Steps to Building a Great Pond

By Ron Boedeker

Determine the Type of Pond

First you need to decide what Type of pond you want. You can visit other ponds, search the internet or look through books and magazines for examples.

The typical choices are:

  • Water feature only
  • Plants only
  • Plants and a few small fish
  • Plants and Koi
  • Koi only
  • Very large koi

Next you need to decide on your Type of Pond Construction:

  • Preformed – fiberglass, Rubbermaid stock tanks or other materials
  • Liner - EPDM (a type of synthetic rubber), Rubber, PVC plastic or other flexible nontoxic material
  • Concrete, gunite or cement block, Sealed or unsealed

Then the style of pond:

  • Natural looking pond that blends with natural surroundings
  • Mixed ponds – a little bit of everything
  • Formal pond

Planning and Design

  1. Try to design your system so that you minimize the maintenance time and effort required to keep it running properly. Remember, weather has a major effect on how a pond functions. Sunlight, summer, winter, high winds, rain etc. can all affect the ponds operation.
  2. To get started, lay out the proposed location by driving stakes or using garden hose to mark the edges. Look at it and think about it for a few days, be sure to consider the surrounding landscaping before proceeding. Close to the house with a nice view from within the house is the most convenient.
  3. Once you’ve decided to proceed and you’re comfortable with the pond’s general location and size, you need to look at the legal stuff.
  4. Building permits and electrical permits are normally required. Security fences may also be required. There could be neighborhood covenants or zoning issues.
  5. Check with your homeowner's insurance to be sure you’re covered for liability issues.
  6. Be sure to check for underground utility lines and be aware of property easements.
  7. Once you’re satisfied with all of this; it’s time to get the design and details down on paper. You can use a computer program or pencil and paper, but it’s important to create good drawings and maintain a paper trail.
  8. Research, price and create a file on each component item including the physical pond structure, pumps, filters, bottom drains, UV lights, piping and electrical layout. Also, decide if you want to design in predator controls.
  9. Line draw the electrical system – decide on the number and location of outlet boxes. Be sure to account for water and air pumps, UV lights, decorations and other accessories, Extra outlets and two independent circuits to pumps will prove useful. Use only GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets near water.
  10. Line draw the piping and filter system, including the pipe sizes. Consider the location of bottom drains, skimmers, pumps, filters, isolation valves, waste discharge etc.
  11. Do not begin construction until you are comfortable with and understand each component in your system and how they affect each other.
  12. Do not begin construction until you have all the component parts for the systems on hand. They may not look like what you were planning for.Do not lose sight of the overall picture.
  13. After having completed the above planning steps, you should have all your parts, materials and tools on hand and a clear understanding of how everything will be assembled. If not, Stop and regroup.

Using a Contractor

  1. There are several different ways a contractor may be involved;
  2. For small ponds, the most common way is that you purchase a packaged pond and the contractor simply installs the packaged parts.
  3. For small or medium size ponds, you hire a contractor, give them a general idea of what you want, agree on a price and they build you something with water in it. It may be perfect, but most likely it won’t be.
  4. For medium or large ponds, you decide what you want. Then work with a contractor to design and build it. This is the best way, because you actually get what you want. It’s also the most expensive up front, but the cheapest in the long run as you don’t have to keep rebuilding it.
  5. When selecting a contractor, keep in mind that they cannot read your mind. It’s your responsibility to explain what you want.
  6. A good starting point is to have some pictures of ponds and the pond features you like. From there you both will have to work up more detailed drawings and a material list. The contractor cannot give you an accurate bid until they know exactly what you’re asking them to build.
  7. We strongly suggest that you get a detailed signed contract before starting any work. This will give you some legal leverage when the inevitable misunderstandings occur during construction. This contract should include all required permits, the specifications for the physical structure of the pond, the filtration, bottom drains, skimmers, electrical, equipment access to the pond, costs to remove the dirt, cleanup and restoration of the yard, when they will start the job and estimated completion date.
  8. Do not expect the contractor to do anything that’s not included in the written contract. When changes or additions are needed, they need to be written out, priced and signed by both parties.
  9. There are not very many fully licensed contractors with good pond building experience, especially for larger koi ponds. But there are good honest contractors out there that will work with you.
  10. Interview them carefully and ask for references. Be certain they have experience building the type of pond you want. (That’s why you need to have your pond ideas, pictures, drawings and/or specifications available). When you find a contractor with good references and one who takes the time to really understand what you want built, do not insult them by trying to cut their bid price. If the price is truly more than you are willing to pay, ask them work with you to redesign the pond to lower the cost. Keep in mind that they are working for a living and need to be paid adequately for their time.
  11. Get a detailed, signed contract before they touch anything or order any material for you.
  12. Be certain the contractor is licensed and bonded for work in your locality. Be certain the contractor’s employees and sub-contractors are licensed and bonded for work in your locality. Be sure they all have medical coverage for the work they are doing on your property.
  13. Do a background check on the contractor. Check with your local and state Better Business Bureaus, do an internet search or check other resources. If things don’t seem right, stop and find someone else. It gets really messy and expensive to have problems in the middle of a project.
  14. It’s always safest to have an attorney review your contract and the labor laws in case something goes wrong or someone is injured during the project.
  15. Along the same line, you should check with your homeowner’s insurance in case something goes wrong or someone is injured during the project.
  16. You can, and probably will, be held responsible for any injuries or damage that happens on your property.

Starting Construction

Most ponds in this area are in ground EPDM liner types and have a mix of fish and Plants, so this is the kind we will concentrate on.

  1. Dig the hole for the pond.
  2. Install any under pond piping such as bottom drains or surface skimmers that need to be installed in the bottom or sides of the pond.
  3. Finish grading the pond floor and sides.
  4. Provide slight taper or grade to bottom drains, bottom drains should be leveled and cemented in place with an 8” or larger cement ring around the edges.
  5. Remove any sharp rocks or roots that could damage the liner, add sifted dirt or sand to the bottom, dampen and compact dirt, especially around piping to provide a smooth solid bottom.
  6. Be sure that all gravity flow parts of the entire pond system are higher than the flood level of the pond.
  7. Cover the bottom and sides with non-biodegradable underlayment material to give the liner added protection.
  8. Carefully measure for the liner and allow at least 24 inches extra on each side.
  9. When you’re ready to install the liner, move it in to position near the edge of the pond. Lay the liner out on a tarp or clean surface to avoid having it pickup sharp rocks or any damaging material.
  10. Fold the liner into manageable sized accordion style folds.
  11. Double check that everything is out of the bottom of the pond (like tools etc.) and that everything is in position before proceeding.
  12. With plenty of help, grab the liner in several places and carefully move it across the hole. The accordion folds should release evenly. Once the liner is over the hole, check to be sure the liner is evenly centered on the hole. Then let the liner ease down to the pond bottom and reposition it as needed.
  13. Smooth out folds and corners while allowing some slack and be sure there is plenty of extra liner around the top edges. Do not trim the top edges until after the pond is filled with water, the weight of the water will pull the liner down more.
  14. After double checking the position of the liner, cut out small holes (not full size holes yet) for bottom drains and side skimmers. Be sure to leave a little slack between holes as the weight of the water will stretch the liner. Seal between the liner and the bottom drain and skimmer flanges. Then install the bottom drain and skimmer retaining rings and trim out the holes to full size. Allow enough time for sealant to cure properly before adding water.
  15. Be sure all of your under pond piping is isolated by a valve or is brought up above the flood level of the pond before filling the pond.
  16. Start filling the pond from a metered water source, so that you can tell exactly how much water the pond holds. As it fills, keep trying to work out the worst of the folds in the liner.
  17. After the pond is full, finish your top edges and trim off the excess liner.
  18. If you have not already done so, finish installing all pumps, filters and piping.
  19. Turn on all pumps and circulate water through all piping, filters, skimmers, UV lights etc.
  20. Check for leaks and that everything is circulating properly. Keep checking every few hours around the pond edges for soft wet spots or piping leaks. They can take a while to show up.
  21. The pond is now physically complete. Add a declorinator and allow the pond to circulate while the water temperature equalizes with the outdoor temperature before adding fish.

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