De-Icers vs. Aerators In Winter

Making sure your fish survive harsh winters requires keeping a hole open in the ice in your pond. They're still breathing, and a hole open in the ice will allow gasses to be exchanged (oxygen in and carbon dioxide out) and your fish won't suffocate.

So what's the best way to make a hole in the ice?
First let's talk about what you absolutely should not do...

DON'T break the ice. This will really stress your fish out (imagine someone beating on your bedroom walls with a sledgehammer -- you'd probably be stressed out too). Their immune systems in the winter are already very fragile, so you don't want to add more stress for them.

DON'T think running your pond pump "bubbling" on the surface will do it.  What we mean by a "bubbling" pump is having a pump sit inside the pond and run a pipe or a fountain head up to the surface so that it bubbles on the surface of the water. As the water hits the cold air outside, it will freeze. Instead of making a hole in the ice, you run the chance of making a pretty little water dome. It's cool, but it's not effective. And you also run the risk of ruining your pump if the pipe freezes solid. Also running anything on the bottom of the pond stirs up the warm water down there which is dangerous to your fish.  (By the way, if you have a pump running your waterfall in a skimmer, you can still run it in the winter. Read our advice for running your feature in the winter.)

That's what you shouldn't do.
Now let's talk about what you should do to keep a hole open in the ice.

You can run your aerator (with modification) or install a de-icer (which is not a "pond heater"). Each have their benefits and drawbacks, so let's break down both.

Running an Aerator

Here's what a KA aerator looks like when we've set up its winter airline.

Make sure your diffuser -- which is either air stones or a plate or diffuser stick -- is right underneath the water surface. (For most of the year, they rest in the bottom of the pond.) We've got a handy article talking about setting up your aerator for winter. In the winter, the main purpose of your aerator isn't to oxygenate the water but to disturb the pond surface so that ice can't form.

  • Aerators are much more cost effective to operate. They use only a few watts of electricity compared to the hundreds of watts a de-icer will use.
  • You get all year use out of an aerator. Once the ice melts, keep your aerator running to help keep your water clear and your fish happy. Definitely a better investment!

  • In single digit temps, your aerator may not be able to keep up. If the air temperature is super cold, disturbing the water surface may not be enough. However, it is still putting oxygen into the pond, even if it freezes over.
  • There's a little more effort involved in installing an aerator. Aerators are still very easy to install, but if you've waited until the last minute and there's already ice on the pond, you probably don't want to be fumbling in freezing temperatures installing your aerator.
You can shop our aerator selection online or at our store.

Watch our video on how to change your aerator
 from summer to winter use below.

Using A De-Icer

If you're new to de-icers, read up on using a de-icer for your pond first. They're nifty gadgets that warm the water around the de-icer, melting a hole in the ice. Remember, they're not heating your pond. De-icers are just "de-icing" a small section of your pond. There is never a need to heat the entire pond!

This pond has a de-icer keeping a hole open in the ice.

  • De-icers are very easy to install. Just plug it in and drop it into your pond. Ours have a protective plastic cage around the heating element which will keep the heating element from melting anything the de-icer bumps up against. (This is not so with stock tank deicers that people will sometime use.) We place ours in front of our skimmers-- but far enough away that they won't drift inside. Deicers must be put into the pond before the ice is thickly covered. 
  • The de-icers we sell at Cool Ponds are thermostatically controlled, which means they'll only kick on when they're needed. If we have some of those weird winter days that are 50 degrees, your de-icer will shut off until it's needed again. No need to plug it in and unplug it.
  • De-icers will tough it out through extremely cold temps. If you put an aerator and a de-icer together to see which one would still keep a hole open in the ice as temperature drops, the de-icer will win every time. 

  • De-icers are energy hogs! The smallest de-icer we sell still pulls 250 watts. 
  • De-icers are one-season use only. Although typically de-icers will come in at a lower price point than aerators, you'll only use a de-icer in the winter. 
You can shop our de-icers online or at our physical store location.

Watch our video on how
to install a decier below.

The conclusion? At Cool Ponds, we primarily use our aerators to keep a hole open in the ice. But we also have de-icers in the pond, but not plugged in, as back-ups in case winter gets too cold for the aerator to keep up. 

The best pond care practices are always preventative, so whatever you choose to keep your fish safe this winter, get it ready long before you see ice start to form.


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