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

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About: The Emmy Award winning This Old House is television's premier home improvement series. The show that unlocked America's passion for home celebrates more than 30 years of home improvement on PBS. The televisi...

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.

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.



 



Step 2: Dig the Pump Hole

Using a pointed shovel, dig a pit 2 inches deeper than the basin and wide enough to fit it. Put the soil in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp to protect nearby turf. Dig a narrow, shallow trench between the pit and the nearest exterior outlet. (Helpful information: Digging Dos and Don'ts)

Step 3: Set the Basin and Conduit

Lay a 2-inch-thick bed of drainage gravel in the pit. Place the basin atop the gravel. If necessary, shift the gravel so the basin doesn’t rock.

Measure the distance from the outlet to the edge of the pit. Cut a section of PVC conduit to this length. Thread a string through the conduit and tape one end of it to the pump’s plug. Pull the plug through the conduit. Tape the plug securely to the end of the conduit so it doesn’t get pulled back in. Lay the conduit in the trench and backfill over it.

Step 4: Dry-fit the Parts

Center the pump in the basin. Lay the screen over the pit and mark it at the spot directly over the threaded outlet on the pump. Also mark the screen at the edge closest to the conduit.

Step 5: Mark an Opening

Using utility scissors, cut out a 1-inch-wide circle at the center mark. Then cut a three-sided flap at the conduit mark that is big enough to allow you to reach in and remove the pump for servicing

Step 6: Connect the Pipe and Pump

Using a pipe cutter, cut a 4-inch section off the end of the copper pipe. Unscrew the compression fittings on the ends of the ball valve. Slide a nut from the ball valve, then the brass ring, or ferrule, onto the long section of pipe. Insert the pipe into one end of the ball valve, then finger-tighten the nut over the ferrule onto the valve. Attach the short section of pipe to the other end of the valve in the same manner.

Screw the threaded end of the adapter onto the pump outlet. Take apart the compression end and slide the nut, then the ferrule, over the short section of pipe. Connect the pipe to the pump with the compression fitting. Using an adjustable wrench, tighten all three compression nuts an extra quarter-turn.

Pour a 2-inch layer of drainage gravel in the bottom of the basin. Lay the pump in the center of the basin with the pipe sticking up. Slide the screen over the pipe and arrange it so the access flap is near the conduit.

Step 7: Fit the Decking

Using a handsaw, cut sections of decking long enough to extend beyond the pit a few inches on either side. Lay the decking across the pit on top of the screen.

Step 8: Drill the Stones

Stack the stones to create an aesthetically pleasing arrangement. Number the underside of each stone in pencil to keep track of the order as you unstack them.

Lay a stone on soft ground or gravel. Using a hammer drill fitted with a 5⁄8-inch masonry bit, drill through the flat side of the stone. Repeat for all the stones.

Tip: Keep a bucket of water near the drill. Intermittently pour some on the stone to keep it wet—and the drill bits cool—as you work.

Step 9: Assemble the Fountain

Thread the stones over the copper pipe until they're stacked and balanced. Mark the pipe where the stones end. Remove the top stone and use a pipe cutter to cut the copper pipe 1/4 inch below the mark. Replace the stone.

Fill the bin from a garden hose, adding enough water to rise 5 inches above the pump. Open the ball valve, plug in the pump, turn it on, and check the flow. Adjust the pressure with the ball valve.

Step 10: Finish Up

Direct the water by spinning stacked stones. Wedge smaller stones into the gaps to keep the structure stable. To make the arrangement permanent, turn off the water and squeeze dabsof clear silicone adhesive between the stones. Allow the adhesive to dry before you turn on the fountain again. Once the fountain flows the way you'd like it to, close the screen and camouflage the base with small stones.

Tip: Check the basin's water level regularly—especially in a heat wave—and replenish it to keep the pump constantly submerged.

Other cool ideas:
More on Backyard Ponds
10 Ways to Add Privacy to Your Yard
Build a Fire Pit
Portable Patio Fire Pits

Step 11: Don't Stop Now! You're on a Roll! Pick Up Another Project From Thisoldhouse.com

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74 Discussions

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Mental8

Tip 8 months ago

I tried this project and the way it's designed, the water runs off the ends of the 2x2 wood decking and into the ground. The water lasted about 45 minutes then the pump went dry. Thankfully I was right there when it went dry. To solve the problem, I started over by removing the basin and wood decking, digging a larger diameter hole, then lined the hole with a pond lining material purchased from Home Depot. I then placed a concrete block in the middle of the hole and placed a screen on top of that. I cut a hole in the screen for the 1/2" tube and placed the pump/tube assembly into one of the holes in the block. I bought pond pebbles from Home Depot about four bags and placed them in the hole around the outside of the block up to the same level as the screen. I then purchased one bag of polished tiger rock from KRC Rock in San Marcos, CA, and placed them over the top of the pond pebbles. The hardest part here was drilling the holes in the rocks. I ended up purchasing a rotary hammer as it was way more effective than my existing hammer drill. (there is a difference) As I neared the bottom of each rock, a large circular chunk would pop out. That was ok for the larger rocks, but the smaller ones tended to break in half. so I resorted to using a different masonry bit and water for cooling. Here's some pics!

IMG_2232 (1).JPG
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DIY-with-MOON

1 year ago

this is so amazing project. I love it so much. Thank for all steps and sharing.

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ElvinV1

2 years ago

I just went walking along the beach and collected as many rockas I can. Came home selected the one that will be good forthis fountain and drilled holes through them to fit the tube..and it worked perfectly..

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HariKarier11 austinwebdesign

Reply 2 years ago

Some stones like sandstone and limestone are easier to do but they erode faster, granite is harder but they both can be done with a hammer drill and a carbide tipped bit, and the water helps to lubricate and keep the bit cool. It takes some experimenting just head to a creek or riverbed and pick some up. Remember to be considerate of private and public land and waters, especially National Parks, where you can't remove anything. One thing that is really easy to do is to attach a toilet tank valve to the reservoir and eliminate the babysitting. There are other valves available but for the cost and ease of installation you can't beat it. You still will have some maintenance to do, but with an automatic valve it makes life so much easier.

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SaykridEvul

4 years ago on Introduction

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!

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Denise571SaykridEvul

Reply 2 years ago

Take field trip! Use you imagination and collect LOTS of stones. This is my favorite hobby! I live in NE Alabama where the mountains provide treasures everywhere! FREE!

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dick.silkSaykridEvul

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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

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Denise571

2 years ago

I love this web site! the stack fountain should be easy enough. Looking forward to doing this in the spring. Got the perfect place! Thanks!

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SusanR2

3 years ago on Introduction

If u want to discourage mosquitoes, drop a teaspoon/tablespoon of plain old vegetable oil into the water - it disperses, leaving a thin film that smothers larvae/eggs of mosquitoes so they can't hatch, shouldn't affect any animals/birds - this is from our Health board on standing water. Also thanks for the info on solar pumps - was thinking of this, (2nd post - not sure what happened to 1st).

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Straw_Catdghmorris

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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.

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Rich285

4 years ago on Step 10

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

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dick.silkRich285

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

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.)

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GustavF1Rich285

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

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!

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dick.silk

3 years ago on Introduction

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

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mommywoman

4 years 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.

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nj_hou

4 years ago on Introduction

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 !