Technical Corner

Is It Time to Rethink the Traditional Hot Water Flood?

March 2022

I am still an open-minded skeptic of flood water degassing technology (Fall 2021 Issue of Facility Forum). The skepticism was refueled when a supplier of the equipment updated marketing material to suggest a blend valve be installed to bring the flood water to 20°C (68°F) begging the question of “what happened to the original stated benefit of cold-water flooding”? The ORFA Discussion Board has had an ongoing conversation on the benefits and return on investment of water degassing equipment. The only thing that is for sure is that the industry is divided on the use of this type of technology. This has caused me to pause and consider why is there such a divide on the subject and here is what I have arrived at.

The traditional hot water flood of 60°C (140°F) – 71°C (160°F) approach has been part of my time in the industry from the very beginning. Why fix something that is not broken and what science seems to reconfirm as the best approach. Then I opened my mind a little bit more to explore what may actually impacted the ice quality over these past 40+years of artificial ice making and maintenance. The answer is lots. To give you an idea of how long I have been interested in ice sports, I watched the Toronto Maple Leaf’s hoist their last cup on our black and white television in 1967. They only thing more snowy than the television screen was the ice at Maple Leaf Garden. Unknowing to a 9-year-old kid watching that day was the fact that a man that would influence my future and many other careers in the industry was at work that day – Doug Moore.

When I began to watch and play hockey, there was a ritual of scraping the crease by the goalie after every flood. There was often enough snow collected to create to small walls on each side of the post as a barrier to the dreaded wrap around the net approach of an attacking player. Ice was naturally slow as Doug had yet to discover what really makes great skating ice. The ice maker dumped vast amounts of water on the surface usually from an old fire hose that was scavenged from a fire halls inventory. Watching water freeze in an ice rink was like watching grass grow on a ball field. The more water that was dumped, the longer the ice makers could stay off the surface. In full disclosure, this usually meant they were smoking and drinking beer as it froze. It was a different time. In time, Doug discovered that the dumping of vast amounts of water was what was contributing to the sheets snow load. We no longer create ice using this method as we know ice will be much more durable if it’s created with small sprays of water. Change number #1.

Flood water quality was a mystery until Doug unlocked the science and we learned about the impact on ice quality based on Total Dissolved Solids found in different water supplies and how controlling water hardness through water treatment could significantly improve ice quality. Change #2.

Most ice rink operators knew how to drive the ice resurfacer, but few actually knew how it worked or the importance of adjustments and maintenance. In the rink I started in, we changed the blade the first week of every month until the industry started to share that every 100 floods or weekly was much better to maintain good ice quality. The majority had no idea what conditioner down pressure adjustment was nor did most grasp the necessity or benefit of setting proper blade angle. No one really cared about squeegee or flood cloth condition. Things that are common practice today. Change #3.

In the early days, most every rink had “bowl ice”. Thick in the corners (not uncommon to have lost the yellow kicker board by year end) and have little ice in the centre area of the sheet. We would edge weekly (if the edger started) and performed little real ice maintenance when compared to today’s schedules. Change #4.

As ice rinks moved into enclosed buildings to get out of the wind and reduce the need to remove mother natures snow load, the buildings were naturally drafty that over time were sealed up and heated for the comfort of the fans. Few, if any rinks had dehumidification and even fewer ice technicians understood ambient air impact on ice quality and refrigeration load. The more people piled in, the more heat that was released causing the ice snow load to naturally increase. We installed low-E ceilings. Improved ice paint reflected heat away from the surface. And the industry learned the importance of air balancing to control ice quality. Change #5.

These five (5) changes that now are considered (common) “best practice” may drive the need for traditional flood water temperature set point analysis. Could this be why some of today’s practitioners are gravitating to a colder flood water temperature. As the industry tried to deal with significant snow load on artificial ice one of the tools, they discovered was very hot water 60°C (140°F) – 71°C (160°F) that became industry best practice. In reality, was these temperatures being used to help deal with the excessive snow left behind by an improperly maintained ice resurfacer trying to maintain poorly made ice? Scientifically, it is obvious that 20°C (68°F) is much warmer than 0°C (32°F) and given the changes in operations maybe it is time to turn down the flood water temperature.

Maybe the next generation of ice technicians need to explore this question. If a facility has installed a water degassing device maybe consider bypassing the device while using all the same operational parameters and see how the ice responds. It’s a simple test that may help determine if it’s an expensive water churning device or is it in fact the changes we have discovered as we applied science and chemistry to our industry. For ice facilities considering investing in water degassing equipment the question becomes does the facility embrace the five changes and if so, maybe start to draw down the hot water temperature until you discover the operational sweet spot.

Be clear, the ORFA does not embrace or promote marketing materials of any supplier to the industry. Our certification courses are all structured on the proven experiences of those on the frontlines of operations. It will be the industry that influences the ORFA opinion on changes to industry best practice. As long as the membership remains divided on their opinions of flood water degassing technology, we will remain undecided on its true value and will resist recommending it as an industry best practice.

Industry change will only happen when the industry changes.

Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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