You tried sweating it out in the sauna, you can’t let go in a yoga pose, and om isn’t exactly hitting home. And no wonder—you’re working too hard at relaxing. What you need is a place to sit quietly and contemplate the sounds of nature: birds chirping, breezes blowing, brooks babbling. What—no backyard brook? Not a problem. Just build yourself the next best thing, with a softly trickling garden fountain.
The project is nothing to get stressed about. In a mere weekend, you can fountain-ize most any leftover garden ornament, turning it into an enduring monument to tranquillity. Revive a defunct birdbath, declare your own ode to a Grecian urn, or drill holes in a stack of rocks you found on-site, as This Old House technical editor Mark Powers did for a friend one hot afternoon. When the job is finished and your fountain runneth over, you’ll rinse the tension from your bones in calm, cascading rivulets. Relaxation never seemed so easy. (Photos by Kolin Smith)
Step 1: Learn the anatomy and go to the store
A fountain Is composed of three things: water, which flows up a pipe and trickles back down in a continuous cycle; a pump, which propels the water; and a piece of sculpture, over which the water flows. The sculpture can be built from any material that will withstand constant water. For the project shown here, we used large stones found on-site, but pavers, some metals, or pottery will all work (see our “Fountain Buying Guide”)
Regardless of the fountain material, the guts of the system remain the same. It starts with a waterproof tub or basin that lines a hole in the ground to make a reservoir for the water. Above that is a rigid mesh screen that blocks large debris from getting into the tub. The screen is topped with a support system made from a strong but water-resistant material, such as composite decking, to keep the body of the fountain from falling into the basin.
The submersible pump is the heart of the system. It sits below the water line in the basin, recirculating and fine-filtering the runoff from above. Since the pump is electric, the fountain needs to be within reach of an exterior outlet—pump cords rarely reach beyond 50 feet, and manufacturers discourage the use of extension cords. It also needs to be accessible for maintenance after the fountain is built, so you’ll need to cut a trap door in the screen that’s big enough for you to reach in, unhook the pump, and pull it out. (The screen and support decking can be camouflaged with small stones or even mulch.) The pipe that carries the water to the top of the sculpture screws onto the pump. It also includes a small ball valve that will allow you to adjust the fountain’s flow, giving you the option of creating anything from a calming trickle to a formidable geyser.
1. PumpAvailable at home or garden centers. Look for one labeled “submersible.” Pumps are rated in gallons per hour (gph), a measure of how much water they can handle and how high they can push it. Anything larger than 250 gph is overkill for a basic fountain with a ½-inch pipe. We used Pondmaster’s 250-gph model 2
2. ½-Inch Copper Pipeto carry the water from the pump to the top of the fountain. Buy a piece 2 feet longer than your fountain’s height.
3. Waterproof Basinsuch as a plastic storage bin, mason’s mortar-mixing bucket, or washtub, to hold the pump and collect the water. It should be 6 inches wider than the fountain base’s diameter and 1 foot taller than the pump so that it fits all the pipe connections while still keeping the pump submerged.
4. Stonesor other material to make the fountain body. Choose something that stacks easily; stones should have flat faces. The copper pipe will give some support, but the materials should stand well on their own.
5. Small Rocksor large aggregate, such as terra-cotta shards or tumbled glass, to cover the top of the pit. One 5-gallon bucketful should be enough.
6. ½-inch-by-½-inch Compression Female Adapter
to connect the pipe to the pump.
7. ½-inch Ball Valve
to regulate the water flow.
to protect the pump from debris. A fiberglass or aluminum window screen or grille, or anything that comes in a rigid frame, is best. Get one big enough to span the basin.
9. Composite Decking
such as Trex or TimberTech, to support the fountain.
10. Drainage Gravel
for in and under the catch basin. Get two 50-pound bags.
11. 1-inch PVC Conduit
to carry the pump’s power cord underground to the outlet.
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