Beyond the Box

The Helix by Pond Digger
The Helix by Pond Digger

A look at today’s pond skimmers

The pond skimmer has served the water feature industry proudly for over 20 years. The workhorse of a traditional skimmer/filter system, the external pond skimmer is our first line of defense in our pond installations. While pumps and filtration systems have evolved considerably over the last 10-plus years, the pond skimmer has remained relatively unchanged — until recently.

Once regarded as not much more than “that black box where we put the pump,” skimmers were a necessary evil and often hard to work with. Many featured thin, plastic tops that were a safety hazard when stepped on, and the skimmers’ unattractive appearances necessitated creative steps to conceal them. Nets to collect leaves often tore or rotted and their frames rusted. Many failed to capture floating debris as required. Most of the original skimmers were lightweight boxes, and many installers and consumers alike dealt with collapsed or bowed-in sides from the weight of the earth around their skimmers. In using skimmers, installers faced many challenges and expressed various levels of dissatisfaction. No one really liked putting in a skimmer, but a pond without one faced greatly increased water quality issues.

Fortunately, over the last several years pond equipment manufacturers have responded to feedback from installation companies and have made significant strides in both the appearance and the effectiveness of their pond skimmers. Today, pond contractors enjoy a myriad of pond skimmer choices from more than a dozen manufacturers. New features abound and pros and consumers alike reap the benefits from these evolving systems.

Let’s take a look at some of the recent design changes that are impacting pond installations today.

Improvements
One of the first major improvements in pond skimmers was simply the use of better plastics and thicker walls. Jim Chubb, National Sales Manager for Atlantic Water Gardens, points toward their signature Big Bahama skimmer for an example.

“Rotomold construction has allowed for a more even consistency in the molding process,” Jim said. “Wall thicknesses have been increased and we are able to comfortably offer a lifetime warranty on the skimmer body.”

“Our new Oasis Series skimmer brings this same professional quality construction to the consumer,” Jim continued. “The Oasis skimmer is pro-quality and homeowner-friendly.” Jim also discussed the internal heavy-duty brush panel array on the Big Bahama line.

“Our unique brush panel filtration helps break down organics, is very durable and long-lasting, and can even maintain flow rates when full of debris,” he said.

EasyPro Pond Products has made some skimmer changes as well. The new EasyPro Axiom skimmers were also developed with thicker walls for increased durability. Owner Dave Ouwinga indicated that in addition to durability, the Axiom line of skimmers have other new installer-friendly features.

“EasyPro determined that many pumps failed in ponds simply from low water conditions,” Dave said. “The Axiom skimmer helps avoid this issue by being deeper and utilization of spin-welded outlets. These outlets are faster to install for the contractor and make a watertight compartment allowing for deeper water levels and better pump protection.”

The Axiom line also contains a simple yet adjustable overflow, allowing even higher levels of water if desired.
To avoid the warping or caving-in of the sides, many manufacturers have developed rounded backs or rounded skimmers over the last few years. Keith Steele, owner of Savio Engineering, pointed out many of the advantages of the Savio Skimmerfilter. “The patented round design is structurally superior to square skimmers,” Keith said. “Our Skimmerfilter round design evenly distributes the pressure of the earth around it, ensuring that no buckling or warping of the walls will occur.”

Another extremely convenient and useful feature of the Savio Skimmerfilter is the interchangeable faceplate. Using the same skimmer body, a contractor has the choice of three different faceplates (6”, 8.5” and 16”), allowing for flow rates up to 8,500 GPH. This Savio component system was designed to bring flexibility to the installer and help retailers offer the widest possible selection with a smaller number of products.

Newcomer

One of the most interesting new skimmers on the market comes not from a pond supply manufacturer but from one of the nation’s leading pond installers. Recently having won the 2012 POND Trade Product of the Year Award, the Helix Pond Skimmer is a singularly unique design. Eric Triplett, owner of The Pond Digger company and inventor of the Helix Pond Skimmer, used a combination of existing technologies from both the pond and the swimming pool industries. The resulting skimmer is a round-body skimmer with a large, 12-inch, water-level opening on top instead of a weir door. This skimmer becomes an extension of the pond itself, with fish able to safely swim in and out of the skimmer. According to Eric, “The Helix Pond Skimmer utilizes a floating basket skimmer which is safely mounted in a large, open-face skimmer.”

The Helix name comes from the pattern of water over the floating catch basket.

“Not only is this skimmer fish-friendly,” Eric said, “but it holds a huge amount of leaves and debris due to the helix flow pattern that stacks leaves against the walls of the debris basket.”

With tens of millions of pools utilizing this same type of floating skimmer, the system has decades of success behind it. As The Pond Digger puts it: “This is not the first floating pond skimmer – but it is the first externally mounted, fish-safe, high-capacity, high-flow skimmer available. And it’s made right here in the USA!”

At this time Eric offers these “made by contractors for contractors” skimmers to other installers through The Pond Digger company but has no plans to become a traditional pond equipment manufacturer.

The pond installer today has many options available that simply did not exist five or 10 years ago. Overall design of skimmers may have been slow in evolving, but thanks to companies like those above as well as others, we now enjoy many new innovations. Through these continued improvements in skimmer technology our installations become less challenging, our customers become even happier and our companies can remain profitable.

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