Aquatics Unlimited: Articles: De-Icers for Garden Ponds
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De-Icers for Garden Ponds

Pond De-Icers are used to keep a "breathing hole" in the ice that covers a garden pond during the winter months. This allows toxic gases, caused by the breakdown of organic waste products in the pond, to escape and oxygen to be replenished. Depending on how many fish are in the pond, the thickness and nature of the ice, and how much debris has accumulated, failing to keep a breathing hole can result in stressed fish, disease and even total "winter kill."

Selecting a De-Icer

Until recently, there wasn't a lot of choice: you either had a de-icer, or you didn't. Now there are several styles on the market, each suited to different applications. The three listed below are fairly representative of their type.

IceChaser

ImageThis is the classic de-icer, floats and keeps a fairly large opening due to its higher wattage.

Ideal Applications: medium and larger ponds, or heavily stocked ponds where a larger ice opening is advised. Also suitable for smaller to medium pond with pump to keep most of pond clear of ice buildup. Add optional ThermoCube to cut energy costs.

Advantages:

  • power - keeps larger opening to support more fish and bigger ponds
  • powerful enough to melt its way through several inches of existing ice
  • Thermostat shuts off at 45 degrees F and back on at 35 degrees F
  • compact, sturdy design.

Disadvantages:

  • 1250 watts running 24 hours per day can cost about $75 per month* in electricity
  • aluminum lower housing must be cleaned of corrosion or it turns itself off
  • high wattage may trip low amp or heavily loaded circuit breaker
  • can't be used with standard extension cords

ThermoPond

ImageThis floating donut-shaped unit focuses on keeping only its small donut-hole free of ice, requiring a lot less energy. Latest version 3.0 has improved thermostat and seal.

Ideal Applications: medium pond (up to 1500 gallons, more than 18” deep) with normal or light fish load, where energy costs are a large concern. For larger ponds, use several units.

Advantages:

  • only 100 watts costs about $6 per month to run
  • plastic housing doesn't corrode
  • unlikely to trip circuit breaker
  • Thermostat protects against overheating

Disadvantages:

  • won't melt through thick existing ice
  • plastic construction is more vulnerable to breakage or leakage
  • may require multiple units (about one per every 1000 gallons of pond) to provide sufficient gas exchange for larger ponds

Perfect Climate

ImageNew in 2005, this 300 watt unit can be used submerged in smaller ponds (up to 300 gallons and 18" deep) to keep most of the surface free of ice, or with the optional Float Attachment in larger ponds (up to 1500 gallons) as somewhat of a mini-IceChaser.

Ideal Applications: for small pond (less than 300 gallons, less than 18" deep), use submerged. For medium ponds, add optional Float attachment.

Advantages:

  • 300 watts is about $18 per month* in electricity
  • versatile - may be used submerged or floating (Float Attachment purchased separately)
  • unlikely to trip circuit breaker
  • Thermostat shuts on/off at about 45 degrees F.

Disdvantages:

  • won't melt through thick existing ice
  • plastic construction is more vulnerable to breakage or leakage
  • may require multiple units (about one per every 1500 gallons of pond) to provide sufficient gas exchange for larger ponds

Pond Saucer

ImageNew in 2006, this floating 200 watt unit was designed "to prove it couldn’t be done." The manufacturer then went on to address some of the problems with other deicers.

Ideal Applications: any pond at least 24" deep.

Advantages:

  • 200 watts costs about $12 per month* in electricity
  • may be used with ThermoCube to further reduce energy costs
  • low profile reduces movement from wind
  • sturdier, more flexible plastic resists cracking and leakage
  • heating perimeter helps keep ice from crushing unit
  • unlikely to trip circuit breaker

Disadvantages:

  • won't melt through thick existing ice
  • may require multiple units (about one per every 1500 gallons) to provide sufficient gas exchange for larger ponds

Tetra De-Icer

ImageNew in 2006, this floating 300 watt unit is designed to resemble a natural rock outcropping.

Ideal Applications: wherever a natural look is preferred.

Advantages:

  • 300 watts costs about $18 per month* in electricity
  • may be used with ThermoCube to further reduce energy costs
  • does not resemble flying saucer invasion
  • sturdier, more flexible plastic resists cracking and leakage
  • heating perimeter helps keep ice from crushing unit
  • unlikely to trip circuit breaker

Disadvantages:

  • won't melt through thick existing ice
  • may require multiple units (about one per every 1500 gallons) to provide sufficient gas exchange for larger ponds.

Installing a De-Icer

De-Icers are best installed before ice forms or when it is still very thin. The IceChaser can melt it's way through about 3" of existing ice; for thicker ice or other models, use an ice auger to drill a suitable size hole. Place the unit where it can be reached without stepping out onto dangerous ice, within reach of its power source, and over deepest part of pond that meets the first two requirements.

Cut energy costs with a Thermocube

ImageThe IceChaser has a built-in thermostat that shuts down when the water temperature reaches 45 degrees F., but unless the pond is very small and wind and current are very low, the water rarely gets that warm for any length of time. The Thermocube is a thermostat that operates by AIR temperature, which very frequently does spend some time in the 40's. It turns the de-icer off when the air is above 45 degrees and back on when it reaches 35 degrees - cutting the energy bill considerably depending on the weather. The Thermocube could probably also be used with the Perfect Climate 300 watt model on smaller ponds.

Optimize by adding a pump

Either an air pump or small water pump can be used in combination with a de-icer to provide a larger ice opening and as a backup. The pump should be suspended a bit off the bottom so as not to disturb any sunken debris, and water or air released near the de-icer.

Inspecting

De-Icers should be checked regularly, in case they trip a circuit breaker or fail for any other reason. A few days without a breathing hole is usually not a big concern, but the longer it goes the greater the risk and greater the difficulty of resetting or reinstalling.

Safety

De-Icers are electrical devices that are exposed to harsh weather and sit in water. If the cord gets tattered or if the unit gets cracked or leaks, remove from use immediately and discard. All outside electrical outlets should include a properly installed and tested Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI), which cuts off power if electricity is being released outside the circuit.

Is a De-Icer the same as a Heater?

Not really. De-Icers are meant to keep at least a small opening in the ice cover of an outdoor pond rather than raise the overall temperature of the water. Increasing the water temperature significantly in an outdoor pond would require much higher wattage and probably be cost prohibitive.

*All electrical cost estimates were calculated using WE Energies rates in September of 2005. Your rates may vary considerably due to rate differences by locality, rate changes and rate plans.

Related article: Winter Care Guide for Garden Ponds


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