Fountains seem to have an attractive power that makes us want to pause and enjoy the sights and sounds of moving water. The sound of splashing water helps with relaxation and gives a sense of serenity.
It used to be that you could only experience a fountain at a public display like a botanical garden or park. We’ve all seen movies featuring a large private estate complete with a massive water fountain.
The good news is you don’t have to own a large property to enjoy a fountain. You can have one in your own backyard. Even if you rent an apartment, there’s a fountain for you.
There is an almost infinite number of fountain options. It can be confusing. Plus, there’s the idea of mixing electric for the pump and water. In most cases water and electric don’t mix. But in the case of ornamental fountains there are a variety of pumps and accessories that are completely safe for use in and around water.
We’ll explain how to select the right fountain and how to install it safely. But first, let’s determine the type of fountain that is right for you.
How does water fountains work?
It’s important to understand the basics of ornamental fountains.
Most backyard fountains are set-up in a pond or large container like a whisky barrel to contain the water. The heart of the fountain is a submersible water pump. It’s obvious that the pump is designed to move water. But with fountains the pump’s job is to lift water up through the fountain head and spray it above the water surface.
Fountain heads are a type of specialty nozzle. Think about a garden hose nozzle. You can change the spray pattern by squeezing the handle. The pattern ranges from a fine mist to a hard stream of water.
Fountain heads work like the spray nozzle but are designed to create much more beautiful and artistic spray patterns. After the water is sprayed into the air, it must fall back into the pond or container to keep the fountain full of water. Some aeration fountains are designed strictly to send a high volume of water into the air.
The goal is to circulate the water in the pond and disturb the water surface, for maximum aeration. Aeration fountains help keep farm ponds healthy and clear by preventing the deeper water from becoming stagnant.
Types of fountain heads
A fountain is more than just a water pump. You must have a fountain head to create an attractive spray pattern above the water surface. There are many types of fountain heads, each creating a different spray pattern.
Patterns range from a low bubbly “foamy” form to a delicate “flower-like” spray. These tend to be gentle and not very splashy. Fountain heads that shoot a stream of water high into the air are designed to create a loud splashy sound.
Most of the DIY backyard fountain heads are made of plastic. Commercial fountain heads are usually made of metal like brass. That’s because commercial fountains often use large, high-pressure pumps. The pressure and flow rate would destroy a plastic fountain head. But for small water features plastic is durable and costs mush less than machined metal.
The fountain head must extend above the surface of the water to create the desired spray pattern. This is achieved by connecting an extension tube onto the pump outlet. The extension tube extends above the water surface and is where you attach the fountain head.
Ponds and water gardens
If you already have a pond or are thinking about installing one, most of the work is complete. Here’s why.
You’ve already got a pond to hold the water. Water gardens and goldfish ponds should be aerated to keep the water oxygenated. The splashing water will disturb the surface of the water. This increases the transfer of oxygen into the pond. This is especially important if you’re keeping goldfish and koi.
Most water gardeners go with a gentle water fountain. That’s because the aquatic plants don’t like to be “pummeled” by an aggressive, splashy stream of water.
If the fountain pump is the only form of aeration in a water garden, it should run at all times. Novice pond-keepers try to save a few pennies by turning the fountain off at night. Unfortunately, at night the oxygen level drops because the plants are not producing oxygen. On a warm summer night, the fish can suffocate if the fountain is turned off.
It’s best to leave the fountain running 24/7.
How to choose the right size fountain?
Most submersible pump manufacturers offer fountain kits that include everything you need. The kit will include a pump and matching fountain head.
Fountain heads are designed to handle a certain range of water flow, measured in gallons-per-hour or “GPH”.
If you were to install a low-flow head on a high-flow water pump, the flow rate would be choked, and a strange high-pressure spray pattern would shoot high into the air.
Likewise, using a high-flow head on a tiny pump results in a dribbling, disappointing display. That’s why it’s best to stick with a kit. You’ll be assured everything is compatible. Sizing the fountain kit is important.
Imagine using a fountain that shoots water twenty feet into the air, in a small backyard pond. Most of the falling water will never make it back to the pond, being pushed away by a slight breeze.
If you’ve got a small patio barrel all you’ll need is a 50 gallon per hour pump kit. But for larger ponds you’ll need to perform some simple calculations.
Understanding head height
All submersible water pumps provide the maximum flow rate in gallons per hour. The maximum flow rate can only be achieved when there is no back pressure on the pump. This means the maximum flow rate is measured with nothing connected to the pump. It’s the best-case scenario to obtain a high flow rate.
But the specification is meaningless for fountain applications. That’s because the higher a pump has to lift water above the water surface, the harder it is for the pump to work. This resistance to flow, based on height, is called head height.
A submersible pump with a 300 gallon per hour maximum flow rate may only produce 150 gallons per hour flow when it has to push the water 2-feet above the pond surface.
That’s why it’s important to check the pump specifications to see what the real-world flow rate will be in your fountain situation.
Reputable pump manufacturers provide a chart showing flow rate vs height on the box or online. You’ll see why pump head is especially important when matching a fountain head to a submersible water pump DIY project.
Matching the water pump to a fountain head
If you don’t want to purchase a fountain kit it’s possible to combine a fountain head with a submersible water pump on your own.
Higher-quality fountain heads list the diameter of the spray pattern or height of the spray based on using a specific water flow rate range. Use this range to determine the proper sized pump for this fountain head.
Here’s how to do it:
- Determine the recommended flow rate for the fountain head
- Calculate how many feet the top if the fountain head will extend above the water surface.
- Look at the flow rate of the submersible pump at this head height. If the flow rate is too low, choose a larger pump with the right flow rate.
If you use an over-sized water pump, it’s possible to divert excess flow through a submerged diverter valve. The valve allows you to regulate the flow and send excess water back into the pond. Some fountain kits come with a diverter valve for this purpose.
Installing the pump and fountain
At first it may seem like all you have to do is drop the pump and fountain head into the water and plug it in. In some cases, it will be this simple.
If you’ve got a deep pond there’s no reason you have to place the pump on the bottom of the pond. In fact, there’s a couple of benefits to raising the pump a little.
No matter how clean your pond is, it will eventually collect leaves, much and other debris on the bottom. This is not a big deal and can be cleaned out with a net. But when the water pump sits right on the bottom, the water intake can be clogged with debris. This will reduce or shut off the water flow to the fountain.
If your fish are depending on the fountain for aeration, this can be stressful to them, especially in hot weather when the oxygen-carrying capacity of the water is reduced.
Raising the pump above the “muck” reduces the chances of clogging. Another benefit is it’s easier to reach the pump when you do need to perform maintenance.
Sometimes the bottom of the pond isn’t level. The fountain head and extension won’t be completely vertical. It won’t look attractive and the water could actually spray out of the pond!
How to raise the pump level?
Years of pond building experience has shown that red clay brick can be stacked underwater and provide a stable base for a submersible pump, along with potted aquatic plants.
Concrete block, cinder block and dyed concrete pavers are not recommended for pond use. There is a possibility that the cement blocks raise the pH to an unsafe level.
Pond keepers do say that old block that has had six months or more exposure to rain are usually safe. The rain is supposed to flush out the alkaline substances that affect pH.
Red clay brick, however, can be used immediately. Flat landscaping stone, the kind used for rock walls, can also be stacked under the water. Smooth brick or stones won’t hurt the pond liner.
The main thing to remember is to make the stack stable and flat, so the water pump doesn’t vibrate off the platform.
As you build the platform, make it high enough so that your fountain head extends to the proper level above the water surface. You don’t want it to be too close to the water (no splash).
If the water pump is just below the water surface, it may begin to suck air as the spraying water agitates the water surface. The water level will drop as the water evaporates. The more agitation, the faster the evaporation.
Keep the pump 12 to 24 inches below the water surface. If you can’t go this deep, plan to add water to the pond frequently to keep the pump submerged.
Floating fountain pumps
Many fountain kits use a floating ring to keep the pump close to the surface of the water. This reduces the chances that the pump will clog. It eliminates the need to stack bricks or stones. It also makes it easy to get to the fountain for maintenance.
Some floating fountains even include lighting for a dramatic display at night.
Today’s submersible water pumps have all the electrical connections sealed in a block of epoxy. The epoxy prevents water from coming in contact with the live wires. This is especially important with 120- volt pumps. Smaller submersible pumps can run on 12-volt electricity or even by solar-power.
Many high-quality water pumps have the Underwriters Laboratory (UL), Canadian UL (ULC), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Intertek (ETL) certification, indicating they meet safety standards. Not all fountain pumps will have these certifications.
No matter what size water pump you use, electrical safety is important.
Pump manufacturers include safety instructions with the pump or fountain kit. Take time and review this information before plugging in your pump.
In general, as with all electrical devices, prevent the power plug and outlet from getting wet. This includes water spray from the fountain and rain. GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) outlets sense problems with the electrical device and circuit.
If you happen to touch a live wire, you’ll feel the current passing through your body. This is a ground fault and can be lethal. The same thing can happen if something goes wrong with the water pump while submerged in the pond.
But with a GFCI outlet a short or problem will signal the outlet to automatically shut off (interrupt) the electricity. It can be a real life-saver! Consult your local electrical codes or an electrician for more details.
It’s important to keep the pump intake free of algae, leaves and other clogging debris. Smaller fountain pumps use smaller intake screens. They’re often just a foam pad and will clog easily if the pond water is dirty.
If your pond is dirty or filled with algae, take steps to clean the pond and control algae to prevent frequent clogging. Larger, more powerful pumps are designed to let stringy algae and leaves to pass through. Their filter screens are intended only to stop sticks, fish and other large objects from entering the pump intake.
No matter what size fountain you’ve got, proper care is required to keep it pumping and working properly.
Most fountains and pumps need to be removed from the water before the water freezes in winter. Water expands as it freezes and can crack pump housings and fountains.
Even if you live in a warm climate, it’s a good idea to periodically disassemble the fountain and clean the fountain pump and head. Sometimes debris like algae and organic matter will start to clog the tiny ports in the head. Consult the owner’s manual for instructions on servicing the fountain and pump.
Recommended Pond Fountain Kits Reviews
1. Pond Boss Floating Fountain with Lights
The pond boss 1/4 HP Floating Fountain with Lights aerates the water with a beautiful fountain and illuminates the fountain at night.
The pump is encased with a study floating platform.
This kit comes with three fountain heads (trumpet, single tier, and 3-tier).
The dusk to dawn sensor automatically illuminates the 3 LED lights at night.
The 50′ power cord and the 150′ mooring line allows for flexible placement in a large body of water. This fountain kit is rated for ponds up to ¼ acre.
A ½ HP fountain kit, rated for ponds up to ½ acre is also available.
- The pump floats, reducing the chances of clogging.
- 3-year warranty.
- ETL safety certification.
- Combines a fountain and LED lighting.
- Comes with mooring line.
- Requires two electrical outlets.
2. Patriot Pond Floating fountain with lights
The Patriot Pond floating fountain kit comes with a submersible pump that attaches to the floating fountain head.
The parent company, Half-Off Ponds, is located in the US with in-house customer support.
The fountain head has a built-in 48-LED light array. The LED colors create an automated light show using red, blue and green LEDs.
The fountain kit comes with two 30-foot power cords for the pump and light. The fountain sprays approximately 40 inches into the air with a diameter of about 30 inches in diameter.
- Made for medium-sized ponds.
- Easy installation.
- Automated light show.
- Small pre-filter clogs easily.
- 1-year warranty.
- No safety certification.
- LED lights operate at all times.
3. Kasco ¾ HP VFX floating fountain
Based in Prescott WI, Kasco Marine is a family-owned manufacturer supplying pumps and fountains for over 50 years.
The Kasco VFX floating fountain produces a unique V-shaped spray pattern designed to maximize aeration.
Water sprays almost 6 feet into the air. The falling water reaches about 21 feet in diameter.
The Kasco VFX fountain uses a custom water deflector and pump screen that protects against clogging. A larger 4400 VFX 1 HP fountain is also available, providing 8 feet of height and 26 feet of return splash.
- Heavy-duty construction.
- US-based manufacturer.
- UL, CSA and CE certification.
- High-quality power cord.
- Made for large ponds and lakes.
4. Scott Aerator Display Pond Fountain
Scott Aerator is a US company located in Michigan. Their fountains are designed and manufactured in the US.
Their Display line of fountains is designed to maximize splash and water movement with the goal of aerating pond water.
This aerator moves 400 gallons of water per minute in a cascading, trumpet-shaped spray pattern, approximately 6½ feet tall by 22 feet wide.
The stainless steel, oil-free submersible motor can be left in the pond all winter long.
It comes with a 70-foot submersible, 12-gauge power cable.
- 5-year warranty.
- Made in the USA.
- High-quality workmanship.
- Optional light kit is available.
5. Viajero solar fountain
This small solar-powered fountain is designed to float in a small pond or even a swimming pool.
The float has integrated solar panels that change a battery.
The kit comes with four different plastic fountain heads. The water sprays up to about 20 inches.
There are no power cords to plug in.
The pump will automatically turn off if it gets clogged or no water is present.
- No electrical outlet needed.
- Good for bird baths and small ornamental displays.
- Not designed to aerate pond water.
- Must have sunlight to operate.
- 1-year warranty.
6. Custom Pro FT3500
The Custom Pro Floating Fountain Kit is designed for medium to large ponds.
With a powerful 3500 GPH pump, the kit will provide a tall, impressive fountain.
The fountain kit includes three fountain choices; Gusher (16-18’ tall), Skinny trumpet (10-12’ tall), V display (4-6’ tall) and Multi-tier (4-6’ tall).
The float includes a cage that acts as a pre-filter. The kit comes with a 100-foot power cord. The FT6000 kit contains a more powerful pump and multiple fountain heads.
- Creates a variety of fountain shapes.
- Fountain height ranges from 4-16 feet.
- Lifetime warranty on the float.
- Comes with four fountain heads.
- One-year pump warranty.
Solar-powered fountains seem like a good idea but their usefulness is limited to bird baths and tiny water gardens. They’re fun, small and easy to set-up and put away when finished. The Viajero solar fountain is perfect for these non-demanding applications.
But if want a serious fountain with a tall spray and lots of splash, you’re going to need some pump horsepower. You’ll notice that there are fountain kits designed mainly for ornamental appeal in a back-yard setting and heavy-duty aerating fountains intended for large farm ponds and lakes.
If your application is ornamental, the Pond Boss floating fountain will provide the splash your looking for plus beautiful lighting at night.
If the goal is to circulate a lot of water, aerate and keep goldfish or koi alive, the Kasco VFX line of fountains deserve a close look.
If you have questions or comments, please post them below!