FAQ about Design

Frequently Asked Questions about designing a pond

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Q: Where is the best location for a pond?
A:
The first thing to consider is where you would most enjoy it. Do you wan to be able to see your pond from inside your home? Do you want it to be next to your patio or deck? Secondly, what do you want to pond to look like. If you want blooming waterlilies and lotus you should choose a location with at least 6 hours of sun. Conversely if you are a Koi enthusiast then your site should be shady most of the time. Regardless, avoid building your pond next to trees as much as possible due to leaf litter drop and roots that may hamper excavating. If you want a waterfall choose a spot with some slope to create a natural look. Otherwise a level site will work best and always avoid low-lying slow draining areas. Avoid open windy spots especially if there will be a fountain or waterfall, since this will increase evaporation and potential loss of water. You should also consider proximity to water source (for topping off) and electrical source.

Q: How large and how deep should my pond be? =
A:
Generally you'll want to build your pond as large as space, budget, and maintenance allowance permit. Many pond owners end up wishing they had a larger pond to provide room for more lilies or fish. 50 square feet (a 5 x 10 rectangle, or 8 ft. diameter circle) would be a good starting point for consideration though ponds up to 200 sq. ft. are manageable, and even affordable for the do-it-yourselfer. A 50 sq. ft. pond can be built and stocked about $500 in materials. The standard (and best overall) depth for ponds in most areas of the U.S. is 18" to 24", this will provide optimal depths to grow most pond plants and will be deep enough for koi and goldfish to survive the winter . adding deeper areas (30-48") may be desired for protection of plants and/ or fish in extreme climates and/or for protecting fish from potential predators.

Q: What is the best way to build a pond (materials)?
A:
The best material for pond construction, all things considered are flexible rubber liners. The industry standard is E.P.D.M. 45 ml rubber. Features are low cost (lowest per sq. ft. of any other pond-building material); durability (at least twenty years); and ease of installation (very-do-it-yourself friendly), and flexibility in design. Another option is a rigid liner. Some high-quality fiberglass pond liners are self-supporting and a good choice for constructing an above-ground pond. Preformed plastic liners are less costly, but are less rigid and therefor best used for in-ground ponds. Drawbacks to preformed liners are extra cost per sq. ft, limited sizes and depths. Containers for ponds would fall into the rigid liner category. They are great for starting into the hobby, though they are limited in size. Concrete is the third viable option though this material definitely requires professional help. It is of course an extremely durable material, though by far the most costly material option. If correctly installed they last many years, even decades. If not properly installed concrete will crack due to freezing or settling and becomes impossible to repair permanently.

Q: How is the proper liner size determined?
A:
First determine the maximum length, width, and depth of the proposed pond. The maximum length and width are determined by placing the proposed shape into a square or rectangle frame. This may be accomplished "on paper" with a scale drawing or at the physical site. The length and width of this square/ rectangle represent the maximum length/ width measurements. The maximum depth is simply the very deepest point of the pond, regardless of any "shelves" or shallower areas. These shallower areas will not affect the liner size, only the deepest point measurement is needed. If the maximum depth is 18" (NOTE: 18 TO 24" is generally the recommended backyard pond depth), then add a minimum of 4 ft. to the length and width measurements to determine the minimal liner size required. This will allow a minimum of 6" to horizontally overlap at the upper edge. If this seems close for a first time pond builder, or if more liner is needed at the upper edge then simply add an additional 6" (total 1 ft.) to the length/ width measurements. I.e. The proposed pond is 8 ft. x 4 ft. x 18" deep, the liner must be 12 ft. x 8 ft. (minimum). If more liner is needed at the top edge then it must be 13 ft. x 9 ft. If a deeper pond is desired then add an extra 1 ft. to the length and width measurements for each 6" of additional depth. Now the 8' x 4 ' x 24" deep pond will need a 13' x 9' or 14' x 10' liner , minimum. Since flexible liners are sold in pre-cut sizes, in increments of 5 ft., it may be best to work "backwards" so-to-speak and determine the pond size based on the liner size that fits the budget for the project. Instead of adding the measurement to the excavation length/ width, simply deduct it from the liner size to determine the pond size...i.e.; a 10' x 15' liner can be used to create a 6' x 10' x 18" deep (or smaller) or 5' x 9' x 24" deep (or smaller), size pond, etc.

Q: Is the shape of the pond important?
A:
The pond's shape is not only important "visually", it is important "functionally" as well. The rule of thumb is to keep the shape "simple" and "open". Since the pond will be viewed from a low angle perspective you will want to keep the water's surface as visible as possible this way. Choose shapes that fit well into a "square" or "rectangle" as this will create a very "visible" shape that will have minimal liner waste. Avoid shapes with narrow points "coves", etc. as these areas are less visible and create "still water" areas that lack good water circulation Also avoid "L" or "T" shapes as placing the liner is very difficult into these shapes.

Q: Do I need a water source? Electricity?
A:
Having a water and electrical source near the pond is advisable. A well built pond will rarely need water, though "topping off" will be required during periods of low precipitation. Water will be handy for cleaning/ refilling as well. Plan to have the pond within reach of a normal garden hose (50 or 100 feet). Electrical power is not an absolute must for watergardening, but it is needed to move the water for a filter, fountain, waterfall, etc. A properly installed, GFIC equipped receptacle should be set within 5 ft of the pond to avoid having to use extension cords.

Q: Do I need a professional contractor?
A:
The short answer is "no". Surveys show that about 75-80% of pond owners built the pond themselves. Obviously everyone has their limits. To determine if you should contact a professional you should ask yourself two questions. One... can I do the "physical" work which is mainly the excavating and placing the edging rock? The liner itself may be heavy as well. Two... can my budget support the use of a professional as this certainly will increase the cost significantly?

Q: Will the pond require a pump?, a Filter?, a Skimmer?
A:
A basic, well-planted, well-maintained watergarden with minimal fish does not require any of these things. The truth is most pond owners want to "move" the water for a number of possible reasons and this requires a pump. Most pond owners are happier with the results of having a proper filter or filter system as this provides the ability to have more fish. So for these reasons a majority of backyard ponds have pumps and filters. Conversely most ponds are not equipped with automatic skimmers. Automatic skimmers are effective tools for ease of surface debris removal from the pond when properly installed. The main consideration regarding having a skimmer is the fact that they require attention. This may mean almost daily attention because an under-maintained skimmer can quickly lead to pump damage. Automatic skimmers should only be considered for ponds located under or near trees. A well designed koi pond should have all three of these items.

Q: Will the pond need a drain?, an Overflow?
A:
Generally drains are not recommended for backyard ponds, especially in homeowner installed ponds. Actual drains (hole in pond floor to remove water via gravity) can be professionally installed, but they are only needed for specific filtration applications in koi ponds. There are "intake drains" that can be installed without cutting the liner, though they require in-line (out-of-pond) pumps to work. Complete draining of a pond is required no more than once annually, so most pond owners simply pump the water out with the pond's pump or an additional one for this purpose. The overflow on most backyard ponds is nothing more than a "low point" at the top edge of the liner (pond material) created to allow water to escape from the pond's surface at the desired point on the pond perimeter. Overflows are ponds are rarely a concern since a properly built pond will not receive much runoff from the surrounding area. This means the only water that will "overflow" is the rain falling directly into it. If the pond is to be surrounded with a patio or walkway a small diameter overflow pipe will have to be installed to keep overflowing pond water off these areas.

Q: How much maintenance (time) is required?
A:
A properly planted, balanced water garden with a surface area of 150 square feet or less should take less than 30 minutes a week from March to October. Hardy plants will have to be divided and re-planted every 2 to 3 seasons and this will take about a 1/2 day. A backyard pond will need to drained and cleaned at least once every 3 seasons (no more than once annually) and this will normally require one full day in the spring. Maintenance will increase somewhat with addition of larger fish (Koi) and filtration systems that may require winterizing, etc.

Q: What about the plants and fish in the winter?
A:
Climates with no or minimal winter ice will have no concerns regarding overwintering fish or hardy plants. In climates with ice a "de-icer" is used to ensure winter survival of fish and hardy plants. Most de-icers simply "float" on the pond surface and work (automatically by thermostatic control) to keep an opening in the ice cover to allow the exchange of gases. See more on how de-icers work. Tropical plants will not survive overwinter where water temperatures drop below 55F. De-icers will not help since they do not actually heat the pond water. This means most tropical water plants will not survive outdoors north of the most southern parts of Florida, Texas, and California.

Q: What if I do not want plants or fish?
A:
Use a chemical product designed for use in swimming pools as an algaecide to keep algae from growing. Since these products are designed for use without plants or fish they tend to more effective algaecides than products made to be safe for plants and fish. Most pumps, filters and piping can tolerate normal use of these products, and it should not affect the pond once use is discontinued so future stocking of plants and fish is possible.

Q: Will the pond be okay if we vacation for a week or two?
A:
Absolutely. Pond fish, no matter how well fed, can go for weeks without food and suffer no harm. The only item in a typical pond that needs regular attention is the intake of the pump or pumps, especially automatic skimmers. Pumps should have a proper intake protective device that would assure a clear intake for extended periods. Skimmers should definitely be checked a few times weekly. A trusted neighbors observation is advisable for vacation time.

Q: Will the pond breed mosquitoes?
A:
Mosquitoes prefer to breed in still to stagnant shallow water. Most backyard ponds are too deep with too much water movement for an ideal mosquito environment. They certainly can breed in any pond though. The good news is that pond fish (koi, goldfish, or other types) relish the aquatic larvae and readily "gobble" them up. Any adult mosquitoes floating on the surface are targeted as well. This means a pond with any fish at all will be void of breeding mosquitoes. For pond owners who want a "fishless" pond there is an easy to use, safe product called "Mosquito Dunks".

Q: What costs are involved in building a pond or having one built professionally?
A:
This may vary greatly dependent on several factors, including your address (geographic location), the pond size, and site constraints, ie; stairs, narrow gates or other impediments. A majority of pond installations by Lilypons cost the home-owner $4,000 to $12,000. Most of this cost (50 to 80%) is labor. Lilypons operates mainly in a region of households with median incomes of $70,000 to $100,000.

Q: What is the cost of operating / maintaining a pond?
A:
The only true "operating" cost is the electrical power required for the pump, possibly a UV filter lamp, and/ or a de-icer in the winter. Power companies charge customers per KWH (kilowatt hours). Use the following formula to determine the approximate cost of operating an electrical pond device. Watts divided by 1,000 = KWH. Then do KWH x 24 (hours per day) x 30 (days per month) x cost of each KWH (per local power company). This will provide the monthly cost. FYI... The average cost per KWH in the Mid-Atlantic region in 2010 is around 15 cents. Using this formula the cost of operating a 1200 GPH pump is about $18.50 month or about $166 annually, assuming 9 months of operation. Normal maintenance on an average size pond should not take a homeowner more than 30 minutes weekly from April thru October. This is 2 hours monthly for 7 months or 14 hours. Add a day and half for cleaning and dividing plants (not necessarily annually) and this equals a total of 3-4 days annually. Home-owners will pay over $2,000 annually to have this work done by professionals. Many homeowners will do the routine weekly maintenance then pay to have the pond professionally cleaned. This service costs on average $500 to $600.

Q: Is it possible to have a pond or water feature indoors?
A:
Yes it is possible. The fact is though...it is rare. This means the most challenging aspect of planning an indoor pond may be finding professionals with experience specific to indoor construction and all the considerations that go with it. So the best advice would be to seek competent advice from an experienced professional before proceeding.

Q: How high should a fountain be?
A:
The maximum height of any fountain above the water's surface is determined by the "splash allowance". Since the water flowing from a fountain will "splash" outward as it returns to the pond surface the distance from the fountain to the pond's edge must be far enough to accommodate the splashing water. If not, water will constantly be lost from the pond or reservoir. Even small amount of splash will contribute to greater evaporation, etc. The formula for this is easy. The horizontal distance from the fountain structure to the pond edge must be at least the same distance as the overall height of the fountain. ie; If the pond is 8' at the widest point the fountain (set in the center) cannot exceed 4' in height. Conversely if you envision a 10' high fountain...a minimum 20' wide pond will be required.

Q: Will the pond attract animals?
A:
The answer is most likely yes. Lilypons has gotten reports over the years of visitors to ponds ranging from dragonflies to black bears. The introduction of water will certainly attract the attention of creatures of all types (including humans) from the surrounding area. The sound of moving water will add to the attractiveness. Mostly visiting animals are no problem or threat to you or the pond. Incidents of structural damage are rare. Many pond owners enjoy "wildlife" visits into yard without much regard. Certainty though by far the most common issue regarding animals and ponds is fish predation. Obviously a bird or other animal removing/ consuming "pet" fish is going to cause distress to many pond owners. Careful thought and planning are the best approach since ponds can be built to be as friendly (or unfriendly) to "wildlife" as one may like.

Q: Is a permit required?
A:
Generally speaking "no". It is however a good idea to check with local municipalities, home owner associations, etc. whenever doing any visible work/ construction to the home for any permitting that may be required since requirements vary. Most importantly if you are using a contractor be sure they are properly licensed, and insured to protect yourself. Another vital step is to insure there are no buried utility lines, pipes, etc where excavating is planned.

Q: Should I line the bottom of the pond with rocks?
A:
No. Ponds without any material covering the bottom or floor are much easier to maintain, "balance", clean and therefore enjoy than ponds with rock, gravel, or other materials covering the bottom (liner or lining material). No "bottom rocks" was always the practice with backyard ponds until the 1990's when the landscape and pond industry starting using a "new" methodology of pondbuilding that called for covering the bottom with a layer of rock. These builders praised these new techniques as superior to past practices based on a long list of reasons that seem to make sense. The truth is builders did become more savvy in creating beautiful ponds, but many were not prepared for the future maintenance of these ponds, and after a few seasons the organic debris "built-up" under the rock and decomposed anaerobically (without oxygen) which caused decreases in water quality and increase in "stringy" algae which are very hard to correct. Currently some pond builders continue to promote and use rocks in the bottom...but even the company that originated these ideas now considers the use of bottom rock "optional". There are fine, perfectly successful ponds with bottom rock and certainly they are the result of proper planning, construction, and maintenance usually by experienced professionals. The bottom line is Lilypons does not recommend it in any situation.

Q: How large/ deep should my pond be for Koi?
A:
Actually koi can be stocked and grown in nearly any size pond, and with proper filtration and care can survive and grow to their maximum normal size of 36" in length. Obviously this situation is less than ideal on many levels and certainly is not what a Koi enthusiast would want. So plan on a koi pond being a minimum of 100 sq. ft of surface area and an absolute minimum depth of 24". Ideally (just like any backyard pond)most of the overall depth should be 18 to 24". This will keep the fish closer to the surface for viewing. An ideal koi pond will also have a portion of the pond (20 to 30%) at a greater depth ...say 30 to 48". This allows the fish a retreat from hot/ cold temperatures, and predators, and allows for the fish to swim more vertically in the water which is good for them. Some koi ponds have a sizeable bog/plant filter directly adjacent to them and space must be considered for them.

Q: How do I determine the amount of rock needed for the edging?
A:
The best advice is to check directly with the supplier of the rock. Tell/show them your specific plans, measurements etc. and they should be able to guide you to amounts needed. Some suppliers even provide specific info/ formulas at no charge to determine amounts. Lilypons uses the formula for "drystacking" (no mortar) rock walls which is...length of wall (pond edge) x .07 for 1 foot high (minimum); or .13 for 18" high; or .19 for walls 2 ft. high, etc. This will the amount of rock in tons (2,000 lbs per ton). Divide this number by 1.5 to determine the number of pallets needed. Always round up when figuring. Most rock is sold by the pallet and there is about 1-1/2 tons on each pallet. Always remember to consider and inquire about delivery costs since hauling rock is impractical for most home owners.

Q: What type of rock is best?
A:
Nearly any type of rock sold in the landscape trade will work. Most of it is described as fieldstone or sandstone. The only type to specifically avoid is limestone as it may create a pH imbalance and greenwater that is difficult to correct. Avoid rocks with sharp edges and rock that seems to "flake off" fairly easily. Whenever possible visit the supplier to talk to them and directly view the rock.

Q: Is it possible to have a waterfall?
A:
Yes. The main consideration is "containing" the moving water so that water pumped to the crest of the "waterfall" returns completely to the pond. This sounds simple enough but water is notorious for "escaping" and creating water loss in the pond. Home owners must insure this is considered through the entire planning and particularly the construction process to avoid future woes. Check with contractors as well to ensure they have given this aspect careful consideration. The other consideration for waterfalls is that a natural incline or slope allows for a much more "natural-looking" looking waterfall. Level sites make this more difficult..

Q: What other materials are good for edging the pond?
A:
Certainly natural dry-stacked rock is the easiest edge for home-owners to build, but other material options are almost endless. Any type of patio materials, brick, flagstone, wood decking, etc. can be used based on taste. Low landscape plantings are a great inexpensive way to conceal the liner edge. Properly planned they can be effective and beautiful and work well combined with all the hardscape materials mentioned. Gravel "beaches" can be created for egress for critters. Try to visit or view several different ponds before deciding what you may like best..

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