How to Make a Garden Fountain Out of, Well, Anything You Want

Picture of How to Make a Garden Fountain Out of, Well, Anything You Want
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)

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Step 1: Learn the anatomy and go to the store

Picture of 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.

Shopping List

1. Pump

Available 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 Pipe

to 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 Basin

such 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. Stones

or 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 Rocks

or 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.

8. Screen

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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dghmorris5 months ago
Do you need a special drill or drill bit ?

You will need the masonry bits shown in the photos, but an ordinary good drill should work: a hammer drill/driver would work better, of course.

SaykridEvul6 months ago

Sorry if it has been asked and answered already, but I was running short on time on computer usage, to continue searching through the comments. My question is this; can anyone direct me to where I can get stones like in the photos? I have been searching for them unsuccessfully for a while, any pointers? Thanks!

Any creek in Tennessee is full of them. Your geography / topography / geology may differ, of course ;^)

Rich28510 months ago

I have been looking at doing something like this but using solar power for electric. Could a solar powered pump be used?

Just don't expect it to work on the northern end of the house (in the shade -- for those above the equator -- or on the southern side of the house in the shade for those below the equator.)

GustavF1 Rich2855 months ago

Of course you can but first you have to find out how many watts you pumps needs, it probably uses about 5 watts and a solar cell that generates 5 whats would cost about 500 SEK or 70$. Also, if you want to use at the evening or at night you need a battery that is charged by the solar cell, a rechargeable 9V battery would be enough for most pumps in a small size. Otherwise you can just connect a car battery and then the you would be able to shoot water on your neighbors house, and destroy the pump. Hope this will help!

dick.silk19 days ago

Most critical step needs photos: construction of the ball valve. That's a lot of description with no visual representations. Otherwise, great job!

mommywoman7 months ago
I understood from a pond builder that mosquitos do not like moving water so they stay pretty far away. I have done this (using a pump of course) and haven't had any mosquito problems, so unless your pond is really huge, this method should work. I have been so impressed with this method working, I am thinking about making a small pond or fountain on my patio. Just a suggestion.
nj_hou10 months ago

Thank you a great presentation !

Where I live, Houston, is mosquito haven if you are not careful with any kind of water, do you think this might have that sort of problem? We need to be careful even to the point of not having saucers under patio plants. Thanks !

JaelynRae nj_hou10 months ago

You could also add a little pool chlorine to help keep any bacteria from growing in the water. Or a natural alternative if you don't mind the smell would be to add peppermint essential oil, which acts as a natural bug repellent (I personally cannot stand citronella or any citrus type smells).

Xanderone nj_hou10 months ago
I think that with theme screen in place and the water being an underground one (i.e no surface pond in the arrangement)then I'll suppose mosquitoes won't have the place to breed. By the way, I can't easily get access to a fountain pump, could I hack a motor car fuel pump as a pump for this project?
pfred2 Xanderone10 months ago

Water and gasoline are a lot different. People that make gasoline pumps know this, and choose the materials they make their pumps out of accordingly. You can give it a shot, but I imagine a fuel pump would rust up pretty quickly if you pumped water through it.

pfred2 nj_hou10 months ago

A mosquito will not lay eggs in disturbed water. A pump should disturb the water enough to deter mosquitoes too. I'd be surprised if your mosquito problem is as bad as mine. My mosquitoes think 100% DEET insect repellent is people seasoning! A mosquito will breed in a bottle cap if it finds water in it. There is plenty of stagnant water by me, but at least I never see mosquito larvae swimming in my garden pond. I have a little 12V solar pump going in it.

Xanderone nj_hou10 months ago
I think that with theme screen in place and the water being an underground one (i.e no surface pond in the arrangement)then I'll suppose mosquitoes won't have the place to breed. By the way, I can't easily get access to a fountain pump, could I hack a motor car fuel pump as a pump for this project?
regisd4 years ago

Question from the land of cold winters: how would one winterize this?  Does it have to be drained?  Should the pump get pulled?
how bout adding anti freeze to it or add a bottle of alcohol to the water  
Lord knows what sort of wildlife you'd attract by adding alcohol to the fountain. If it is a single malt I may even have to stop by!
Xanderone pfred210 months ago

Antifreeze will KILL animals that drink it. Don't do it.

I've had outdoor fountains in water garden ponds and they are a magnet for birds and don't want to put additives like this in the water or you will have some mighty sick wildlife on your hands. I've read that in some cases as long as you have the water running it will be ok, but what we always did was disconnect the fountain and leave the pump running in the pond, with a livestock floating tank heater to keep the pond just above freezing (we had fish). With something smaller like this, you may just want to get the water out of the tubing, and remove or cover the fountain if it will be affected by the freezing/thawing cycles. In the land of cold winters, sitting outdoors by a fountain wouldn't be that relaxing anyway...for that you need a fireplace!
My sister lives up in Michigan, she made a pond in her yard. I think it was only 2 to 2 1/2 feet deep, made a bridge to go across the middle of her pond. At a party she had, someone brought gold fish and put them in her pond. She never had or put a fountain pump in the pond. And never heated the water for the winter. Those goldfish survived and grew to be hugh fish, and the population grew. She did have a big mosquito farm going, by having stagnant water. The fish couldn't get them all... haha
Quizicat regisd10 months ago

You do need to take it down for the winter. It will freeze and crack up. You could also just pull the pump out and not drain the water basin. I have one and found it will freeze even if left running.

That question was 3 years old... but yeah, sometimes the pump will crack if you leave it out and sometimes they are ok just unplugged and left. Quebec winters, people probably need to bring the pump in!! :p

I suppose the freezing issue can be prevented if you add common salt (NaCl) to the water without interfering with pump functioning. But that might be a better option for a pump running off of 12volts battery. Having a salty water around a 240volts main is like courting the devil.
spylock10 months ago

I also wanted to say if you get some moss growing on it,it will add a lot to it.

spylock10 months ago

I like it,good job.

Frostbite85010 months ago

I really like your work. However, as an electrician I cannot stress enough that you need to be sure that the pump is protected by a GFI receptacle or circuit breaker. 120VAC will kill you quickly in an ungrounded system because you will become the ground if something gets chewed, cut or skinned.

ii_awesum4 years ago
You "can" add a toilet tank valve, actually that's a pretty good enhancement to keep pressure available and never run dry on hot summer days - a good opportunity to add or tie into an underground sprinkler system feed which would top up the fountain tank every evening while watering the gardens.  There is a low profile valve/float assembly that is available at Lowes and many plumbing departments elsewhere, and is only a couple of inches high compared to the normal rod/float claptrap design.  It has a dial control right on it for tank level adjustment too!|1&pl=1&currentURL=/pl__0__s?Ntk=i_products$rpp=15$Ntt=toilet%20valve$Ns=p_product_price|1$identifier=
a.steidl ii_awesum10 months ago

Good advice!

thebeatonpath10 months ago

I am so glad I ran across this today! I'm rebuilding my old fountain which lacked the screen (other instructions didn't include it and it was a mess, even with river stones). I'll be rebuilding it soon with these!

smcintyre210 months ago

I've made tons of these, and yes of course water evaporates, but it rains too... Algae will not grow in the container at all because it needs a strong light source... it's covered, so no algae... you do have to top it up just like a fish tank regularly... there's no reason for it to get full of mud... most of the space where anything would get in, is covered. Never add any chemicals to it!! animals drink it... even butterflies and birds... If a leaf diverts water.... well, just fill it back up and move the leaf... it's going to happen anyway... I'm sure no one really intended it to be a 100% set it and forget it project. mosquitoes like standing water, and won't breed in this. They choose damp soil to running water. If it freezes in the winter, just unplug the pump. If it doesn't quite freeze and you want to keep it running, get a submersible aquarium heater. Very easy fix. I've been doing this stuff for over 20 years... The fountains you end up with are worth the effort, if you really like water stuff! :)

Quizicat10 months ago

Two things to be aware of...if plants grow too close, the leaves can touch the water flow and divert it outside of the tank, also if the rocks and stuff you put at the bottom don't direct the flow of water back into the holding tank you will discover the water slowly but surely disappears.

neems10 months ago

IMO a rubbermaid container is not a good choice. I have made many of these and their sides are not meant to bear the pressure of the earth, they will eventually cave in. look for a container meant for garden ponds or a stock tank at a farm supply. they are thicker and withstand the weight better. a round container is very effective. I would also leave a little lip above grade to keep out runoff from the rain. I do like the look of the finished product. I did something similar using an old grecian looking vase and kept the tubing about 2 inches below the top created a nice bubbling effect.

titch22123611 months ago

great idea but can you turn it into a solar powered fountain instead of mains electricity as do not have an outside power outlet

antioch1 year ago
Looks like it's going to fill up with earth and dust easily and unless you dismantle it regularly for cleanign maintenance it the pump will get clogged with mud and/or algae.
Kiteman4 years ago
Being riddled with external links makes this feel spammy to me.
Everyone's invited to post on instructables, even TV shows and, yes, even companies. Personally, I'd prefer to see just enthusiastic people on here because it give a better community feeling and conscious.

But now that the rules are what they are, I think belongs here more than any concrete seller or equipment manufacturer.
And they have toned down a lot with the external links compared to their previous 'ibles.

But, yes, the list links at the end and the newsletter spam is lacking decency.
Same feeling plus the account name...........
bluechao2 years ago

What type of drill bit, drill size, and drill would I need to drill thru the rock? I think I'd need to borrow/rent something other than my Electric Drill with 3/8" chuck

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