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Are Outdoor Water Fountains Worth It?

As part of our massive ongoing home reno project we’re currently landscaping our garden. My wife would love a water fountain, but I’m not too sure. Are they even worth the trouble?

Water fountains can provide an attractive addition to any backyard, and many quality models are not expensive. They reuse the same water so waste is minimal, and a water fountain pump should last 3-5 years with minimal cleaning every 1-3 months.

Let’s dive down into the subject of water fountains in more detail, and discover everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how they work, where to put them, how to build them – and how to clean and maintain them…

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How Do Outside Water Fountains Work?

An outdoor fountain has two basic needs: a source of water, and a means to power it. 

Most outdoor fountains work by circulating the water using a pump. The water runs, cascades, trickles, or splashes downwards, where it’s collected and pumped back up again. This pumping action requires energy, either in the form of hardwiring or solar power.

Where does the water come from? In most cases, you can simply fill the fountain from the garden faucet and hosepipe. Some larger, more complex designs need a source of water.

What Types of Outdoor Water Fountains Are There?

Since water features became popular a few years ago, there’s now a fantastic array of water features to choose from. At one end of the design spectrum there’s the classical stone style (think European Renaissance garden), and at the other, modern metallic orbs that the water trickles over.

Water fountains can be made from stone, concrete, resin, or metals such as bronze. They can be designed to weather or to always look sharp and new. 

Fountains also come in a range of sizes, meaning there’s one to fit even the smallest patio. A compact fountain can look charming nestled among the shrubs in a flower bed, or you can go full Vegas, with an LED light display and dancing plumes of water (check with the neighbors first…).

One of the main reasons we love outdoor water features is the calm and tranquil sound they make. A bubbling fountain introduces a gentle, brook-like sound to your garden, while a pouring fountain (picture those types where water runs between urns or bowls) makes a louder sound. 

Think about what you’d like and what you want to live with:  A “rain” style cascade is pleasant for a while, but would you want it all day? And let’s be honest, if the sound of falling water makes you need the bathroom, think about this carefully, and perhaps go for a quiet, “running” design.

Take a look at these different fountain designs for inspiration.

Can You Get Solar Powered Outdoor Water Fountains?

Yes, you can get solar-powered fountains, and they’re a popular choice. You don’t need to worry about electricians or permits as there’s no hardwiring, and once installed, there’s no electrical running costs.

The downsides: the typical fountain solar panel doesn’t store energy, so it will work only when the sun’s out. So, no night time display. It also means that you have to think carefully where you can site the panel and fountain, as it requires full sun to operate. The fountain itself can be in the shade, provided you have a long cable.

Having said that, if you want your fountain to be a distance from the house and any hardwired power sources, a solar-powered fountain gives you this option.

Can You Get Non-Electric Outdoor Fountains?

Some outdoor fountains need wiring up to an electric supply; however, as an alternative to this, you can choose to have a solar-powered fountain.

These non-electric fountains are a flexible choice: you don’t need to place them near a power source, and in the case of smaller fountains, you can easily re-site them. You also don’t have the effort of hiring in a professional to install the hardwiring.

However… You do need the sun, so if your yard is shady or you live in a state without much sunshine, you might not have that lovely flow of water as much as you’d like. If you want your fountain to work at night, you’ll need to choose an electric option.

Are Water Fountains a Waste of Water?

Most water fountains are not a waste of water, because they’re constantly recirculating the same water. Take one of those old-style statue fountains (like a nymph with an urn, that kind of thing). You’ll need about five gallons of water for the initial fill then the pump will keep circulating that same water.

Even so, a bit of water will be lost through evaporation and possibly splashing. A small top-up once or twice a week should take care of that. To put water use in context, a modern toilet flush used 1.6 gallons of water. Obviously, this all depends on the size and style of your water feature.

How Do I Fill an Outdoor Water Fountain?

This is really simple: you fill the outdoor water fountain with a hose pipe or using a bucket if you don’t have a hose. If you’re adding a water fountain to an existing pond, you don’t even have to do this!

Some people do use distilled water to fill their fountain, as it’s less likely to develop white scale (which comes from the minerals in tap water). However, there’s a cost-benefit element to this, and regular cleaning can prevent a white scale build-up in your fountain.

Should You Leave Your Outdoor Fountain on All the Time? (Even at Night?)

There are two schools of thought on this: yes and no! Technically, a water fountain is designed to run all the time, so you can leave it switched on day and night, switching it off only for maintenance and for winterizing.

However, if you have a solar-powered fountain with no battery backup, it’s going to switch itself off every night anyway! We’d also add that while the sound of trickling water is relaxing during the day, you may not want to fall asleep to it every night…

Do Water Fountains Use a Lot of Electricity? (How Much Do They Cost to Run?)

How much electricity a hardwired fountain uses depends on its size and how powerful the pump is. A very small fountain can use as little as 15 watts per day, while something more architectural can need a massive 500 watts.

When you’re choosing your fountain, the running cost is definitely something to take into consideration. An average garden fountain will probably use between 100 and 200 watts a day, which will gradually add up. If you have a sunny garden, think about buying a solar-powered fountain instead of one that runs off the mains.

Do Water Fountains Need to Be Plugged in?

If your water fountain pump needs electricity to work, it will need to be plugged into the mains supply. This isn’t always straightforward in a yard, and you should speak with an electrician to check what’s possible in your (and indeed, what the bill will be to install a hardwired fountain). 

You might also need a building permit in some districts: check with your local planning department before purchasing a hardwired water feature.

The easiest option? Go solar. There’ll be a cable between the solar panel and the fountain, but nothing else.

What Size Water Pump Do I Need for My Fountain?

Most outdoor fountains come as complete kits, with the appropriate pump included. However, if you’re making your own water feature or adding a pump to your pond, you’’’ need to know what size to buy.

There’s a simple rule of thumb: the pump needs to be able to push the water to the fountain head, and then half that distance again to create a water spout. So, if the fountainhead height is 50 inches, you’ll need a pump that’s capable of pushing the water 75 inches.

You may also have come across “GPH”, gallons per hour. This is often calculated by multiplying the diameter of the fountain spout by 100. So, a smallish fountain with a head that’s an inch across (yes, we’re sticking with the easy math here) needs a pump with a GPH of 100.

How Do I Turn on My Outdoor Water Fountain?

There are several different ways to do this, depending on the style of the fountain. Some have a waterproof lever or button, while others need switching on or unplugging at the wall. If you have a solar panel, you can simply flip the panel so it’s lying face down!

Are Outdoor Fountains Hard to Maintain?

Any water feature needs some maintenance, otherwise you risk the pump becoming clogged up or the water developing algae (which contrary to myths, likes moving water). Your main tasks will be to regularly clean the fountain, remove any debris, and to keep an eye on the water levels.

However, on the whole, they’re a pretty low-maintenance way to fill up some space in your yard, and are certainly easier to care for than a pond.

How Often Do You Change the Water in a Water Fountain?

If you purchased your fountain as a kit, the manufacturer will have a recommended cleaning schedule. However, if you want to keep it looking sparkling and fresh, a complete change of water and a scrub down every 1 to 3 months is a good idea.

How often you do this depends on the size of your fountain, of course! As an absolute minimum, empty it in the fall to ensure the water doesn’t freeze in the winter.

How Do I Keep My Outdoor Fountain Water Clean?

The best way to keep the water clean is to change it every 1 to 3 months. In between cleans, you can treat the water with a pet-safe anti-algae solution, which will prevent a slimy green build-up.

Keep a regular eye on the water for debris such as leaves, dirt, and dead flies. A small fishing net is an easy way to scoop away surface debris.

If you want to keep the water cleaner for longer, you can use distilled water rather than water from your yard faucet. Because this doesn’t contain minerals, you won’t get a build-up of white scale. However, some folks find it easier (and cheaper) simply rto use an anti-whire scale agent from time to time.

How Do I Keep My Fountain Water Clean Naturally?

If you want to keep your water clean without using any chemicals, here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Use distilled water to prevent white scale from building up
  • Place your fountain in a shady spot: this helps to stop algae blooming
  • Scoop out debris daily using a small net
  • When you do empty it to clean it, use a homemade cleaning agent like white vinegar
  • If you have tougher stains, make up a baking soda and water paste

How Often Should Water Fountains Be Cleaned?

Depending on how the fountain looks, give it a good clean every one to three months. This involves emptying the water, cleaning the inside of the fountain with something like vinegar or baking soda, and removing and cleaning the pump. Here’s how you clean the pump:

  • Unplug the pump from its power source
  • Wipe the outside with a damp cloth
  • Remove the cover, and gently clean the inside with a soft toothbrush
  • Make sure it’s dry and free from debris, and reassemble 

How Do You Keep Algae Out of a Fountain? (And Stop The Water Turning Green?)

You can add an anti-algae treatment to the water. These are easy to buy online or in any home store, and you can get a pet-safe version (we’d always recommend this, and you don’t know what backyard visitors are taking a drink at night).

You can slow the development of algae by siting your fountain in the shade. Algae needs sunlight to bloom, so a shady location will slow down any algae growth.

How Do I Keep My Concrete Fountain Clean? (The Stone Not The Water)

As with most yard cleaning, we’re big fans of white vinegar and baking soda as fountain cleaning agents! Use a solution of vinegar for a general clean, then a paste of baking soda on any stubborn marks.

Empty the fountain every one to three months, to give you a good chance to scrub the interior concrete. 

What Can I Put in My Water Feature to Keep It Clean?

You can add a few drops of a pet-safe anti-algae product into the water to prevent it turning green. On the whole, it’s best not to mess with the water too much, but concentrate instead on keeping it clean. Distilled water will stay clear for longer, and siting your fountain in the shade will prevent algae building up.

Is it OK to Put Bleach in My Outdoor Fountain?

Never use bleach in a water fountain. At best, the pump can become damaged. At worst, a pet could drink out of the fountain. Change the water and clean the fountain regularly with natural products instead.

Can I Put Baking Soda in My Fountain?

You can use baking soda to clean an empty fountain, yes. Don’t just pour it into the water: this won’t help with anything. When the fountain is drained, a baking soda and water paste is an excellent way to remove stubborn stains from the concrete or stone.

How Much Does It Cost to Put a Water Fountain in Your Yard?

While you can buy a modest water fountain for around $200 (or even less for a more “tabletop” design), if you need to hire a professional to install it, the costs can go up rapidly.

Many folks spend between $1,000 and $3,000 dollars having a water fountain installed in their yard.

So, as you can see, it’s not a cheap option. However, it is a good investment, as a quality water fountain should last years. Solar-powered fountains will save you at least some of the installation costs – and of course, you could install or even build the fountain yourself…

How Do You Install or Build an Outdoor Fountain?

Although you’ll need an electrician to install any hardwired cabling, you can prepare the site yourself. 

  • Dig a footing
  • Use layers of crushed stone and stone dust for a base
  • Check it’s level
  • Add a paver on top
  • Check the level again – the water won’t flow properly otherwise 

What about making your own fountain? Here’s how to make a small bubbling fountain: it’s cheap and easy to make, and because it’s solar powered, simple to install and run.

Feeling more ambitious? Take a look at this DIY rainfall water fountain

What Dimensions Are Outdoor Water Fountains?

Water fountains come in all sorts of sizes, from small tabletop editions right up to impressive walls of water.

When choosing your fountain, keep it in proportion. A fountain that takes up half of your patio will simply look weird. As well as dimensions, you need to think about weight. What will the fountain be standing on? Will your deck take a concrete sculpture? 

Where is the Best Place to Put a Water Fountain?

This is entirely up to you! You might want a natural-feeling water feature in your planting scheme, or something more formal, like an ornate bowl fountain criss-crossed by paths.

There are a couple of constraints, however. Do you need a water and electric source? If so, don’t stick the fountain miles from your house. If you’re running on solar, make sure the panel is in the sun. At the same time, keep algae down by siting the water part in the shade.

How Do I Choose the Right Size Fountain?

The key is proportion. Does it look right in your yard? There are two general rules when choosing a fountain. 

The water shouldn’t rise to a level that’s more than a third of your home’s height, or it will look too large. Secondly, large and small fountains have different uses: a large fountain is a feature, while a small fountain is an accent. If it’s the focal point, be bold and go large; however if it’s nestled in a flower bed, pick something more modest.

How Long Do Water Fountains Last? (How Long Do The Pumps Last?)

If you’re running your water fountain all the time, you can expect the pump to last around three to five years.

Are Outdoor Fountains Hard to Maintain?
Are Outdoor Fountains Hard to Maintain?

Do Water Fountains Attract Animals?

A source of water will always attract animals to your garden. Some are more welcome than others: while it’s lovely to see birds bathing in the shallow water, you don’t want your water feature becoming a mosquito nursery. 

How Do I Keep Mosquitoes Out of My Fountain?

Mosquitos use stagnant water to breed (see this helpful guide to the mosquito life cycle to see where your fountain fits in). They don’t like moving water, so a fountain is better than most ponds in that respect.

If your pump is going to be off for a long period, you might think about adding some drops of a pet-safe anti-mosquito treatment to the water.

Do Water Fountains Attract Flies?

Apart from critters like mosquitos who like breeding in shallow water, outdoor water features don’t attract lots of flies. They can however bring welcome insects like dragonflies to your yard, as well as butterflies, frogs, toads, birds, and any other wildlife looking for a drink.

Are Water Fountains Dangerous For Pets?

Provided the water is regularly changed and you’re not using nasty chemicals to clean it, a water fountain is safe for your pet. 

Do Dogs Like Water Fountains?

Your dog will love the water fountain, especially on a hot day. In fact, the sound of those enthusiastic laps may even drown out the sound of the trickling or bubbling water.

Do Cats Use Water Fountains?

You know what cats are like: they will drink out of anything apart from their designated water bowl. In fact, they tend to like running water (we’ve all seen the YouTube films of cats drinking from the kitchen faucet), so they’ll love using the water fountain. You could even treat your kitty to their own cat water fountain.

Are Water Fountains Safe For Birds?

Small birds love shallow water bowls for drinking and preening. If your outdoor fountain is one of the gentle bubbling types, you’ll soon see our feathered friends gathering there. Just also see Cats, above… 

Final Words: Where Can I Buy an Outdoor Water Fountain?

You can easily pick up a water fountain online from retailers like Amazon or Wayfair. If you want to see one in action, pop down to your local home store or somewhere like Lowe’s.

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >