What to ask contractors for mid-size pond project?


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Hi there. I'm new to this forum. My wife and I just moved near Mahopac NY for our retirement. I have been fishing for carp (catch and release) since I was a teenager (that's a long time ago!) and would love to have a mid-size pond in our yard, plus a waterfall. I know a good deal about carp, but I don't know much about pond design and I am not much of a handyman. We have the entire winter to plan for it, to try to do the right thing...

I'd like to have something fairly sizable, say 20 feet by 10 feet, 4 to 5 deep (hence 6000 to 7000 gallons), to have nice fish (a mix of kois and commons, maybe a grass carp or two) which can grow to 20 pounds or more. Our budget is roughly $50k for the pond itself, and then some extra landscaping $ to make it pretty around it. The little I've read about the Aquascape system tells me "run away from those guys" (and this great video reinforced my impression). I am not looking for a water garden of sorts, I'd like a real pond designed for healthy fish... Also, I'd rather not be locked in a cycle in repetitive costly maintenance (although I don't mind having some regular work to do myself).

IMG_2292.JPG

See above a picture of the area in front of the house, the idea is to have something which starts in front of the bow windows and then gets a bit wider, without getting too close to the trees. The ground goes up steeply towards the street (left side of the pic), making for an easy waterfall support. I was thinking to dig the ground by 2 or 3 feet, then have a small wall of bricks elevating the water level by 3 more feet, so that we can sit on the wall to watch or feed the fish (and hopefully avoid to hit big rocks when digging, the general area is very rocky).

I understand a few basics (what's a liner, pump, filter, skimmer), but really not much. I have a local contractor coming on Thursday. Any practical advice on how to proceed, what questions to ask, how to gain trust with the contractor, etc? Also, is one of you pond experts located within reasonable driving distance, by any chance, and be willing to chat?
 
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After doing some reading last night, I realized that what I want is a so-called "dedicated koi pond", hence not a "garden pond". So I just opened a similar thread on koiphen.com, which seems a better match.

Still, if anybody here has some thoughts about my question, please share!
 

brokensword

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After doing some reading last night, I realized that what I want is a so-called "dedicated koi pond", hence not a "garden pond". So I just opened a similar thread on koiphen.com, which seems a better match.

Still, if anybody here has some thoughts about my question, please share!

just realize; DKP have a LOT more cost and maintenance just because they tend to be open everywhere, i.e. no plants IN the pond, and LOTS of filter pieces. There's the basic difference. Otherwise, what they gots, we do too. For instance, I have 42 koi and over 100 goldfish in about 7K gallons. Would you not say I have a koi pond? Dedicated or not? And I don't have their setup. I have plants IN the pond and on the margin and in a bog filter (also a no no according to koiPHEN). BUT, I don't have the cost nor the continual mainenance of all their filter kit. Once the bog is in, it runs itself because it's natural.

Soooooo, IF YOU SHOULD RECONSIDER what type pond you want, this is the design ideas I'd incorp with any new pond per my own ideas/experience. Take and toss as you wish.

1. 4'-5' deep
2. one liner for pond AND bog
3. bog filtration at 30% of pond surface = bog surface
4. bog 3' deep with graduated round stone layers
5. waterfall on opposite side of pump(s)
6. multiple pumps for redundancy
7. float switch on all pumps
8. timer on hose (for any top offs/refills)
9. floaters IN pond
10. a place to actually sit RIGHT NEXT TO THE POND
11. shelves; 4" right at pond edge for 'hiding-liner-stones' ala addy's SUPER artistic drawing
12. shelves; 12" down for various pond plantings
13. a shallow area for different plantings/fry/tadpoles/turtle babies
14. plant creeping groundcover-like plants along some edges to naturalize any stone borders
15. a NET system to keep the herons and other preds outta your pond. NOTHING else works 100%.
16. if you have ground water issues, a release system to stop any 'hippos' from forming; search+see threads re this
17. learn how many fish/animals your pond can EASILY house and have them thrive
18. unless you have chlorine in your source water, NO CHEMS, not even for algae.
19. logs, large and small boulders, to naturalize the area including beyond the pond perimeter.
20. GFCI outlets scattered around your pond for easy access
21. wye and tee plumb pieces AT the pump to get multiple feeds for more options
22. if no waterfall, an aerator stone
23. learn the nitrogen cycle
24. liquid water test kits that include a KH test
25. liner should be EPDM with underlayment or HDRPE without underlayment; most other types will decay/rot/crack quickly
26. if using large boulders IN the pond, extra pieces of liner under them. Rocking your pond is an option, not a requirement.
27. a tie to the pump(s) to easily lift them out when cleaning (usually once a year)
28. KEEP PUMP(S) OFF the pond bottom by 12"
29. berm around the pond so any runoff does NOT get into pond
30. if concrete pond, have a professional do it or REALLT learn how it should be done as this type generally cracks over time.
31. A bottom drain is NOT a necessity
32. A UV light is NOT a necessity

Okies, think that's most of it. The basic idea is; dig a hole, line it, have bog filtration, don't skimp on plantings in and around pond, don't get too many fish, have some water movement, and enjoy. The above are just what came to mind; others may/will chime in.
 
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just realize; DKP have a LOT more cost and maintenance just because they tend to be open everywhere, i.e. no plants IN the pond, and LOTS of filter pieces. There's the basic difference. Otherwise, what they gots, we do too. For instance, I have 42 koi and over 100 goldfish in about 7K gallons. Would you not say I have a koi pond? Dedicated or not? And I don't have their setup. I have plants IN the pond and on the margin and in a bog filter (also a no no according to koiPHEN). BUT, I don't have the cost nor the continual mainenance of all their filter kit. Once the bog is in, it runs itself because it's natural.

Soooooo, IF YOU SHOULD RECONSIDER what type pond you want, this is the design ideas I'd incorp with any new pond per my own ideas/experience. Take and toss as you wish.

[...]

Hi there. Thanks a lot for the detailed feedback. I am not hung up on one design or another, although I have to say that the bottom drain / DKP kind of design matches my intuition much better. I will DEFINITELY stay open-minded while pondering the exact plan over the winter though, so your inputs are much appreciated and yes, I do need to read more about bogs.
 

brokensword

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A lot of 'expert' peeps over 'there' probably have the same 'intuition' and want to treat a pond as an aquarium, hence all the fancy filters and pristine containment, but they DO spend considerably more time and money initially and in maintenance, doing it. If you want low effort but all the same ends, do consider an eco-natural-pond. It isn't that I don't think their methods work, I just think it's closed-minded that they can't see our methods work just as well. And we didn't have to go 'man-made' to achieve it. I've had aquariums for over 50 years, so I understand but you know what? After having first tropicals and then saltwater setups, my current aquarium has NO mechanical store bought filter on it. I am actually using the 'bog' method, without the bog, on my saltwater tank; I use ONLY live rock and some UW plants. Nothing else. Now, mine is minimal as in no corals, no overpopulation, etc, but still? Know anyone doing that, and I have now for years. Fish are fine. And unlike a pond, I DO have to make water changes but mainly because of low fish count and an accumulation of debris in the coral sand on the bottom (which I could leave but figure it doesn't hurt to change out some water every 3 months or so).

Anyway, look at the various ponds here and you might see something that ISN'T a DKP that will be both less expensive and easier to maintain, just so you can enjoy it more. Some peeps just like getting into the gear--nothing wrong and I say more power to ya, but I like to spend my time tweaking NEW stuff, not keeping old stuff from going off the rails and creating NEW old stuff to fix!
 
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Welcome @JeromeM.


I realized that what I want is a so-called "dedicated koi pond", hence not a "garden pond".

This is the most important realization you can have, and it's good to have it before you get started. It really focuses you in on the design criteria for your pond. Koi pond and garden pond are not mutually exclusive as you'll see plenty of people here have very successful garden ponds with healthy koi.

That said, people preferring one or the other do tend to have differing mindsets. You can absolutely take the best ideas from both worlds. But since you are talking about having a contractor build your pond, I think you will find it best to choose a style (for you = DKP) and stick to it, as I believe most pond builders are set in their ways and will be resistant to mixing styles.
 
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addy1

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Welcome to the forum!

Just make sure you have a well drawn out contract. Drawings as to size and shape, equipment listed, etc etc before you start. And of course never pay in full up front. Have a time line. And what happens if it drags on and on.
 
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Number one question I would ask - give me a list of customers you've built ponds for. I'd want to talk to them. Contractors will tell you ANYTHING to get your business - check out "Ponds Gone Wrong" by the Pond Digger on YouTube if you want some examples of "professionals" who didn't have a clue. it's not landscaping, it's not even hardscaping - it's a craft that requires a great deal of skill and the ability to adapt as things develop along the way.

As for the DKP idea - that's a personal choice. My pond is an extension of my garden and I love the things I can grow in and around it, in addition to keeping fish. And seeing the trifecta - water, fish and plants - working together with almost zero effort on my part is like magic. A DKP requires regular upkeep, cleaning and maintenance of the filtration system - not something I was interested in getting involved in! LAZY GARDENER HERE!
 

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A DKP requires regular upkeep, cleaning and maintenance of the filtration system - not something I was interested in getting involved in! LAZY GARDENER HERE!
ME TOO! I am a lazy garderner, lazy pond keeper, with my garden type pond I turn it on in the spring and can ignore it all summer if I want to. I built mine with that mindset, KISS principle.
 

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first question have you done this before and ask for proof and referrals . never take the word of any contractor and get more than one estimaate if you can . stay true to the size apples for apples not apples to oranges . ask about permits and also as if they will have any underground utilities checked
 
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A lot of great points already stated.

I want to emphasize one of them which is probably the most basic and most important part of your pond. The liner.

Take the advice of @brokensword. Use either EPDM or HDRPE. The R references reinforced. This is preferred over plain HDPE.

Stay away from PVC liners. The prices are tempting, but you will regret it when it fails.
 
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Welcome.

I seem to be in the minority here and don't have a bog.

I have a pond with a bottom drain, skimmer, pressure filter and shower filter. That all runs on a single pump. There is also a decent sized air pump. All the equipment is outside the pond, and out of the weather, in the garage actually.

There is a leaf basket in the front of the pump that needs cleaning out periodically. Takes maybe 5 minutes.

Cleaning the pressure filter by backwashing it is very simple and takes probably 10, maybe 15 minutes a week. No need to even get my hands wet. The skimmer has a matala mat in it that gets hosed off once a week, also maybe 10 minutes. The shower filter has yet to need cleaning and it has been up and running for over 2 years now.

It takes longer to replace the pond water used in backwashing the filter than it does to clean everything.

The pond bottom doesn't normally need cleaning since the bottom drain takes care of that. I have had to vacuum it a few times if the fish have knocked over a pot of plants or some such. Otherwise it's not a problem.

But I also have plant shelves in my pond and cram them full of plants in the spring. And I put flowering plants along the sides of the waterfall and let them spread across the waterfall, sometimes completely covering parts of it by the end of the season.

So I have some mixture of pond types. I really like the combination of plants and fish and feel it makes a complete package. And I don't have koi, just goldfish and some orfes.

The pond is set up so that maintenance is very simple and convenient, and doesn't take much time.

What I'm trying to say is that you don't have to have one type of pond over another. You can have whatever you choose for your pond and your own enjoyment whatever the pond might be called.
 
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Thanks, Brokensword. I'm glad you can overlook that major shortcoming of mine and still allow me to stay here.

I suppose no one is perfect, but I suppose those of you with bogs are much closer than I am!
 

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Thanks, Brokensword. I'm glad you can overlook that major shortcoming of mine and still allow me to stay here.

I suppose no one is perfect, but I suppose those of you with bogs are much closer than I am!
I don't have a bog but I don't have good filters either. I'd have put a bog in if I had known about them years ago. I get nagged here a lot to make one and I may own a shovel but I don't want to become one w/it anymore for a job that big....................or I could just I'm lazy...............but hey my choice for either one right? :D
 
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Right. I'm very happy with my set up and don't want to change it. Since the pond is in a greenhouse in winter the pump runs year round and I don't have the spring start up problems that can happen.

I spend way, way more time on my plants than I ever have on cleaning filters.
 
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If it were me, I would contact Aquascape and get the name of a certified aquascape pond contractor in my area. They are all trained through the company, so there is a reasonable expectation that you would get someone who knew what they were doing. I believe they mostly do ecosystem ponds, though. That doesn't sound like what you are looking for. (Does anyone know if Aquascape does DKPs?) Even after getting some names, I agree with others that you should research the contractors and ask for names of clients willing to let you see their work. My neighbor had a wonderful landscaper build her concrete pond and although it is what she wanted aesthetically, she has had many problems with how it functions. He did a great job considering he had never done one before - but you really want someone with experience, knowledge, skill, and artistry. I can't wait to see your pond in progress!
 
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get more than one estimaate if you can.
Yes! I recently needed to get some electrical work done on the house -- about a days-worth of work for 2 guys. First estimate I got was for almost $4000, which I thought was way too high. But... the second estimate topped it at an unbelievable $5000!!! I ended up finding a local older guy who gave me a price of $1300 and did a fine job. It pays to do your homework.
 
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Aquascape builds only ecosystem ponds. Biggest pond builder in the world... they know what they're doing. And the build lots and lots of ponds that are home to beautiful, expensive koi (as well as lots of goldfish and pond mutts!). An ecosystem pond is perfectly suited to koi of all kinds and sizes. You can definitely build a pond that is for koi only, but it will also include rocks and gravel and plants, which DKP owners would for sure not include. I think of DKPs as swimming pools for fish.

The difference between the two types of ponds is where is your filtration happening? In an ecosystem pund, the majority happens within the pond itself - in the gravel, on the rocks, and the algae and the plants. (Most ecosystem ponds also have some type of mechanical filtration, but the biological filtration is all handled by the pond.) In a DKP all the filtration is happening outside of the pond, in whatever kind of filtration system (or systems) you choose to install.

Knowing which type of pond you're interested in is the first step. But understanding WHY you're choosing the pond you're choosing is equally important.
 
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