This is one of the most frequent questions that we hear about poly units. All Ritchie fountains are frost free with the use of a heat system. We interpret frost free to mean energy free, which we then again translate to electric free. There is a misconception that because it is made of plastic it is electric free.
With correct installation, and assuming that the electricity is operating, the answer is no. If a Ritchie fountain is frozen, it is because something is defective, a poor installation, or the application is not correct. The most common cause of freezing is a heater that has burned out, or a thermostat that has failed. If it is a Thrifty King CT unit that is being used without heat, it can be a poor installation that is allowing cold air to get underneath the unit, incoming water that is below 42 degrees, or not meeting the minimum head requirements for using these units. A majority of the time when a unit is not working in cold weather, it is at the valve. The supply line touching the side of the riser tube, which causes the water to slush up and not go through the valve, usually causes this. This is seldom a problem and will not happen with correct installation.
Ground heat will not keep a livestock fountain from freezing, as many of our competitors would like people to believe. This was proven during the testing performed at Iowa State University to develop the thermal tube. We recommend Ritchie thermal tubes for all installations. Thermal tubes interrupt the frost line and create an airspace around the water line. The airspace around the water line actually gets some warmth from the water that is coming up through the water line. This airspace keeps the water line from freezing. At the frost line, the air temperature around the pipe is above freezing. As you move closer to the side of the thermal tube, the air will be gradually colder and will be freezing at the side of the thermal tube. That is why the water supply line should not touch the side of the thermal tube. With no water running through the pipe the air temperature inside the thermal tube will eventually be the same temperature as the ground outside the thermal tube. This is the same principle as a thermos of coffee. In most cases, all Ritchie fountains, except Thrifty King CT units used in a correct application, will require a heating system to prevent freezing.
Technically, an unheated fountain will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The amount of time that it will take to freeze depends on how well insulated the unit is, how much water is in it, and the beginning temperature of the water. Testing of a Thrifty King CT unit showed that at 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit with a 15 mile per hour wind, the water temperature inside the unit dropped ½ degree per hour. We recommend a minimum incoming water temperature of 42 degrees Fahrenheit for Thrifty King units. Under the conditions mentioned above (42 degree source), it would take 20 hours of non-use before the water inside would freeze. Open trough fountains will freeze much faster and must be heated in freezing environments.