represent the ice depth at this stake (assuming that the anchor location is at the 4″ depth, see why I did it that way earlier? The less math the better – I just want to install my rink!).
6. Repeat at other locations to get a very good ballpark idea of how level (or unlevel) your prospective rink location actually is.
1. Couple of options for getting a good level: Buy one (very expensive, but would give you big time bragging rights with your friends), rent one from just about any tool rental place (pretty affordable), or have a buddy over that happens to have one (I choose this 3rd method, and only cost me a couple of beers). The level I used required 2 people – one to hold the tape measure and one to read the measurements. I’m sure more expensive levels can be run by one person.
2. Set the tripod up in a location around center ice, but set off the side of the rink a bit, maybe 10 ft if you can. By doing this, you’ll minimize any minor discrepancies in the reads due to an un-calibrated device as the problems will be more apparent over longer range measurements (corner to corner for example). By setting it up off the side of the rink, you’ll be able to shoot measurements to any spot on the rink (if you set the tripod up on a corner, you lose the option to measure that particular location.)
3. Take the time to ensure the tripod is adjusted so it’s leveled out. Otherwise you might as well just eyeball the whole thing.
4. With a measuring rod (or a tape measure), one person goes out to the different spots in the to-be rink area and holds up the tape measure. The “shooter” will focus in on the tape measure and read off the numbers.
5. When all is said and done and after a couple of beers, the lowest measurement recorded will be your low spot in the rink; the highest will be your deep end. The difference will be how much deeper the ice will be in the deep end. Example: corner A measured at 45”, and corner B measured at 52”. This means that the depth of ice at corner B will be 7” more than it will be at corner A. If ice in corner A is 4” thick think , then corner B will be 11”. Spot C in the middle measured at 50″. The ice depth at this spot will be 2 less than at corner B but 5″ more than corner A. Get it? *Pro Tip: the less beers you have during this exercise, the easier it’ll be to do this simple math. Trust me.
Those are 2 techniques I’ve used. As I mentioned, the kite string is fine to get a general idea – doesn’t have to be exact as long as you know you have the extra board height to play with. If you’re going big or are concerned for whatever reason how un-level the yard is, shoot the grades, and be prepared to be amazed and what the eye cannot see!
Have other techniques? Share them in the comments!