Water features can be a pleasant aesthetic, but what will happen to them as the temperatures begin to drop? How can we protect them from the oncoming winter?
Water features that are less than one foot deep (or thirty centimeters) will solidify under cold climate conditions. It is best to empty all outdoor water features completely to prevent them from being cracked by the cold. However, you may also turn off any flowing outdoor water features that can be damaged by freezing temperatures until the cold climate passes.
Knowing exactly what you need to do to prepare your water features during the winter can be challenging. Here, you can find the steps to follow in order to prevent damage from occurring.
How to Know if Your Feature is in Danger
Water features will freeze! But before considering how to protect your water feature, you should consider what kind of feature that you have, as well as its structure. You should consider questions such as…
What material is my water feature made up of?
What is the depth of my outdoor water feature?
Was my water feature already built with the oncoming climate in mind?
First, it is important to consider and ask questions about what kind of materials were used and how long of a lifespan is expected under the harsh conditions of winter.
Some materials do not hold up well against the constant freezing and thawing that occurs during these colder climates. Some precast concrete fountains, as well as other materials, may only last up to 2-3 years before beginning to crumble.
The depth of the outdoor water feature is also important to consider. The possibility of danger for it to be damaged, increases when the water within the outdoor feature is less than one foot deep. The more shallow your feature is, the more likely it is that you will have to take the necessary precautions for the upcoming winter.
As another option to consider, there are currently water features which are built with a colder climate in mind. Many of which have a built in heating system to prevent the water from freezing in its entirety. However, the possibility for the surface of the water to freeze is still likely to occur as the temperatures begin to drop.
What will Happen if Your Water Features Freeze?
Never allow ice to form within your water feature.
The forming of ice can potentially damage the pump and a deep freeze could even cause the structure of the water feature to crack over time. (Source: How to Protect Water Features Against Frost – Primrose Blog)
It is also important to consider that frozen water features that have not been drained can eventually lead to a broken seal or the freezing of a pipe. When a water pump freezes, the ice exerts pressure on the pump’s outer casing.
Pressure like this will damage the body of the pump, potentially cracking and exposing electrical components to the water. Once a damaged pump is turned on, there’s a good chance it will quickly stop working, leaving you to purchase a replacement. (source: Next Year, Winterize Your Water Features to Enjoy Them in the Spring – Timberline Landscaping)
You should be aware of these dangers as the temperature begins to fall. If these damages occur, then it would render your water feature useless or, at the very least, difficult to restore. The repairs for this, would be a costly venture.
How do I know When to Drain or Stop the Water?
In order to take the necessary precautions, you need to pay attention to the climate in your area. As the temperature drops, the water will begin to freeze. Knowing when the freezing will begin to take place, will cue you in to when you should begin the process of draining and protecting your water feature.
You can verify when the temperature will fall by carefully monitoring it through known weather apps, news channels, and especially, noting how far the temperature drops as night falls each day.
This will begin to indicate, for example, that if the temperature was about fifty three degrees during the day, then dropped down to about thirty four degrees during the night, then it is likely that a temperature of about thirty nine degrees that day, would drop down to a freezing temperature of about eighteen degrees that night.
This would mean that it is necessary to drain or protect your outdoor water features before night falls that same day.
How to Winterize my Water Features
- Remove plants. You can remove plants from your water features as late as the first frost. You should clean all plan debris from the pond’s bottom surface once the plants are out of the way. If you are “pond free,” be sure to clean the bottom of the pump vault. You can either save your plants for the following spring, or throw them away and move on to the next step.
- Clear algae. If you find algae in your water feature, use a water-activated granular algaecide. Be sure that you carefully read and follow the directions.
There are times when persistent algae staining will mean that you will need to drain the pond or vault to scrub it completely clean. If you decide to do this, you must refill the feature before the oncoming winter weather arrives in order to avoid damaging your pond or pond-free feature.
- Drain everything. Whether you are winterizing a pond, a fountain or some other small water feature, be sure to drain all of the water from all lines of the features you are shutting down for the winter. This includes hard-to-reach recesses and small spaces. You’ll need to drain your features before the first frost so that any water left will evaporate from the lines.
- Take the pump out. The best solution is to simply remove the pump for the duration of the winter if the pump is less than 16 inches deep. Store the pump indoors so that it does not freeze while laying in the yard or in an unheated garage.
If you are using smaller water features, it may be best, in the long run, to store them inside over the winter.
Smaller features generally aren’t durable enough to “survive” being frozen, and may suffer damage if left out in the snow. (source: Next Year, Winterize Your Water Features to Enjoy Them in the Spring – Timberline Landscaping)
When can I Return the Water to my Feature?
Once the outdoor temperature reaches above freezing, it’s safe to refill the features and reconnect the pumps. Be sure to verify that the temperatures will not continue to drop after refilling your water features. As winter turns into spring, your water feature should function properly and remain undamaged for another year.
What to do if the Winter Damaged my Water Feature?
If you were unsuccessful in preparing for the winter, and your water feature was damaged, here are few ideas for you.
- When repairing a concrete pond, water feature, or waterfall, it is important to inspect the feature closely to identify any and all cracks, leaks, or weaknesses. Any repairs need to be on the front or the face of the area. Water flows to the path of least resistance. This would mean that if you repair a leak on the back of a waterfall, the water will find another path to leak out.
- If you have a larger water feature built into your pond, you may not have to drain the pond in order to repair the water feature. For example, if you have a waterfall with a broken pump, chances are good that you’ll be able to replace or fix the pump without draining your pond, though this may occasionally be necessary.
- The use of a sealant called epoxy may be able to repair any small hairline cracks.
- The spray seals are perfect for fixing any sort of minor leaks from any gaskets or pipes. There are usually two different types available, black and clear. The black spray is generally used for interior leaks and the clear spray is more for exterior leaks. This is due to the visibility of the sprays.
Using these methods, you can repair your outer damage. But what if your pipes freeze, and you features still doesn’t function properly? You can thaw them by-
- Leaving the faucets open and turning off the water supply
- Locating the “freeze point”. Determine which faucets are not delivering water and check the pipes that supply them. If none of the faucets in the home are working, the freeze point may be in the main supply line.
- Check for a pipe burst
- If the pipe hasn’t burst, you can attempt to thaw it by exposing it to heat, working toward the water supply from the faucet end of the freeze.
- Once you’ve thawed the pipes, dry and insulate them to protect against future freezing.
If a pipe does burst, there is a good chance that there could be expensive damage, and it may be best to hire a plumber to come in to do an evalution depending on the size of your water feature.