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So there I was…..
Fresh out of Fisheries Biology School, all smart and sassy. I thought I had a good handle on things. Lo and behold, I did not (shocker, I know). I walked up to a fountain control panel thinking, “This shouldn’t be so hard, I’ll be outta here in no time. I see old people do this stuff all the time…..”.
**Special note: extra points to those who picked up on the electricity related pun in the last paragraph.**
This is what I saw:
Being a freshly minted Biologist, I did not know what the heck to do with this jumble of wires and assorted do-hickeys in this control panel. Long story short, after melting my screwdriver and being propelled several feet away by a shower of angry sparks, my introduction to 230 Volt power was underway….
Since then, I have gained a better understanding of the nuanced differences between our two most common forms of electrical power available to us as homeowners. The difference between the two voltages can make or break your pond project. Choosing wrong can lead to down time and repairs, or worse case, dangerous conditions in your electrical box (FIRE).
I need to point out that I am NOT an electrician, nor do I play one on TV…..but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night….so lets get cooking. (PLEASE CONSULT AN ACTUAL ELECTIRCIAN BEFORE INSTALLING OR WORKING WITH ELECTRICITY YOURSELVES!) In this article I am using 230V and 115V to describe household power options. For this discussion, I equate 110V to 115V and 220V to 230V for ease of understanding and my typing skills…or lack thereof.
All major fountain/aeration manufacturers offer both 115V and 230V systems. Choosing which voltage is best for your project comes down to a couple of parameters: What horsepower do you want and how long of a cord do you need.
Very succinctly, the bigger the horsepower of the motor, the larger the electrical draw.
Fountain manufacturers build 115V units as large as 1HP. These units are designed for use with normal residential power and, for the most part, run very adequately under most circumstances. (Do you sense a “but”, because there’s a “but” coming.) BUT, running a 1HP fountain on a 115V circuit can brush up against the very maximum amount of electrical draw that is possible for regular circuits found in homes. It would behoove you as a homeowner to double check the quality of your power before hooking up a 1hp, 115V fountain.
Cord Length and Gauge:
One can only shove so much electricity down a copper wire. Be sure to have the correct thickness (gauge) wire installed to power your fountain project… the thicker the better. Size matters, even though one of my personal heroes doesn’t think so.
Cord length is the other major factor that can drop your voltage and lead to cooked motors. Simply put, the farther the fountain is away from main power, the more likely it is that you will have voltage drop below nominal levels. Some manufacturers (Scott Aerator) plead with us everyday to make sure that their 1HP units do not have a total cord length over 100ft. The 1hp power units cannot be sustained on runs over that 100ft threshold. Other fountain companies (Kasco Marine and Bearon Aquatics) can operate with cord lengths quite a bit longer than 100ft. This is due to their lesser power draw; their motors pull less Amps than the Scott Aerator motors.
Amps? “What are Amps, and why are they important in this discussion?” you say. Well, once again your poignant question falls right in line with a groovy picture I’ve pulled from the internet.
The above picture illustrates how electricity flows through wires. Amps are the volume of power, volts are the pressure that power is under, and Ohms are the restriction or resistance put on total amps due to things like wire gauge diameter, switches, junctions/connections among many others.
My old physics professor liked to compare the flow of electricity to the flow of water. I, of course, hate that analogy. As a Freshwater Biologist I am indignant at the very thought of so crude a comparison. We water nerds will not be sullied by your need to be associated with a way cooler, damper field of study. Harrumph!
Alas, I will co-opt the analogy just this once. Don’t tell anybody…….
Water, like electricity, is similar in that you can only force so much water/electricity down a hose/wire at any one time. Larger hose = more water -- thicker gauge wire = more electricity
One must also consider the distance from the pond’s edge back to main power/breaker panel. You may only need 50ft of cable to get to the middle of your pond, but if the pond is 300 yards away from your breaker panel in your house, you may have power issues…. That 300 yards is a big challenge for a 115V motor of any size. If you plan to use a motor that pulls a lot of electricity (Amps), be sure you have the wire to handle the load.
This leads me to 230V power. If your pond is a long way from your power source/breaker panel, please consider converting to 230V. This higher voltage allows for much greater distances using much thinner wire by comparison to 115V power. This will save you money on the wire and give you peace of mind that your fountain will safely run for years without electrical issues. Other advantages to 230V motors are that they tend to last longer than 115V units and use a bit less electricity over the long term vs their 115V siblings. If you can convert to 230V power, I counsel you to do so.
The conversion to a 230V circuit can be easily done in your home breaker panel (assuming you have a room for it) by an electrician. The 2 pole, 230V breaker will then use your existing wire to send the juice out to the pond’s edge.
You can still have 115V power at the end of this line due to how 230V 3-wire power is set up. Where 115V, 3-wire has a hot (black), common (white), and ground (green) wires, 230V – 3-wire has 2 - hot wires (115V + 115V = 230V) and a ground wire. What that all means is that a competent electrician can use one of those hot wires to get you your 115V power wherever you need it while still maintaining 230V for your power unit. Once again, I am not an electrician… please consult one in your area to make sure this conversion meets with all safety and building codes.
Thank you for reading this way too brief article on choosing the correct voltage for your floating pond fountain. Please reach out to us here at Midwestponds with any questions. We will always take the time to get you the unit(s) that best suit your pond and your budget.