My car’s heater is currently not working under 50 miles per hour, and in times like the end of last week you really get an idea for how cold it can be in Colorado during the winter. Of course, super-cold temperatures cause problems for more than just the pond service manager shivering in his car on his way to work! From car batteries to water pipes and everything in between, cold weather can wreak havoc on many of the things we normally wouldn’t even think about in warmer weather. Ponds and water features are two of the more easily susceptible features in your home that can fall victim to the cold, but luckily there are a few quick and easy steps you can take to ensure your feature is running smoothly even in the most frigid of temperatures.
Common problem #1 – My pond is frozen over!
If you are a fish owner, repeat after me – NEVER HIT THE ICE TO BREAK IT OPEN. You WILL send concussion waves through the water and you WILL hurt or kill your fish! Now that we’ve covered that…
With the way Colorado winters go, it’s almost guaranteed that your pond will freeze over at some point between November and April. This isn’t necessarily a problem unless you have fish or the opening in the skimmer freezes. If one of these applies to you, there are a couple of things you can do to fix this problem. One solution is to simply grab a hose, hook it up, set it somewhere on the ice, and turn it on. The warmer water coming from the pipes will slowly melt a hole in the ice, allowing trapped gasses out and (depending on where you place the hose) letting water flow freely again. However, if you have fish and don’t have dechlorinator, adding water like this can be harmful to your fish’s health, not to mention the fact that hoses can easily freeze shut in the winter too. A second solution, then, is to fill a 4-quart pot with water, boil it on the stove, and then bring it outside. From here, you can either slowly pour the water over the ice until it melts or you can set the pot on the ice itself to melt a larger, circular hole in the ice (if you do this, make sure you hold on to the pot and you’re not in danger of slipping in!).
There are accessories that you can purchase that will help to keep the pond from freezing over; skip down to the section on accessories to learn more about them.
Common problem #2 – My water feature stopped running!
There are a couple of possible causes for why your pond or water feature stopped running overnight. It could be that problem #1 happened and the pond froze over at the skimmer opening, in which case you can read over the steps to solve that problem above. However, lots of times ponds don’t just stop running on their own, since moving water will generally keep the skimmer opening from completely freezing over. If the pond has completely stopped running, there are a couple things to check.
First, check the GFI on the outlet that your pump is plugged in to. If you have more than just the pump plugged in to that outlet, unplug everything and see if the GFI is tripped (press the reset button), then plug the pump back in (if the GFI doesn’t reset, you need an electrician). If the pump does not start, it is no longer functional and needs to be replaced. However, if the pump begins to run again, plug in the next plug until you have everything plugged back in. If one of the plugs trips the GFI and stops the pump, you know that accessory was causing the issue.
If you have tried all of these steps and your feature is still not running, call us – there may be more serious problems at hand.
Common problem #3 – My pump started sucking air and my water level is low!
This problem is often associated with both problems #1 and #2. If the opening to the skimmer freezes over while the pump is working, the pump will run out of water and start sucking air. Often a pump will shut itself down (by way of an overheating sensor) if it doesn’t get enough water in order to prevent burnout. Sometimes, though, a pump will start sucking air even though the opening to the skimmer is flowing and unfrozen. In this case, you need to check the stream and waterfalls for what are known as ice dams. Ice dams can form in narrow areas in the stream bed or over small patches of debris in the stream or waterfall. Once an ice dam forms, water builds up behind the blockage and can flow over the edge of the feature, creating a leak. Sometimes an ice dam will melt before a homeowner notices that the feature is sucking air, making it appear as though the pond has a leak. If you suspect a leak during the winter, fill the pond back up and keep an eye on when the weather gets really cold. If you only lose water during these times, you have an ice dam problem.
The fix to an ice dam is simple: break away the ice. If there is debris buildup, remove the debris from the path of the water. This should allow the water to flow freely again without being impeded or forced out of the stream.
Common problem #4 – I was taking pictures of my dog near the pond and I wasn’t paying attention, so I fell in!
Well, to be honest, this doesn’t happen all that often. If it does happen, you should probably get out of the pond and into dry clothes rather than call us asking what to do.
Winter Pond Care Accessories
There are a few accessories that you can install in your pond or water feature to help keep the water flowing year-round and keep the number of panic-inducing problems to a minimum. Our Pond Service division can bring these accessories to your door and even install them; all you have to do is ask!
Heaters: Heaters are great for keeping a fairly sizable hole in the ice at the surface of the pond. Heaters generally run between 150 and 300 watts, so they put out a fair amount of power. These accessories have a couple of downsides to them, however. First, because they use so much power they are expensive to run and really can only be used during those times where you are certain the pond is going to freeze. Second, heaters seem to have a knack for failing at the exact wrong time, either because they trip the GFI or they just stop working. I personally have not recommended a heater to a BR&D customer since I started in 2014, but I do see applications where they can be useful (for example, one customer wanted to use a heater to keep a hole in the ice so that deer and other animals could get to the pond for water!).
Aerators: Aerators are generally thought of as fish accessories, and to an extent they are. Aerators are necessary for any fish owners in the winter because they keep oxygen in the water even if the pump is not running. However, aerators can also be used to prevent ice from forming in areas where the aerator stones are placed similar to heaters. This is accomplished by a combination of moving water and that the aerator is moving warmer water from the bottom of the pond to the surface. Aerators also use far less power than heaters so they are easier on the wallet. The downside to an aerator is that, even when combining all of the stones together, they are sometimes not powerful enough to to keep a hole in the ice during the extreme cold snaps that Colorado is prone to (think 10 degrees as the warmest high temperature over a full week).
Nets: Nets are great for keeping debris such as twigs and leaves out of the water feature. Since ice dams form easiest on debris buildup in the stream, installing a net over the pond or water feature helps to keep leaves and other debris out of the flowing areas. Nets range in size depending on how large your feature is and are made out of extremely strong synthetic fiber to make them both lightweight and durable. If you have lots of trees or are prone to things falling in to the pond, you might want to be wary – excess weight can drag the net down into the water, in which case you are creating a contact point for freezing to begin.
Regardless of what your need might be, rest assured that we’re here to help. Feel free to call us at any time to get the answers to the questions you have, and if you need it our Pond Service division is available to come out to your feature and make sure you can truly enjoy your oasis, even in winter!