Homeowner’s Guide To Outdoor Fountains

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How to buy and install the type of outdoor fountain you really want.

Home improvement, with particular focus on outdoor spaces, has soared since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’ve considered adding a fountain to your front or back yard, you’re not alone.

“There’s definitely an uptick in fountain purchases,” says Karen Jurgensen, department manager for pottery with Gertens Garden Center in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. “Our 2020 to 2021 sales have doubled over previous years, and public interest is growing.”

Jurgensen says fountains are especially popular in arid regions from the West Coast to the middle of the country.

“Customers like water as well as the sight and sound of fountains and how they attract wildlife,” she says. “Fountains use less water than if the fountain area was all grass. And with COVID, people have been stuck at home more. A comforting fountain can help reduce stress.”

Types of Outdoor Fountains

Large garden centers have a seemingly endless variety of outdoor fountains. Here are eight of the most popular types:

  • Bird bath fountains keep water circulating, which attracts birds to your garden.
  • Cistern fountains catch water in containers and create reflective pools that may hold fish and plants.
  • DIY fountains are designed by you, starting with a waterproof container. “You can get creative with your favorite vase, some tubing and a pump to make your own,” says Jurgensen. Use solid materials that do not disintegrate. Loose particles can damage the water pump.
  • Floating fountains are placed on pools or ponds, often for special occasions.
  • Flowerbed fountains are installed above ground or in-ground in a flowerbed.
  • Outdoor wall fountains go along an external wall and add movement and sound to your outdoor living area.
  • Solar-powered fountains are energy-efficient and won’t add to your utility bills, but they need direct sunlight.
  • Spitter fountains often feature a sculpture with piping carrying water from a pond or pool to an opening that sprays a concentrated stream of water.

Buying an Outdoor Fountain

After you settle on the type of outdoor fountain you want, consider these factors when shopping:

Materials

You have eight choices:

    • Aluminum: Light, thin metal, easy to dent.
    • Bamboo: Lends tranquility to zen gardens.
    • Concrete: Common, durable, heavy.
    • Fiberglass: Can be molded into any shape, often more expensive than other materials.
    • Resin: Light, durable, natural look, affordable.
    • Slate: Natural colors, can be heavy.
    • Stainless steel: Durable, resistant to corrosion, easy to clean, more expensive than other materials.
    • Stone: Durable, heavy.

Sound

Outdoor fountain design impacts the sounds the flowing water makes. A soft, relaxing spray to one person may be an irritating buzz to another. So spend time listening to fountains before making a choice.

“A customer needed a fountain he could put near his bedroom window and make a sound that would help his wife sleep,” says Jurgensen. “So we turned off all fountains in the store except the one he liked, just to make sure it made the right sound.”

Art

Fountains are yard art. Like a sculpture or painting, choose what you like. And to each their own.

“We have a fountain that looks like a Mexican hat, and the water falls across the tiny plates of the hat, which sounds cool and looks great as the sun plays on it,” says Jurgensen. “A lot of thought goes into making such a fountain.”

Many companies make beautiful fountains, but she especially likes Massarelli’s, Campania International and Henri Studios.

Installing an Outdoor Fountain

Some outdoor fountains are plug and play, while others require additional work. There’s one universal rule: Install your fountain on a level surface of concrete or packed gravel.

Unless your fountain is enormous, you can install it yourself with basic tools and shims. “Not a lot of handyman knowledge is required for fountain installation,” says Jurgensen. Just keep the following things in mind:.

  • Size: Concrete fountains weigh 25 to 750 pounds or more. So if you’re transporting, installing and maintaining the fountain  — which, ideally includes moving it to a dry, sheltered place in winter — don’t go too big. “We had a customer who bought a big fountain and had to lift off its heavy top to get to the pump,” says Jurgensen. “In doing so, he smashed a finger.”
  • Sunlight: Find a location that’s out of the afternoon sun if possible, Jurgensen says. Too much sunlight accelerates algae growth, which can clog the pump and tubing.
  • Shelter: Try finding a sheltered spot for your fountain. “You don’t want a lot of sticks, grass, tree seeds, and whatnot blowing or falling into the fountain,” says Jurgensen. “That stuff plugs the pump and blocks the water column.” And that means more maintenance to keep the fountain running.