How to Heat a Koi Pond in Winter (Costs, Comparisons, and Benefits)
Recommended for: Heating small ponds (<500 gallons) and keeping an air hole open during winter.
Although not designed for heating ponds directly, de-icers can help raise the surrounding temperature of water in smaller ponds where the eco-system is more insulated. If you’re looking for cheap and effective method of providing oxygen to your koi over winter, you really can’t beat a high quality de-icer. They’re great in both large and small ponds, and will work to keep a constant air hole available in the surface ice for gas exchange to take place. In most cases, this is all you need for your fish to be safe and comfortable during hibernation and for beneficial bacteria to continue working efficiently.
In regards to heating capability, a de-icer should never be purchased just for water heating, but it can provide some heating as a by-product depending on your water volume. If you purchase a 400 watt de-icer and have a 500 gallon pond, you can expect almost no surface ice and the water temperature to rise by a good few degrees. Although a de-icer cannot maintain the entire pond at set temperature, as there won’t be enough flow through the heater element, it can certainly create a warmer section of water for your fish to swim around. In-fact, during winter you will likely notice koi and goldfish swimming close to the de-icer when water temperatures drop, as the surrounding temperature will be slightly warmer and more comfortable for them.
Care needs to be taken in very small ponds, such as preformed ponds, as the extra insulation and small environment can cause water temps to get too high! We don’t recommend de-icers in ponds below 200 gallons, and even in larger ponds, you should take note of daily water temperatures to ensure fish are safe.
Recommended for: Heating large Koi Ponds (1000+ gallons), breeding ponds, or show koi ponds.
This is the easiest and most common water heating system to install, and one that is capable of heating your entire pond and maintaining a set temperature. In-line electric heaters are systems fitted alongside your pond pipework, with water being heated and returned to your pond through a gravity-fed system. Often these are installed directly after your pond pump, with the pump working to push cold water into the heating chamber before it’s returned to the pond slightly warmer.
Depending on the ambient temperature of the water in your pond, you should allow a minimum of one kilowatt (1000 watts) for every 1,000 gallons of pond water. So if you’re wanting to maintain a higher temperature in a 3,000 gallon koi pond, you’d want to look for an in-line heater with an electrical power usage of 3kW for optimal water heating. If you’re installing the heater in winter where the water is already very cold, you may need a higher wattage to effectively raise the water temperature against the constant heat loss. Although great for larger ponds, such as breeders pools, they’re not designed for small ponds and should be used carefully in smaller environments to avoid overheating water and causing temperature spikes.
In terms of features, you’d want to make sure you choose a model with a digital thermostat for temperature control, and also a pressure switch which will turn off the heater when flow stops from the pump. An external pump with leaf-basket is always recommended for in-line heaters for easier maintenance and to stop debris clogging the heating element and causing damage.
Recommended for: Heating very large fish ponds (8,000+ gallons).
Although more expensive to purchase and install compared to electric in-line heaters, heating systems that make use of a heat exchanger are far more economical in terms of monthly running costs. Heating large volumes of water with an electric in-line heater will take a huge amount of electricity, whereas you can run a heat exchanger to provide similar heating potential, but at a fraction of the cost. They’re also capable of heating far larger volumes of water, with even low-end models operating at an electrical equivalent of 25kW of heating potential.
The heat exchanger itself, which is normally constructed from high-gauge stainless steel, is essentially a large radiator that is ed with heated water from a boiler, which can be either fuelled by gas, oil, or even electricity. Gas and oil are usually the most economical options, and although their heating efficiency is lower compared to electricity, the cost of running them is significantly less.
During operation using a boiler, pond water would be pumped through the heat exchanger and heated via conduction as it passes through the hot water elements inside, after which it would be returned to the pond system. In most cases, temperatures can be monitored with a floating probe which would be placed in the pond and connected to a digital thermostat that starts up the boiler system when temperatures drop too low. If your household boiler system is strong enough, you can even run a heat exchanger through your domesticated system to heat your pond, without the need of purchasing a new unit.
The downside of this type of heating is the amount of work required to install and set-up correctly; work which would require a qualified engineer if dealing with gas and oil. However, it is probably the most cost-effective long term heating solution for large ponds, and you’ll be able to save a lot of money off your monthly bill compared to in-line heaters.
Recommended for: Heating small-medium fish ponds (<5,000 gallons) in high-sun locations.
An interesting heating choice with the potential of zero-monthly running costs is solar powered water heaters. Most of these heaters are designed for warming pools in summer, but since you won’t want your pond quite that toasty, they can be used for ponds where you simply want a few degrees extra of warmth. The solar panels in these systems are usually designed to be fitted across your roof for maximum sun exposure, although they can simply be placed against a garden wall or raised pond embankment if the area gets plenty of sunlight. The panels will work to capture the days sunlight, convert this to electricity, which then heats water which passes through a solar heat-exchanger system from your pond pump and back into the pond.
The effectiveness of solar powered heaters would depend on how much you’re willing to spend on high quality panels, and the amount of sun exposure the panels will get in your location. Over winter, where many pond owners consider heating solutions, you’ll be getting much less sunlight so you’ll need a large amount of panels for raising water temperatures. We don’t recommend using solar heaters in summer as it’s difficult to control the temperature and the intense sunlight can quickly overheat ponds if you’re not careful.
If you’re looking for a heating solutions in the long-term, want maximum monthly savings, and only want to take the chill off your pond during the colder months, then solar water heaters may be a decent option. However, due to how difficult they are to install and how much space they require, we wouldn’t recommend them over electric in-line heaters or boiler heat exchangers, especially if you want to maintain stable temperatures in winter months.
Heating Koi Ponds – What are the Benefits & Costs?
Pond heating is starting to find it’s way into the wider koi hobby, with heating equipment becoming cheaper to purchase and more options being offered to everyday fish keepers. In the past, pond heating was something primarily carried out by specialist breeders at high expense, and although it can still be an expensive endeavour, it’s certainly becoming cheaper as technology becomes more efficient. In addition to this, since many koi are now imported from warmer temperate regions, they have never experienced the cold conditions that come with bitter northern winters. Heating a pond is a method for them to become more accustomed to their new environment without the temperate “shock” causing stress or sickness.
It should be noted, that when we say “heating a pond”, we mean a state in which a constant temperature is maintained; often around a minimum of 54-57c (12-14c). This distinction needs to be made as many commercial devices which are labelled as ‘heaters’, do not in-fact have the ability to maintain water temperatures, and instead work to deter surface ice from forming. Also called ‘de-icers‘, these small-scale floating heaters have their own benefits, but should not be purchased if your intentions are maintaining stable water temperatures in larger ponds.
To maintain water temperature, especially in larger outdoor ponds, you’d need a specialist heater designed for heating large volumes of water quickly to combat the constant heat loss occurring. These include things like in-line electric heaters, heat exchangers for boilers, and even solar heaters.
What are the benefits of heating a outdoor fish pond?
Heating pond water can have a range of benefits, but these benefits often come at high costs and many not be suitable for all types ponds. The major benefits of heating pond water is reducing “shock” when introducing new koi to colder waters, maintaining a more stable environment, being able to feed all-year, and keeping stronger colors and patterns. As you can imagine, these benefits are particularly useful for koi breeders or prized show koi, as maximizing all internal and external factors can play a part in overall koi health.
However, for the everyday koi hobbyist, heating water may be unnecessary, especially if your koi are already accustomed to colder water temperatures. The monthly cost to run heating equipment large-scale is high, and unless your koi are your business, simply running a de-icer for oxygenation over winter is usually enough to keep koi safe and happy.
With that said, water heating still has a place in the koi hobby, and you may decide to take the plunge and evaluate the results yourself. If you do, you’ll likely find maintaining water temperature is a great way to pack weight on your fish, as warmer temperatures will stop them hibernating so you can feed them all year round. This will keep them stronger against parasites, sickness, and ensure they don’t lose weight over the winter season. As well as this, maintaining a stable water temperature will help prevent dangerous fluctuations in water quality, and improve filtration as beneficial bacteria keep working even in cold weather.
What is the cost of heating a pond?
Probably the biggest question for a new koi keeper looking into heating solutions; just how much will heating my pond cost? Even though technology has come a long way in terms of efficiency, many common heaters are still expensive to run monthly, and the cost will be directly proportional to the volume of water in your pond system. For maintaining water temperature, you’d need to look for equipment capable of producing 1kW (1,000 watts) of heating potential for every 1,000 gallons (4,500 litres) of pond water. For example, to effectively maintain temperatures in a 5,000 gallon pond, you’d want an electric heater which provide roughly 5kW of electrical power.
As a final note, you’d need to also consider the fact that a larger pond will have much more natural heat loss occurring in comparison with a small pond. In particularly cold conditions, a 5,000 gallon pond may require more than 5kW of electrical power as the heat loss could be greater than your equipments heating potential. Likewise, a smaller pond is better at insulating heat, so sometimes a less powerful heater is safer for maintaining water temperatures and can help bring down costs. For very small ponds (<500 gallons), even a normal de-icer can be enough to warm the pond water as a by-product of keeping top ice away.
Heating a pond in winter – should you de-ice or heat up?
Both pond heaters are de-icers can be beneficial in winter, although they’re designed for very different purposes. A floating de-icer isn’t meant to heat pond water, and instead is made to keep a constant air hole open in the top ice for gas exchange to take place. This is important to both fish and bacteria over winter, as neither can survive without plenty of oxygen in the water. Without an opening in the ice, fish would slowly suffocate in the low oxygen conditions and aerobic (oxygen using) bacteria would cease to function, meaning biological filtration would suffer. Even though a powerful heater would also be able to keep ice away, a de-icer is FAR cheaper and a much easier solution for fish keepers who just want their fish to survive winters comfortably.
Pond heaters, on the other hand, are designed for year-round temperature control and can even prevent hibernation from taking place due to the warmer environment. Most everyday koi keepers won’t benefit much from this, although breeders and those with very expensive koi may prefer keeping higher stability and having a constant feeding routine in place. If a heater is strong enough to maintain water temperature through winter, ice should be prevented without the need of a de-icer, but unless you’re looking for other benefits alongside, simply going with a regular de-icer is more cost effective for most pond owners.
In other words, if you just want your fish to be comfortable and safe all winter, we recommend a high quality de-icer. If you want to keep a constant water temperature so you can feed all year, and perhaps improve water quality, a dedicated water heating solution may be a good investment.
Pond consultant and long-time hobbyist who enjoys writing in his spare time and sharing knowledge with other passionate pond owners.