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Ice Safety 101 | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Ice Safety 101

Ice Safety 101

Ice is fun—but it can be dangerous business.

Winter brings cold weather and snow to your pond or lake, as well as a perfect layer of ice for skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling and more. You may want to get out there and play, but it’s important to know whether your ice is safe and strong or a potential hazard.

Here’s how to determine whether the ice on your pond is thick enough and safe for wintertime fun.

1. Check Its Temperature, Formation

After about two to three weeks of freezing temperatures, a solid sheet of ice will begin to form on your pond or lake. But low temps aren’t the only thing that influence ice formation. Water currents, wind and snow coverage will also make a difference in the integrity of the frozen surface. So once the weather and temperatures stabilize after several weeks, you can venture onto the ice and inspect its thickness.

2. Check Surface for Quality

Ice quality matters. When you inspect the ice, you can visually gauge its quality by looking for bubbles, trapped snow and cracks. You can also determine its quality by color, as a solid blue ice sheet is much stronger than a white brittle layer, which is caused by air pockets and other flaws. Of course, new ice is stronger than old ice, too, as temperature fluctuations haven’t thawed and refrozen the ice, which can weaken its integrity.

In addition, if you’ve left your aeration system running while the ice has been forming, the ice layer will have air pockets—and be unsafe for winter recreation.

3. Verify Its Thickness

You’ve given the water time to freeze and the ice time to form, and you’ve ensured the quality of the ice sheet’s surface. The next step is to verify its thickness. You can either drill or cut samples—but make sure you do so in multiple locations as you work your way toward the center of the pond as the water won’t necessarily freeze evenly.

In general, a layer of ice less than 3 inches is too thin for most people to walk out on. It may be able to hold up lighter people or small animals but can easily crack. So if you plan to have a group of people on the pond or want to take your snowmobile out on your lake, an ice formation of 6 to 8 inches minimum is ideal.

4. Be Patient, Stay Safe

Winter recreation on an ice-covered pond is fun—but be patient and use extreme caution when venturing on the ice. Take time to inspect the ice quality and take samples because doing so can make all the difference between a blast and a disaster.

Always make sure you have a life ring or floatation device within reach in case someone accidentally falls through the ice. And always use common sense when venturing out—better to be safe than sorry!

Pond Talk: What is your favorite wintertime activity on your frozen lake or pond?

Promote Pond Safety

How do I create the perfect hockey or skating rink? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

How do I create the perfect hockey or skating rink?

Q: How do I create the perfect hockey or skating rink?

Chris – Gardners, PA

A: One of the many benefits of having a lake is inviting friends and family over for fun water-related activities—including ice skating or hockey scrimmages during the wintertime. Here are some simple four-step instructions for how to create a nearly NHL-ready rink on your pond.

  1. First, using a pond rake and some weed cutters, remove dead floating debris, such as dead cattails and Phragmites. If those are on the water’s surface or along the lake’s edges as the ice forms, you could wind up with bumpy or weak ice.
  2. Next, if you haven’t done so already, turn off and remove the aeration system from your lake. If you keep it running while the ice forms, that could result in uneven ice formation—and that can be a dangerous situation for skaters.
  3. Once snow begins to fall, regularly remove the snow from the ice with a snow shovel before nightfall so the lake freezes evenly. Make sure, however, that the pond ice is at least 4 inches deep before walking on it.
  4. On a calm night so the water stays still, use your thermostatically controlled
    K&H™ PVC ThermoHose™ to flood the rink area with a thin layer of water to fill in any gaps. By the next morning—weather permitting—the new ice layer should be frozen and the rink ready to enjoy!

Remember to practice water and ice safety by having a life ring available in case of emergency, and by marking the acceptable rink area, particularly if you are using just a portion of a much larger body of water.

Sharpen your blades, pull on your skates—and have fun!

Pond Talk: What’s your favorite activity on an ice-covered pond?

Create A Smooth Skating Surface

Do I need to watch the water levels in my pond during the winter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Do I need to watch the water levels in my pond during the winter?

Q: Do I need to watch the water levels in my pond during the winter?

Paul – Wixom, MI

A: Even when winter’s chilly grip takes hold, your pond’s water level will still fluctuate. It likely won’t be as dramatic as summertime’s evaporation rates, but you should definitely keep an eye on the amount of liquid stuff in your pond throughout the cold months.

Causes of Winter Water Loss

During the summer, the sun’s warming rays heat the water in your pond and cause it to evaporate—and sometimes very quickly, depending on how warm the air and water temperatures get. But during the wintertime, water loss can be caused by:

  • Dry air: Low humidity—which is when the air contains little water vapor—can increase evaporation rates as the dry air will absorb the moisture from your pond.
  • Winds: Windy conditions can also escalate evaporation in your pond. A 5-mile-per-hour wind at your pond’s surface, for instance, results in roughly three times the rate of evaporation on a still day.
  • Ice expansion, formation: The liquid water will appear to dissipate in your pond as ice forms and expands.

A small amount of water level fluctuation is OK—but a few inches of water loss could leave your fish in ice, particularly if your pond isn’t that deep to begin with!

Keep It Topped Off

To keep water levels steady (and your fish thawed and happy), you don’t need to warm the water. Instead, you should plan to top off the pond when it dips more than an inch or two, just as you would during the spring and summer.

When you add water to your water garden, make sure it actually goes into the pond—not just on top of the ice. Feed the water through a hole in the ice using a garden hose or a thermostatically controlled hose such as the K&H™ PVC ThermoHose™, which prevents ice from forming in your faucet or hose. The unit’s built-in heating elements turn on automatically when temperatures dip below freezing so you’ll have liquid water coming out of your hose.

If you need to put a hole in the ice that’s on your pond, remember to never bust through it with a drill, hammer or other blunt object as the subsurface vibrations could harm your fish. Fill a bucket with hot water and pour it on one area of the pond to melt open a hole, preferably near the edge.

Pond Talk: How often do you need to top off the water in your pond or water garden during the winter?

Keep Your Hose From Freezing - K&H™ PVC ThermoHose™

What should I do if I have a power outage over the winter and my aeration stops? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

What should I do if I have a power outage over the winter and my aeration stops?

Q: What should I do if I have a power outage over the winter and my aeration stops?

Johnny – Point Marion, PA

A: Power outages happen. Whether they’re caused by Mother Nature, like hurricane Sandy, or the result of an accident or a blown transformer, chances are pretty good that you’ll contend with at least one lights-out experience this winter—but your chandelier won’t be the only thing not electrified.

Out in your lake or water garden, your aeration system will also shut down when the electricity stops. No aeration for an extended period of time means your pond’s water quality could suffer and your fishes’ health could be compromised.

Don’t worry: If you’re prepared, a power outage won’t be a big deal at all. Here’s what you need to know.

Your Fish will be Fine …

As long as the water temperature remains cold and your pond is relatively free of dead or decomposing debris, your fish will survive the power outage without even blinking an eye.

Thanks to one of the many unique properties of water, cold water retains more dissolved oxygen than warm water. “Think about how much bubblier a cold soda is compared to a warm one,” describes the United States Geological Survey. “The cold soda can keep more of the carbon dioxide bubbles dissolved in the liquid than the warm one can, which makes it seem fizzier when you drink it.”

It’s the same thing with oxygen. Colder water molecules are more densely packed and can therefore hold more oxygen, which your fish and other pond inhabitants need to survive.

In addition, the pond should not have a lot of dead or decomposing materials, like leaves and plant matter. All that breaking-down vegetation depletes the water of oxygen while imbuing it with harmful toxic gases like ammonia.

Bottom line: If your water is cold and your pond is clean when the power goes out, your finned friends will be just fine, short-term.

Service & Protect Your Aerator

After the power is restored and the candles are blown out, plan to head out to your aeration system and assess the situation. Any built-up air pressure could prevent the aerator from turning back on, so you’ll need to relieve the air pressure by pulling the relief valve or disconnecting the airline before you turn the system back on again. In addition, condensation could form on the motor, which will need to be wiped down to prevent rust from forming.

To protect your aerator from the elements—which could cause an isolated power outage in your pond or lake—make sure it’s protected. Larger units, such as those for ponds and lakes, should be in a cabinet; smaller units, such as those for water gardens, should be hidden within a faux rock, like the Pond Logic® TruRock™ Small Boulder Cover. It’s designed to blend into the landscape while protecting pond equipment.

Pond Talk: In case of long-term power outage, would you ever use a generator to power your aerator? Why or why not?

Protect Your Aeration Units - Pond Logic® PondAir™ & TrueRock™ Combo

Can I leave netting over my pond during the winter months? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Can I leave netting over my pond during the winter months?

Q: Can I leave netting over my pond during the winter months?

Robert – Sherrard, IL

A: I don’t know about you, but the thought of one or two leaves drifting into my pristine pond after a thorough fall clean-out sends shivers down my spine—which is why, like many hobbyists, I cover my water garden with pond netting, like The Pond Guy® Premium Pond Netting, in the fall and early winter.

Even though netting makes the water feature look less than attractive, particularly during the holiday season when the yard sparkles with twinkling lights, it keeps it clean and debris-free. Not only that, but it also protects the fish from flying and four-legged predators looking for a tasty winter meal.

So why not leave the pond netting on all winter long?

In some locations, you can. If you live in a climate with mild temperatures, and minimal snow and freezing, you can leave the netting on all year-long, provided you check it regularly and remove any accumulated material.

In other locations, like those that receive heavy snowfall or freezing rain, a better place for the pond netting during the winter is in the garage. The weighty precipitation could put way too much pressure on your net, stretching it out of shape or causing it to become brittle and break.

So before the big storms start rolling through, remove your pond netting and pack it up for the season. But to keep those straggling leaves and other annoying debris out of your pond, have a handheld pond net, like The Pond Guy® 2-in-1 Heavy Duty Combo Net, readily available. The net’s 4-foot handle extends to 11 feet long, which is long enough to reach the most elusive leaf.

Pond Talk: When do you know it’s time to pack up your pond netting for the season?

Keep Leaves & Predators Out - View Pond Logic® PondShelter™ Net Kit

Can I continue to run my waterfall over the winter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Can I continue to run my waterfall over the winter?

Q: Can I continue to run my waterfall over the winter?

Constance – Broomfield, CO

A: The short answer to your question: Sure! Many pond and water garden hobbyists keep their waterfalls running all year long—of course, those in warmer climates are probably more successful than those of us further north when the temperatures dip below freezing!

If you live in a colder region that freezes and you’re thinking about keeping your falls flowing through the wintertime, consider these important points:

  • Is your pump in a skimmer? If so, you may want to move it to a deeper area of your pond that doesn’t freeze.
  • Are you home to keep an eye on things? Ideally, someone should be home to periodically check on the waterfall and make sure it’s not freezing. If it does begin to freeze, the water may begin to divert out of the pond—leaving your fish high and dry.

Keeping your waterfall running during the wintertime has some definite benefits. Snow-covered and shimmering with crystals, a partially frozen waterfall can be a stunning attraction in your backyard. But that’s not all. You may also attract thirsty animals to your pond that decided to brave the winter elements!

Pond Talk: If you keep your waterfall running during the winter, why do you do so?

Protect Your Prized Fish - Pond Logic® KoiAir™ Aeration Kits

Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side?

Q: Can I move my diffuser plates all to the shallow end of the pond so I can skate on the other side?

Adam – Locust Valley, NY

A: Though it would be nice to have the best of both worlds, a pond that’s aerated with diffuser plates is not safe for ice skating. Here’s why:

The reason you run a diffuser through the winter is to aerate the pond and move the water surface to maintain a hole in the ice, allowing for gas exchange. This ensures the water in your lake is well-circulated and your game fish and other underwater inhabitants have enough oxygen to get them through the cold season.

The trouble is that the ice that forms on the surface of water that has been moving for even a short time can be porous and not suitable for skating. Even movement on one end of the lake and not the other can make the ice at the edges unsafe.

If you want to use your pond for skating, plan in advance. Before the ice forms:

  1. Shut your aeration system down completely. It’s critical to do this before the ice starts to build on your pond’s or lake’s surface for the safety of those who will skate on the pond.
  2. Stow components away. Your airline and plate may stay in the pond, but the system’s cabinet and compressor should be stored indoors to prevent condensation and rusting.
  3. Have an emergency plan, just in case. While you’re prepping your lake for ice skating fun, now’s a good time to make sure you have water safety items available, too, like a Taylor Made Life Ring. If the ice breaks, a safety preserver like this can save someone’s life.

Even if ice skating isn’t your thing, it’s still important to follow this all-or-nothing aeration strategy. Running your system “part time” could cause condensation in the unit from the hot compressor cooling, causing rust to form. It could also allow moisture to get into the airline, which could then freeze.

Bottom line: If you plan on skating on your lake or running your aeration system “part time” for whatever reason, it’s best to shut it down completely. Otherwise, keep it running all season to ensure good water quality for your fishes.

Pond Talk: What’s your favorite wintertime activity at your pond or lake?

Promote Pond Safety - Taylor Made Life Rings

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