The most sure-fire way to keep any water feature from completely icing over is to use a deicer. They work great for both ponds and pond-free or pondless waterfalls. A deicer is an electrical appliance that floats in the pond and will keep an area of the pond ice-free. In the case of the pond-free waterfall, the deicer is placed in the vault to warm the water before it goes over the waterfall.
Why Use a Deicer?
The goal of a deicer in a pond is to keep a small hole or section of the pond from freezing so that oxygen can get in and carbon dioxide can get out for your fish. For a pond-free waterfall, deicers keep the water flowing so that you can keep it running all year long.
Where Should the Deicer Be Placed?
For ponds, if you have a skimmer, keep the deicer as close to the skimmer opening as possible (without it floating into it.) If you have a pond-free, place the deicer in the pump vault. It's important to keep the basin of the pond-free full of water all winter so that the deicer stays floating above the pump.
Is Your Circuit Adequate for Both Your Pump and Deicer?
Often times a pump and deicer cannot be used on the same circuit. Together they pull more amps than the circuit will allow and it trips. Total the amps of your pump, your deicer, anything else running on that circuit (hopefully nothing) and compare that to the amperage of the circuit before using them together. A tripped circuit could result in a frozen water feature! You may need to run an extension cord to another outlet on a different circuit. See extension cords below.
Extension Cords and Deicers
Most deicers have a short cord -- 9' or 10'. Sometimes an extension cord is necessary. Not just any extension cord can be used however. And just because it's an outdoor extension cord DOES NOT mean it is adequate for your deicer. Deicers pull a lot of juice!
Use a Deicer Large Enough for Your Water Feature
If you are simply going to keep a small opening in the ice, it may seem that any size deicer will do, but that's not the case. Deicers are meant to cycle on and off. If you have a deicer that's too small it will run continuously, eventually burning itself out. When buying a deicer, check the packaging to make sure you are getting the appropriate size. You will need to know the volume of your water feature.
Remember that although deicers are an excellent way to keep an opening in the ice, they also use a lot of electricity. Consider using a deicer only as a backup on the coldest times of the winter and use an aerator at all times for the most effective and economical situation.
Special Notice: A deicer should always be placed in the water feature where it cannot touch any plastic, cloth, metal, or rubber taking into consideration fluctuating water levels. There have been cases where the deicer floated into the skimmer, the water level was allowed to drop too low and resulted in a fire. Please keep water at the appropriate level if you are running your water feature and do not allow a deicer to float into the skimmer.
Shop for Deicers here.
Read more... "The Pond Heater Myth."
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