Sand Floor versus Cement Floor

There are good reasons for installing both sand floors and cement floors in an ice skating facility. Hopefully the following should make your decision easier.

Sand floors are utilized to reduce the initial cost of an ice surface. A sand floor is generally used in a year round ice facility but can be installed in a seasonal facility with some precautions to prevent unwanted traffic on the piping system during the off season.

A sand floor reduces the flexibility of the facility in that no off-season activities can be held directly on top of the sand. An ice covering can be used to facilitate light activities on top of the ice, but there is not enough support for rodeos, tractor pulls etc. If for some reason the building must be sold, a sand floor will reduce the buildings usefulness and resale value.

A cement floor for an NHL size ice rink will cost between $50,000.00 and $125,000.00 more than a sand floor depending on the floor strength, proximity of material, and a good super-flat contractor. A cement floor increases the flexibility of the facility in that dances, bingo's, and trade shows can be held in the off season. With a properly engineered floor, a circus or other heavy event can be held as well. As with a sand floor, the ice surface can be covered for non-ice events while the ice is in place.

In order to prevent puncturing the cooling pipes, additional care and attention is required during the initial stages of ice making with a sand floor. Before applying the first water, you must ensure that all of the pipes are in their chairs and the sand has been dressed out to its normal operating level.

In order to maintain a crisp, clean, efficient ice surface all arenas should have the ice periodically removed to purge the buildup of solids and old paint that is deposited over time. On a sand floor the residue tends to cake on the sand surface and can only removed by replacing the surface sand. This residue is easily washed away on a cement floor.

A cement floor is much easier to make ice on, especially with less experienced personnel. A sand floor requires gently misting the sand surface while avoiding puncturing the pipes until there is an ice layer thick enough to walk on and eventually drive a Zamboni on. When installed properly, a cement floor always ensures a precisely level surface to form the ice base. A sand floor can deviate over the years with use.

It is advisable to maintain 1 3/4" to 2 1/2" of ice on a sand floor to reduce the chance of puncturing pipe during ice events. Cement floors only require 1 ¼" of ice for safe use. Periodically measuring the ice surface thickness by drilling holes (ice taps) is much easier with a cement floor. With a sand floor added attention must be taken to ensure that no pipes are punctured while edging or re-surfacing. This special care is not necessary on a cement floor.

Once the ice is in place, there can be a small amount of difference in energy consumption between a sand floor and a cement floor. The same amount of BTU's will enter the ice surface regardless of the style of floor. A well-designed cement floor will typically have 1" of cement cover and 1" of ice cover above the cooling pipes. A sand floor will typically have 2" of ice cover above the pipes. Ice has a K value of 1.3 and cement has a K value of 0.54. The K value is the rate a substance conducts heat with a higher K value conducting heat faster than a low K value. So, theoretically the cement floor would have to operate a little colder than the sand floor for the same amount of heat to be exchanged. However, in reality, many sand floors usually develop small hills and valleys over the years, which requires the ice level to be kept thicker in many areas, which reduces the efficiency.

Whichever way you choose to build your ice skating facility, rest assured that with proper care and attention a great ice surface can be maintained on either a sand floor or a cement floor.