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View Full Version : How do you winterize a fountain?


Melensdad
11-19-2005, 05:33 PM
I have a fountain that is essentially a 2' deep pit in the ground covered with rocks. The pump is at the bottom of the pit. The rocks are slabs of stone set on end to form a ring that prevents removal of the pump! I am worried the whole thing will freeze solid and destroy the pump, but I hope to avoid removing all the stone. Can the pump sit in the water that will ultimately freeze? Logic tells me no.

bczoom
11-19-2005, 05:59 PM
Can the pump sit in the water that will ultimately freeze? Logic tells me no.
The water around the pump can freeze but if the water in the pump freezes, you're logic is correct. Normally, when a pump freezes, the water around the impeller expands and cracks the impeller housing. Bye-bye to that part.

Since you can't get the pump out, here's a couple thoughts/options.

If there's a way you could winterize only the pump (instead of the whole fountain), it'll make the spring-time de-winterization easier.

Not familiar with your setup but things I'd consider:
1 - Wrap the pump with that heating strip used on mobile homes to keep the water pipes from freezing. (Edit - if you consider this one, make sure the heat strips are those that can be submersed in water).
2 - There's a conditioner/antifreeze stuff made for pressure washers. If you can get it into the pump (and it'll stay there), it may be an option.
3 - Drain everything out of the fountain and the pump. If there's no water in the pump, the cold "might" be OK since there's nothing to damage it. (Not sure about this option so it would be my last choice).

If you can't do any of the above, I'd add enough rubbing alcohol or something to keep it from freezing. I wouldn't use car antifreeze.

Melensdad
11-19-2005, 06:12 PM
Maybe these photos will help?

There is no way to drain the pit. And any snow or rain that falls will refill the pit if it dries out.

The fountain is in our new Japanese inspired garden area, it is also designed with the dogs & misquotoes in mind as there is no exposed water it does not become a drinking fountain for the pets nor does it become a breeding ground for flying/biting pests.

bczoom
11-19-2005, 07:20 PM
Nice fountain!

Looks like some sort of chemical is going to be your only choice.

johnday
11-19-2005, 07:38 PM
Bob; Where is the reservoir for the fountain? Would it be possible to get some RV antifreeze and displace the water with it? Might take a few gallons, but it's better than wasting the pump.:confused: :beer:

Is there a way to get most of the water out? Maybe put a hose or tubing on the discharge nozzle, and pump the water out. Then dump a few gallons of the antifreeze I mentioned, and circulate it for a bit.:tiphat:

Dargo
11-19-2005, 08:00 PM
I take the fountain out of my lake every winter, but I leave the fountain in my wife's landscaping running all year. Last year the ice was 9" thick on our lake and the fountain in the land scaping formed an ice dome over itself but continued to run under the ice no problem. That one week our temps were around zero or below. The landscaper who put in our fountain told us that as long as we kept the water moving that with the pump being a about 24" below ground level, it wouldn't freeze. I intend to let it run all winter this year again like the last two. You are a bit further north than me, so I don't know how many days in a row you get below zero. I think 8 or 9 days were what we had last year.

Melensdad
11-19-2005, 09:19 PM
John, under the rocks is giant size bucket, it holds about 15 or 20 gallons of water. Surrounding the fountain for about 4', just under the rock, is a waterproof membrane that funnels water back into the fountain so if wind blows the water past the perimeter of the basin, it drains back into it.

Brian, thanks I designed the fountain myself. It is based on one I saw but is modified for our needs. (at least most of our needs since I seem to have a little problem now that the weather is cold)

Dargo, I'm thinking we get too cold up here for too long of time spans to leave it running.

All, a question on the RV anti-freeze. Is it NON-toxic? Does it sink below the water or mix with the water, or is water heavier? Any snow or rain that falls will drain into the fountain so if the RV anti-freeze sinks, then it would be a great choice as it would stay at the bottom of the basin. But if it is lighter than water then it would eventually be pushed up and out by rain/snow and the water would freeze the pump and destroy it.

johnday
11-19-2005, 09:38 PM
Bob; The RV antifreeze is non-toxic. I don't think I'd drink it though unless it was all I had. But it won't hurt anything. If you could figure out a way to pump that water out beyond the membrane, and then cover the whole thing, membrane and everything, you could keepthe water out. I don't know what has the most specific gravity. But do know that a little water mixed the antifreeze wouldn't dilute it enough to allow freezing. Looks like you just gotta get that water out of there.:tiphat: :beer:

Junkman
11-20-2005, 12:45 AM
There is a local business that has a fountain in front of it here. The leave it on year round and last winter we had about 3 weeks of below freezing weather and it was still pumping. The non toxic anti freeze is heavier than water. Also, if you cover the fountain with a heavy tarp, that will keep some of the cold out of the area. This is one of those projects that you should have planned ahead before putting the first shovel in the ground..... :whistle:

v8dave
11-20-2005, 01:05 AM
The outlet spraying the water must be near the surface. A next size up hose over the outlet draining off the water, will allow you to use the pump to drain itself. If not use a wet/dry shop vacuum to catch all the spray and allow the pump to drain itself. Then put the anti-freeze in to dilute the remaining water. A tarp as previously suggested will help keep it from diluting out too much.

Although a wet/dry vacuum may be able to suck out all the water, negating the need for anti-freeze if you cover the area. A submerged pump won't be able to get rid of all the water, there will always be a little drain back.

ddrane2115
11-20-2005, 03:32 AM
Bob, can you get an aquarium heater in the hole that the water comes out of. they are long and slender, and it you get one for say a hundred gallon tank, that may keep the water from freezing.

johnday
11-20-2005, 09:11 AM
Bob; Really like that fountain myself.:a1: Gives me an idea of what I'd like to do upnorth. Could you give a blow by blow account of how you did it? I've got a couple ideas of my own to deal with the draining problem during construction, such as hooking up a hose or tubing on the discharge of the pump to pump it out. Looks like you used crushed limestone around it, what do you think of using pea-gravel instead? Got a good supply of that upnorth.:coolshade :boobies: :beer:

Melensdad
11-20-2005, 09:49 AM
Bob; Really like that fountain myself.:a1: Gives me an idea of what I'd like to do upnorth. Could you give a blow by blow account of how you did it?


As stated before, I designed it, but I didn't build it. I had a kid with a strong back and a study shovel do the digging and he set the stone. But this is how it was done:

The fountain is a very simple design. Dig a hole about 24" across by about 32" deep and set in a plastic pump basin. The basins are available for sale from places that sell fountian and pond supplies. It looks like a giant size bucket.

The hole must be a few inches deeper than the basin because you need to slope the ground around the basin so that any water that sprays up and is blown by the wind eventually drains back into the basin.

After the basin is set into the ground, and firmed into place, you take a piece of pond membrane and cut it into a circle about 6' in diameter. In the center of the circle you cut a circular hole about 16" in diameter (make the hole several inches smaller than the diameter of your basin so you can slit the hole and glue it to the top/sides of your basin to keep it secure).

Install the pump and the spray rose so that the rose is held slightly above ground level. Install a cap over the basin which has slots or holes in it, it is available at the pond/fountain supplier.

Go to your local stone yard and buy a bunch of flat stones in the color of your choice. In my case it is a flagstone with rust-brown veins but bluestone or any other flat stone could be used to suit your landscape design. You will have to break some of the stones into the desired shape. I helped set the stones the second time they were set because while I thought I explained what I wanted before going to work one morning when I got home I found something that did not have the look I wanted when I got home!

Standing the stones on edge create a ring around the fountain rose - make the center hole large enough to get the pump out for the winter!!! :eek: At least those are the instructions I gave the kid!

Surround the large stones with crushed stone, pea gravel, etc. The wire for the fountian runs under the stone to your power souce, I have a switched waterproof outlet on my wall so the power cord runs to my wall and is simply plugged into the outlet. A lightswitch controls the outlet, when we want the fountain on we just flip a switch.

I used stones that were roughly the shape of a triangle with the high point in the center of the fountain, but you could make the fountain in any design that would suit you. I think square stones would make for a great look too. You could reverse the stones I used to alter the look so that the lowest point of the stones was at the center and the stones high point was around the perimeter. The fountain is a bit over 2' tall and close to 4' in diameter. The fountain could be made larger or smaller to fit your space.

You can see that we have some flagstone used as a walkway around the fountain, this is necessare because just outside of the view of the photo are a couple of rough hewn limestone benches. The benches allow for a nice sitting area, although we never actually sit on them. The fountain & benches are about 30' away from our patio where we have comfortable chairs. We consider the benches more of a visual accessory than a practical seating area.

All of our landscaping is very informal with touches of formality added in for interest. This area is the exception to our overall landscaping and is rather formal compared to the rest of the property. We think the fountain works really well to break up the formality of the Japanese style stone garden area. It adds informality into formality. I think it works well for us.




I should also note that the fountain can run dry if winds are strong or you don't get enough rain. Water will be lost due to evaporation, the sun heats up the stones so you may find the need to add 5 gallons of water as often as every 3 or 4 days. We had a drought this summer so I was watering the new weeping cherry that you can see behind the fountain, the runoff kept the fountain full this year. But I suspect if anyone builds a fountain like this and it is exposed to wind and or full sun you'd want to have a hose close buy to refil the basin.

Doc
11-20-2005, 10:07 AM
I like the fountain also. Nice Bob!

What if you added a gallon or two of the RV antifreeze and then just let it run all winter.
Danny's idea also has some potential. But with either of those ideas I think you need to keep it running all winter.

Dargo
11-20-2005, 10:10 AM
I should also note that the fountain can run dry if winds are strong or you don't get enough rain. Water will be lost due to evaporation, the sun heats up the stones so you may find the need to add 5 gallons of water as often as every 3 or 4 days. We had a drought this summer so I was watering the new weeping cherry that you can see behind the fountain, the runoff kept the fountain full this year. But I suspect if anyone builds a fountain like this and it is exposed to wind and or full sun you'd want to have a hose close buy to refil the basin.

Very true; good point. My wife's fountain loses 10 gallons or more a day on hot summer days. :eek: I actually dug it up at first thinking I had a leak. :o I guess water splashing over hot rocks causes big time evaporation. Fortunately for me, with our setup, I can lose 100 gallons or so before I have to refill. We had a severe draught this spring and summer. I had to fill our landscape fountain weekly.

johnday
11-20-2005, 10:22 AM
Excellent!! Not much labor except for the digging. Wish you hadn't mentioned the lad with a sturdy shovel though. I was hoping to show this to Jan for more justification to get that hoe. LOL!!:whistle:

I've got a couple small clearings in the woods upnorth that this would work very well. We try to keep everything as natural as we can, but I would like a little more formal space there as well. Maybe with a gazebo or something. The area I've in mind is 30' diameter about, and in the midst of balsams, sorta secluded, but within 100' of the house. Just enough trees in the way so you can't see the house.:tiphat: :beer:

Melensdad
11-20-2005, 10:22 AM
I like the idea of the RV antifreeze but I think I'll end up taking part of the fountain apart so that I end up with a slightly enlarged center hole. That will allow me to pull the pump and that really is the correct answer to the problem, I think I was just avoiding it and looking for an easy solution.

We get cold snaps here, it is not uncommon to be below zero for several days at a time and below 10 degrees for a couple weeks. Combine that with evaporation issues and I think I've got to get the pump pulled . . . even if I don't want to.

Melensdad
11-20-2005, 10:33 AM
Excellent!! Not much labor except for the digging. Wish you hadn't mentioned the lad with a sturdy shovel though. I was hoping to show this to Jan for more justification to get that hoe. LOL!!:whistle:

I've got a couple small clearings in the woods upnorth that this would work very well. We try to keep everything as natural as we can, but I would like a little more formal space there as well. Maybe with a gazebo or something. The area I've in mind is 30' diameter about, and in the midst of balsams, sorta secluded, but within 100' of the house. Just enough trees in the way so you can't see the house.:tiphat: :beer:


John, no hoe work for this fountain mainly because it is right next to my gas and my electric service! As a matter of fact we hit the electic service with the shovel and moved the fountain over about 12". We knew it was there but didn't know the exact spot so the digging was s-l-o-w and careful.

In open spaces a small hoe would be the ticket. And a bigger fountain would be very dramatic. I'd love to do this again out by my shop, but with perhaps a 6' to 8' diameter and a 3' to 4' vertical stack of stones. The cost would go up dramatically as the stone size increased (unless you had access to plenty of free stone), but in the right spot it would be amazing to look at.

One thing you wil find if/when you build one, you can alter the look of the fountain to make it more/less formal by your stone selection and by the use of different gravel/crushed stone around it.

johnday
11-20-2005, 10:48 AM
Yeah, I'm thinking of using the field stones I pick up all the time up there for the center piece, if you will. And if I run out of my own, they're usually free from the farmers in the area. Then use pea gravel to fill and cover the rest. This is going to be added to my list of things to do up there. The backhoe is back in the planning stage now!:rofl1: :tiphat: :beer:

Junkman
11-20-2005, 12:51 PM
The aquarium heater, while a good suggestion, isn't a practical one. They require that they be submerged fully in water at all times. If the water level drops just a little, then the glass tube will crack. A 100 watt submersible heater costs about $25 and the glass is not replaceable. The glass is also quite thin, adding to the problem if it is in contact with rocks.

johnday
11-20-2005, 01:01 PM
Junk; But wait, they have heaters for watering troughs and dog dishes, and ponds, that keep them from freezing. Only problem is Bob really doesn't want to tear his fountain out. Maybe once he takes care of this problem, he could imbed one of those next to the pump in the bucket.:confused: :beer:

Junkman
11-20-2005, 04:13 PM
Those heaters don't use glass to contain the heating elements and they are also calibrated to a much lower temperature. The dog dish's come on just slightly above freezing and go off about 42 degrees. Aquarium heaters are usually set to go on anytime it senses temperature below 60 degrees and the top side is about 90 degrees. They also have a habit of going haywire when subjected to very low temperatures. I have dealt with lots of people that have cooked there tropical fish because they didn't know how to properly set them or though that they could keep an aquarium in a very cold room.

Melensdad
11-20-2005, 04:58 PM
Junk; But wait, they have heaters for watering troughs and dog dishes, and ponds, that keep them from freezing. Only problem is Bob really doesn't want to tear his fountain out. Maybe once he takes care of this problem, he could imbed one of those next to the pump in the bucket.:confused: :beer:


John, that may be the best solution so far. I would still have to take the rocks apart to get it in there, but I think I like that for a long term solution.

Melensdad
11-20-2005, 06:08 PM
Well the task is done for this winter. It only took about 2 minutes :D

I figured I would have to go through the process of taking the thing apart since the pump could not lift up through the center of the fountain . . . WRONG. And sometime it is good to be wrong! I was able to rotate backwards some of the largest stones, doing that gave me enough clearance to pull the pump up and out. There was enough slack on the cord to let me lay the pump across the top of the rocks so it would drain.

Good thing the large stones rotated back because it would have been an hour or two worth of a project to take it apart and stack them in sequence so I could get the same look next year. And since we built it twice this year so I could get that look, I was not looking forward to doing it again.

I need to cover the whole thing with a tarp but I don't have a small tarp so I will pick that up on my way home from work, cover the entire fountain and that should do it for the winter.

Next year I will probably add a 'dog bowl' heater as per John's suggestion.

ddrane2115
11-20-2005, 07:04 PM
thanks junk, the ones I used to have in my aquariums were not as you describe, but I had some big aquariums at one time. some of my heaters were over 100.00 each, and no glass.

johnday
11-20-2005, 07:36 PM
Hey Bob. I'd like a little more info about your fountain. How big is the pump you've got in gpm, and where did you get the rose or nozzle? Also, I assume the rose is screwed to a piece of pipe, how high is it mounted above the verticle rocks? Are there different types of roses? And finally, is there a rule of thumb to use as far as how high you would want the water to shoot up?:confused: :confused: :boobies: :beer:

Melensdad
11-20-2005, 09:45 PM
John I can't begin to answer most of your questions! The pump is a very small pump, it is designed for small fountains, most large garden centers that sell water garden supplies sell these things. It is literally the size of my two fists and not any bigger than that, but I have no clue what the GPM is. You can get many different spray patterns for a fountain, the fountain head is called a rose.

As far as the height of the rose? That is about 1" above ground level, which means it is about 2' below the top of the rocks. The water sprays up a total of about 4' above ground level, which means that the water sprays up about 2' over the top of the rocks. I wanted to make sure the rose was totally hidden and it is because it si buried deep in the center of the rocks.

johnday
11-20-2005, 09:59 PM
Thanks Bob; That gives me some more to go on. We have a nursery called Grass Roots here, that specializes in water gardening. Me thinks I'll check them out!:tiphat: :beer: :beer: