Pond and Stock Tank Heaters
For years now, I have been advising people against purchasing pond and stock tank heaters to keep a hole in the ice over the
winter.  Aeration is a vastly better choice, and there are several reasons why.
First and foremost, I have NEVER lost fish in ANY pond that was aerated over the winter.  The same cannot be said for ponds
utilizing heaters.
Secondly, when an aerator stops working, you can tell right away.  When a pond heater stops working, you don't find out until
it's encased in three inches of ice and by then it's too late.  (DO NOT be tempted to use a hammer to break a hole in the ice, as
the shock waves you create can seriously injure or even kill your fish.)
Thirdly, pond and stock tank heaters are designed to only kick on when the ambient water temperature reaches freezing, and
then they kick on with a vengeance, consuming huge amounts of electricity.  Running a pond heater to keep a hole in the ice is
like using a hair dryer when it comes to electrical consumption.  It's cheaper to run an aerator year-round than it is to run a
pond heater for one winter, and an aerator will be more benificial to your fish and pond environment in the long run.
Lastly, heaters of any kind have the ability to melt a hole in
your liner or anything else they come in contact with.
aeration just wasn't enough, so they added a stock tank
heater and placed it in their skimmer box to keep the water
around the pump from freezing.  A skimmer box is not
designed to house a heater, and part of the heater rested
on the skimmer net.  When the heater kicked on, it didn't
just melt the net, it set the whole skimmer box on fire. Of
course this all happened on a Sunday, when no one was
around.  Fortunately however, one of the maintenance guys
stopped by work and found the courtyard filled with billows
of black smoke.  The fire melted everything, the skimmer
box, the top of the pump and connections, the adjacent
electrical box, and even the liner down to the water level.   
Everything had to be replaced.
This could have been a lot worse though.  In the pictures,
you can see mulch, dried ornamental grasses and a tree very
close to the edge of the pond.  Had these caught on fire,
the whole courtyard could have gone up.
If you insist on using a pond or stock tank heater, read the
instructions and be advised.  They are not safe.  They are also not
reliable or efficient, but safety is paramount.
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