How to Choose a Pond Water Pump

When I started my pond building business in 1989, you either had a pond pump or you didn't, and you bought your pump at the plumbing supply house and made it work somehow. Usually it was swimming-pool blue, so you had to camouflage it somehow. It was hard covering up that bright blue. Or you used a swimming pool pump outside the pond with the accompanying sand filter and you hid the whole thing in a shed or behind a wall. Swimming-pool installers installed the pump and ran the lines, and it cost a bundle. You also had the choice of a sump pump that you folks with basements may already know about. They were put in a sump in the basement and kicked on when water leaked into the basement. My parents still have one.

It wasn't long before pump-making companies figured out that a whole new industry was coming into existence and started making specialty pumps just for ponds. The pump was submersible, black, had a long cord and you threw it in the water, plugged it in and it worked. Little Giant made a great pump and still does. So did Cal pump, Oase and Pondmaster, and they still do.

Hundreds of pond pumps are on the market today and offer the pondkeeper choices for every type of pond and every pocketbook. As with any tool, in order to figure out the pump you need, you must know what you want to do with it.

What about indoor pumps?
Pumps are measured in capacity and head. Capacity is expressed in gallons per hour, or GPH, and head is how far up the water can be pumped before the pump can push it no higher.

If you have a small tabletop fountain for indoor use, you need a tiny pump. One that pumps 30 gallons per hour or less will do what you need. It will recirculate the water through whatever fountain you have, use very little electricity and make a nice trickling sound. You have to take it out and clean it occasionally, just as you have to dust your mantle because it gets dirty the same way. Our houses are full of dust and it collects in the fountain just as it does on everything else.

Are outdoor pumps different?
If you have an outside fountain or small pond, you must learn something about head. If you have a three-tiered fountain that is higher than you are tall, you must have a pump that will pump that high. So if the top of your fountain is six feet off the ground, your pump will sit in the bottom of your fountain and push the water up six feet. It can't just stop there, so you have to find a pump that has a head of more than six feet. Since GPH will often determine the head, you now have to choose a pump using both GPH and head.

If you have an outdoor pond that is a natural pond filled with fish and plants and has a waterfall, more things come into play. You want your waterfall to be loud and dramatic, so you need a large pump. But if the pump is too large, it will suck in the fish and send them over the waterfall like you on the Magic Mountain ride at Disney World. But they don't come out whole on the other end.

You also must circulate at least half the water every hour to have optimum pond performance. So now we must look at GPH, head and electricity costs per year.

Today's pumps are powered as they have been for decades: with electricity. As pump technology has progressed, different pump-manufacturing techniques have extended pump life and lowered operating costs.

What is a mag drive pump?
Oase pumps, a favorite of mine since I started building ponds, offers regular direct-drive pumps powered by electricity. They also offer a magnetic drive pump. Before you get the wrong idea, you must still plug in the pump, but magnets run the impeller (like a propeller, but it sucks in water instead of pushing it out). When the pump is mag drive, the impeller is suspended in the pump and the only moving part is the impeller. That means there are no seals to wear out and therefore a much lower likelihood the pump will fail. Pondmaster also makes great mag drive pumps.

Mag drive pumps often sacrifice power and head, but great strides in that department have been made in the past few years.

A huge pond with a huge waterfall might be the only one that needs a direct-drive pump. These are much stronger, but much more expensive to run, although they are usually cheaper to buy. I have found a general rule to be the cheaper the purchase price, the more expensive the pump is to operate.

Electrical costs are a very important factor that you often don't think about when you buy a pump.

Estimated yearly energy costs
To figure out how much it will cost to run your pump, you'll need to know how much you pay for electricity and how many kilowatt hours the pump consumes each month. Additional factors include the head height, tubing diameter and how often you use the pump.

As a basis for comparison, use this formula:

Watts per day x 30 (days in the month) divided by 1,000 = Kilowatts x $ 0.10 per KWH (Kilowatt Hour) x 24 hours x 365 days.

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