"Rinks don't need to be money pits" – Colleen O'Shea

Hockey, Rinks

Saving Rinks Half a $Billion in 10 Years

Ice plant

The jewel at the heart of the ice plant: REALice.

Rink makers swear by hot water. But what if I told you that heating up flood water isn’t just old technology, but a shameful, and enormous, energy waste?

In “Rinks and Their Hot Water Addiction I wrote why hot water has been traditionally used to make and maintain ice for indoor rinks: by heating it up, the tiny air bubbles that are in tap water float to the surface where they make their escape. Although they’re really tiny and seemingly insignificant, those little bubbles are bad for ice. Left in the water, they make ice that is fragile and create a lot of snow, preventing the water molecules from clinging to each other as they goes from a liquid to a solid state.

Did I mention that rinks are energy hogs like Macleans has? Next time you get upset that your Municipality has increased your taxes, ask your councillor if your rinks are still using a hot water flood – and if so, why?

Imagine what it would mean if your rink — or municipality — was able to wean itself from its hot water addiction, because it can be done. There are alternatives to using a hot flood to make and maintain ice – and one of them that’s been getting a lot of press these days is a valve that doesn’t need any additional chemicals or filters — or maintenance.

The bottom line is if all the indoor arenas in North America stopped using hot water to make and maintain their ice, collectively they would SAVE NEARLY HALF A BILLION  DOLLARS over a normal kid’s hockey timeline, from Novice to Junior!!!

In most rinks, water is heated the same way as it is in your home. If your arena is in a city centre, chances are it will be heated using natural gas. Although that’s common, it’s not always the case. Some rinks use electricity to heat their water, others, especially in more remote areas, may use oil or propane.

Depending on where you’re located and the agreement you have with your utility company, the prices you pay for natural gas, electricity and other types of energy sources vary, and for power-users (pardon the pun) quite often utilities offer their customers sliding scale rates based on usage . For example, the typical price of electricity is $0.09 cents/kWh and $10/GJ of natural gas in British Columbia, but those costs may be half as much in Alberta, and sometimes 20% higher or more in other provinces. In the USA, California’s energy costs are much more inexpensive compared to the North Eastern USA.

In fact, we could argue about price until the cows come home, because cost varies from province to province and state to state. What we could better discuss, however, is energy spend. FortisBC verified the energy spend savings to be 79% in natural gas and 12% in electricity. Those numbers certainly translate into dollars, no matter if their greenbacks or loonies, but it’s the real reduction of usage – kilowatt hours, therms or cubic metres – that really count.

An article in the Saanich News gives an insight into the energy the District of Saanich needs to run their NHL-sized ice rink, the Pearkes Gold Rink in Saanich, B.C. The rink had been using hot water to build and maintain their ice surface, but in September, they decided to rent a system to remove the micro bubbles to determine if it met their needs. They installed a REALice systema patented valve which removes the air bubbles as the water goes through it. REALice is a 3-D printed Swedish product distributed in Canada by SWiCH Services, a company focused on sustainable development products, and in the USA by Cypress Ltd., a company that focuses on energy-saving solutions.

After a six-month trial, renting the unit for C$1000/month, the District decided to buy the unit outright.

Why did they decide to buy?

Because it performed exactly as expected.

“We’ve Turned the Natural Gas Off Completely”

We’ve turned the natural gas off completely,” Mark Boysen, Saanich’s Manager of Sustainability was quoted as saying in the article.

“We are on track for an annual savings of 90,000 kWh and we are currently exceeding the anticipated natural gas savings of 900GJ per year,” Boysen says. “This translates into C$18,000 in annual savings.”

I asked Florian Gabriel, the Managing Director of SWiCH Services, how this valve not only takes away the rink’s need for natural gas, but also reduces the amount of electricity needed for the rink.

“With the REALice system in place, Pearkes was able to increase the temperature of the brine – the refrigeration coolant used under the ice  – by 1.5ºC (2ºF). That’s already a great reduction of the load on your ice plant. But the biggest savings is the reduced amount of energy needed to freeze the water. It used need to cooled the water from 70ºC (158ºF) down to -4ºC (24.8ºF) and now it’s going from room temperature to -4ºC. That’s where a large part of the 90,000 kWh savings is,” Gabriel says.

Let’s Extrapolate

I know that not all rinks are created equally and there are a lot of factors that go into the costs of running a rink. Hot lights, for example, can contribute to the amount of work required by your ice plant to keep the ice at the right temperature; outdoor weather can also play havoc on poorly insulated rinks: look at the warm spell that went through Western Canada this winter, with January temperatures that resembled the 1st week of May.

Regardless, let’s extrapolate.

According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, there were 2,631 indoor rinks in Canada in 2014-15 season a number slightly lower than a province-by-province breakdown on Reddit. Nevertheless, if all of them had the same configuration as the Pearkes Gold rink – single slab, NHL-size, heating their water with natural gas, paying BC prices, Canada wide, the result from extrapolating would be shocking:

Natural Gas

2631 rinks x 900 GJ = 2,421,900 x $10/GJ = $24,219,000 per year


2631 rinks x 90,000 KwH = 242,190,000 KwH x $.09/KwH = $21,797,100 per year

Natural Gas + Electricity

$24,219,000 + $21,797,100 = $46,216,100 per year

That’s just shy of FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR!!! And that’s not including the rinks in the USA.

Parents: How can we afford to keep making ice for our rinks using hot water? Over the life of a player, from Novice to Atom to PeeWee to Bantam to Junior, Canadian rinks could be cumulatively saving over HALF A BILLION DOLLARS by disconnecting the hot water.
“It would cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $100 million dollars to get our system installed in all the rinks in Canada. After ten years, they would collectively have saved $500 million dollars in avoided costs, a savings, after investment, of $400 million dollars,” Gabriel says. “That’s huge.”
I can’t imagine why every rink doesn’t put REALice on its shopping list. It just doesn’t make any sense to be using all that energy to heat up water and make it freeze once again when there are alternatives. As for the old school ice rink-ers who shake their heads and say, “Nope, you can’t make good ice without hot water,” I think that’s not just being stubborn, short-sighted and ignorant, but a slur on the environment.
You can find out more at and REALice creates great, clear ice and is saving arenas thousands of dollars a year wherever it’s been installed.

1 Comment

  1. Tom Smolarek

    Well Done!

    We are our choices. Changing habits need awareness, thanks for bring this into focus!

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