The Best Pond Water Wheel 2018 (Top Wheels Compared)

The Best Pond Water Wheel Feature for Garden Ponds 2018

Even though waterwheels are rarely used these days for power generation, they’re still fantastic as decor, and can even provide some extra benefits for fish ponds! Here we discuss different types of waterwheel, and review the best pre-made wooden waterwheels for garden ponds!

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Pond Water Wheel Systems – More than just Decor?

Classic wooden waterwheel design, powered by a “backshot” water flow which comes from an outlet on top.

Historically, water wheels have been used since ancient times as a method to convert the energy of flowing water to different forms if power, often as watermills. Wooden wheels are comprised of a large wheel with a number of blades, steps, or buckets which are used to collect water and power the rotation of the machine. In the UK and US, waterwheels are commonly mounted vertically on a horizontal axis (pictured), but can also be constructed on a vertical axis with the wheel horizontal. In regards to power generation, the energy of water is transmitted through a special axle or gear located in the center of the wheel, which is then converted into electricity via a generator.

Although they have been used as power generators for centuries, they have mostly been replaced in modern times by the vastly more efficient water turbine. Due to this, many waterwheels, especially in ponds, are now designed mainly as decorative items which help bring a water garden to life. As well as looking fantastic as decorations, a moving water wheel will also provide other benefits, such as increased aeration and oxygenation. The continued movement of the wheel against the water will create more flow and provide additional nutrients and oxygen across the pond system.

Water wheels can still technically be used in ponds to power electrical equipment, such as low-wattage pumps, but there are downsides, such as their dependence on constantly flowing water and need for frequent maintenance (i.e., bearing replacement). Other eco-power methods, such as solar power and wind power, are more reliable for general power generation, and we’d usually recommend these over water power for regular pond owners. With that said, waterwheels are some of the best pond decor around, and still have a few extra benefits which make them great choices for fish ponds:

Benefits of Pond Water Wheels:

1) Provides Aeration & Oxygenation

The movement from water wheels helps distribute extra nutrients and oxygen across the pond system, which can be very beneficial if you have koi and goldfish in your pond. The added aeration will also improve filtration as beneficial bacteria have more dissolved oxygen to help break down harmful substances in water.

2) Deters Pests & Algae Growth

Many biting insects, such as mosquitoes, love to lay their eggs in slow-moving water, and a water wheel can help prevent that by causing surface disturbance. As well as this, algae thrive in stagnant conditions, and the extra aeration from a wheel can keep algae growth lower in summer months if other water parameters are well maintained (see water quality).

3) Looks Great as Decor!

Finally, water wheels are a big part of modern history, and look simply fantastic as decorations in water gardens and fish ponds. They’re also becoming something of a lost art, so having one in your garden is a great homage to a machine which redefined the industrial world.


How do Pond Water Wheels work? (Best Types for Ponds)

Waterwheel diagram showing an “overshot” design where water flows over the top of the wheel blades.

Although there are many different types of waterwheels, most common wheels in western Europe and America make use of a vertical wheel with a horizontal axis (pictured). All of these wheels are powered by water flow, with the difference being how the water is passed through the wheel to create movement.

In terms of pond water wheels, the most common types are undershot waterwheels and overshot waterwheels. There are many more sub-types, but these two designs are usually better for smaller water gardens as they’re more efficient with lower water flow, as well as being easier to set up!

1) Undershot wheels are some of the oldest designs, with waterwheel blades usually being very flat compared to the “buckets” of overshot wheels. These waterwheels work with the natural current of your pond, with the flat blades being dragged into movement by the water underneath. They’re best placed in an area of strong water flow, such as in front of a large waterfall or in-line with a dedicated pond pump. Although they’re great as décor due to their easier installation process (requiring no overhead water flow), they’re one of the least efficient in design, so not a good choice if you want plenty of movement from a low flow rate pump.

2) Overshot wheels are another common type of pond waterwheel design, being more efficient than undershot but more difficult to install and get moving. These wheels can achieve up to an 80% efficiency with specialist design, but the height of the wheel and diameter of the blades are directly proportional to power generation. This means you often need to go BIG to achieve decent power generation, making them sometimes non-practical compared to other eco-power methods. For decorative purposes, overshot wheels can look great and will have plenty of movement if installed with a quality pump with decent flow rate and head height values. Most water wheel kits will be an overshot type as they’re easier to keep moving when the water framework is installed correctly.


Water Wheel Powered Pond Pumps – What Should you Choose?

Submersible ponds are placed underwater, making them convenient for “undershot” wheels, but can also easily power “overshot” designs, too.

Submersible pumps are great choices for undershot water wheels as they can be placed directly in-line with the wheels blades, which also provides you extra flexibility in terms of placement. The pump doesn’t need large head heights as an undershot design is powered via water flow, so the pump will simply need sufficient gallon per hour (GPH) turnover to get the wheel turning. If you’re using a smaller water wheel you could even make use of a solar powered pump model which should be sufficient in powering the wheel in both spring and summer months. This is also a great way to save money as solar power doesn’t add to your monthly electricity bill!

For overshot designs, or very tall water wheels, solar powered pond pumps may not be suitable as you’ll need to lift water to the top of the water wheel. In this instance a quality submersible pump or an external pump would be a better choice, as both would provide higher head height values compared to solar powered pumps. To work out exactly what size pump you need will depend on the height of the waterwheel and how much flow is required to turn the blades and create movement. For example, for a 1 foot wheel which requires 200 GPH of water flow, you’d need a pump which can provide at least 200 GPH of water pressure at 1 foot of head height. An external pump model in this instance would likely be overkill, with a small submersible (pictured) being more cost effective. However, for a 5 foot water wheel which benefits from 500+ GPH of water pressure, a small external pump may be more energy efficiency in the long term.

In most cases, and with the water wheels reviewed in this article, smaller submersible pumps and solar pumps would be more than sufficient to get the wheels turning. For water wheels around 15-25″ in diameter, even a garden hose would suffice in creating movement; especially in overshot “bucket” designs!


Pond Waterwheels – Common Questions Answered

Q) DIY wheel or purchase a water wheel kit?

U-BILD’s Wooden Water Wheel DIY Construction Guide.

If you have the DIY know-how or the determination to take on such a project, constructing a water wheel for your pond can be both fun and rewarding. The designs of wooden wheels have been refined over the years, but the basic construction remains fairly similar – consisting of the wooden wheel, blades, support, and metal axis and bearings. If you’ve never created a wheel before, we recommend U-BILD’s step-by-step book which details each part of the process in clear diagrams. The same techniques outlined in the book can be applied to much larger (or smaller) water wheels, so it’s a useful resource for all types of design.

The drawbacks of creating your own water wheel is the large time investment involved and lower efficiency in comparison to specialist designs. Purchasing a pre-made wheel or kit from a dedicated seller will ensure you have a optimized wheel fit for purpose, and most even come with lengthy warranty periods in case of problems. If you’d like to still do some DIY, many manufacturers sell the wheels and support frames separately, so you can always purchase just the wheel and construct the much easier framework yourself. If you just want a wheel that looks great, moves well, and are not interested in constructing things yourself, save the hassle and pick up a waterwheel kit!

Q) Can a water wheel run without a dedicated pump?

If you already have a pond pump powering a waterfall or filter system, and the pump is providing plenty of flow, an undershot type water wheel can sometimes be installed in-line with the existing pump. Although we recommend dedicated pumps for larger wheels, if you’re purchasing a smaller design, you can install the wheel in front of the strongest flow in the pond and see what happens! Many manufacturers who specialise in wooden waterwheels optimize their designs for low water flow conditions, and not electricity production, so you’ll often find your wheel starts turning even with minimal currents.

For much larger water wheels or water wheels designed for overshot water flow, a dedicated pump is usually best to ensure you’re getting sufficient flow at the correct water head heights. You can either design or purchase a wooden framework to install the water spout on, or make use of rigid pipework to achieve the desired height on a budget.

Q) Are water wheels safe for koi and goldfish?

Wooden water wheels need to be treated with a non-toxic coating, such as soybean extract.

Water wheels are generally safe for fish, and can actually be beneficial as they provide extra oxygenation and aeration to pond waters. The major problem with water wheels, especially undershot designs, is their depth placement in the pond. If the water wheel is placed too close to the pond floor and are not elevated enough, fish may become stuck in the blades as they pass the liner. Both goldfish and koi are curious creatures, and will enjoy spending time around the base of the wheel due to the higher dissolved oxygen conditions. To keep fish safe, the wheel needs to be installed in an elevated position, and the wheel material needs to be treated with a non-toxic coating so it doesn’t leech into water. If you’re constructing the wheel yourself you’ll have full control over the materials and coating used, however, if you purchase from a manufacturer you’ll want to double check the water wheel is suitable for ponds with fish. The wood coating should be natural (i.e., soybean oil) and the bearings should contain no harmful oils or crude mixes which can easily damage the eco-system.

Finally, NEVER use oil on your water wheel bearings as this can pollutant your pond and harm fish. Always replace bearings outright by contacting the manufacturer or purchasing replacements with non-toxic coatings. They should be replaced every few years as metal bearings will inevitably rust while in contact with constant moisture.


The Best Pond Water Wheel Kit Reviews 2018

Below are some of our top water wheel recommendations, all of which have been chosen based on their build quality, non-toxic materials, and costs. Included is both basic wheels and water wheel kits, with all being good options for both decorative purposes and as water features.

Best Small Pond Water Wheel

1) Practical Garden Ponds 15 Inch Water Wheel Review

For the budget consensus or for smaller sized water gardens as decor, Practical Garden Pond’s 15″ diameter wooden water wheel is a great choice of entry-level wheel. Hand-crafted from high quality pine wood, the wheel features a 15 inch (38 cm) diameter design with a popular overshot movement type. Unlike undershoot wheels, this wheel requires water flow coming from overhead for the best operation. Water which hits the wheel will be collected in the blades, and the wheel will turn on it’s 10″ shaft and 5/8″ axle as water builds to the correct capacity.

To achieve a good flow rate and decent movement on the water wheel we would personally recommend a pump ranging from 50-200 GPH. This is a small sized water wheel and will not require a large amount of flow to start turning, and too much water will simply overflow over the sides. The height of the wheel is minimal, so most pond pumps (even solar power) should have sufficient head height for optimal flow regardless of model. You can even try using your garden hose!

Although no support frame is included, the water wheel is very small so creating or purchasing a separate support should be quite easy. The wheel turns on its axle via the bearings in the wheel, so a pole can be inserted through the axle or it can be mounted in clamps or brackets over the pond. The wheel works best as decoration, either moving or static (no water), and is not suitable for energy production due to its small-form factor.

Finally, the wheel is safe for fish ponds and wildlife ponds thanks to it’s oil-free bearings and natural soybean wood coating. The coating is made from soy bean paste and actively fills the pores of the wood to prevent moisture getting inside. Overall, a great little water wheel which would be perfect as decoration in a small water garden or small goldfish pond.

  • Diameter: 15 inches (38 cm)
  • Type: Overshot Wheel (requires overhead flow)
  • Material: Wood (Pine)
  • Coasting: Non-toxic Soy Bean Resin
  • Bearings/Shaft: Included (10″ Shaft – 5/8″ Axle)
  • Support Frame:  Not Included
  • Flow Rate Requirements: 50-200 GPH approx

Best Large Pond Water Wheel

2) Amish-Made Pond Waterwheel 15-48″ Review

If you’re looking for a larger water wheel with more of a “wow” factor, these Amish-made wooden wheels from Backyard Crafts are some of the best around! With wheel diameter sizes ranging from 15 inches, 30 inches, 36 inches, and 48 inches, they also have a water wheel for all sizes of ponds.

The wheels are crafted by an expert Amish craftsman specialising in decorative water wheels, and are available in a range of impressive colors. The colors used are natural and non-toxic, with the pine wood material also coated in natural soy bean extract to keep moisture from damaging the wood. Both coating and colors are 100% safe for fish and wildlife.

The wheels are all overshot designs, so will require water flow to enter from the top of the wheel for best operation. The smallest wheels (15″) can be powered easily with solar pumps, small submersible pumps, or even a garden hose. The large wheels, such as the 48″ wheel, would require a stronger pump which can maintain higher water pressures at up to 1 foot of head height (height of water wheel). Although these are approximate values, we’d recommend a pump ranging from 400-600 GPH for the largest wheels to ensure smooth movement and the best aesthetic.

The bearings are sealed and zinc-plated for durability and should not be oiled or greased, as this is dangerous to the ponds eco-system. Although the bearings have a long lifespan, replacing the bearings every few years when movement is slowed is good practice. The wheels rotate on a stationary cold-steel axle, and can be mounted with your own poles or brackets. There is no support frame included, so you would need to mount the wheel and configure pipework separately.

Overall, a fantastic range of hand crafted water wheels with options for both small and large water gardens. A great choice if you want a durable wheel which will function for years without trouble!

  • Diameter: 15 inches (38 cm) – 48 inches (123 cm)
  • Type: Overshot Wheel (requires overhead flow)
  • Material: Wood (Pine)
  • Coasting: Non-toxic Soy Bean Resin
  • Bearings/Shaft: Included (13″ Shaft – 5/8″ Axle)
  • Support Frame:  Not Included
  • Flow Rate Requirements: 50-600 GPH approx (depending on diameter)

Best Pre-Built Water Wheel Kit

3) Amish-Made Gristmills Water Wheel Kit Review

For pond owners who dislike the thought of putting together their own framework and just want a great looking water feature! This second water wheel entry from Backyard Crafts is a pre-built and fully functional water wheel straight out of the box, coming with both the support frame and pump to get the wheels turning.

The water wheel is housed within a very pretty wooden frame made to resemble a traditional watermill. The wheel sits with it’s axle within the main house which extends to the top of the wheel and moves water from the top to bottom in an “overshot” design. Although the wheel is designed for exterior use, coming with it’s own water tray, it can still be placed on a shallow pond shelf or on an embankment next to the pond.

The windmill kit comes in two sizes; one with a 15 inch diameter wheel and the larger being a 30 inch diameter wheel. Both are hand-crafted with yellow pine wood and treated with a non-toxic fish safe soy bean resin. The bearings are also oil-free, so the wheel is 100% safe for fish, plants, and wildlife. Like other water wheels, the metal bearings will eventually fatigue and should be replaced every 2-3 years and should never be greased with harmful oil.

Although you’ll receive everything you need to get the water wheel functional, there is still some assembly required for the 30″ model which will require a drill with a square bit to put together screws into the watermill and bottom tray. A half-inch wrench is also needed to tighten the nut which is attached to the axle before operation. A small submersible pump is included for convenience and has been fitted to easily power the wheel by pumping water to a small outlet in the head of the watermill. The pump will require electricity to work (6″ length cable), so you would need to make sure you have a power outlet handy to get things running.

Overall, a great hassle-free water wheel kit crafted from high quality wood, non-toxic materials, and with the addition of a water pump ready for operation. Although you have less flexibility in terms of design, the water wheel is a good choice if you just want a fancy decoration without the added fuss of construction.

    • Diameter: 15 inches (38 cm) – 30 inches (76 cm)
    • Type: Overshot Wheel (pump included)
    • Material: Wood (Pine)
    • Coasting: Non-toxic Soy Bean Resin
    • Bearings/Shaft: Included (pre-built)
    • Support Frame:  Included (pre-built)
    • Flow Rate Requirements: 300-500 GPH approx (pump included)

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