How to Install a Fountain


A fountain adds grace, beauty and serenity to almost any setting. It can also be a surprisingly low-cost home improvement.
A fountain adds grace, beauty and serenity to almost any setting. It can also be a surprisingly low-cost home improvement.
iStockphoto.com/Bruce Shippee

­Is there anything more relaxing than the quiet, steady burble of flowing water? Large or small, indoors or out,­ a fountain adds grace, beauty and serenity to almost any setting. It can also be a surprisingly low-cost home improvement.

Installing a fountain can involve as much or as little work as you want. You can work from a kit that assembles all the components for you (although you'll lose some flexibility in terms of design). Or, once you understand how the different components fit together, you can construct your own fountain from available materials -- including the earth in your backyard.

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­But first things first: you should know what you're getting into. Different fountains work best in different places -- tables, walls, floors, patios, gardens. No amount of tinkering will make your table strong enough to support a floor fountain, or keep the end result from looking awkward as well as unstable. And no table fountain will look anything but diminutive if you install it on a floor. Look around to find a fountain in the appropriate scale for your setting. Think about materials -- stone, slate, bamboo, granite -- that will coordinate with the rest of your decor.

As you choose the location for your fountain, keep in mind that a fountain needs a power source. Some outdoor fountains have solar panels, but the rest will need to be within reach of electricity. Outdoor fountains also need seasonal maintenance, so make sure you choose a relatively accessible spot.

This article explores the different types of fountains in more detail. We'll also look at the plans and tools you should have on hand before you delve into the installation process.

Types of Fountains

The smallest fountains are designed for tabletops. These units may be no larger than the basin of a bathroom sink. They're typically self-contained. Tabletop fountains are great options for offices, studio apartments and other relatively small spaces (and you'll be amazed at how much more space you seem to have when the air is full of the sound of flowing water). You should, of course, make sure there's some sort of protection for the table surface -- a fountain can cause both water damage and nicks and scrapes. It's also a good idea to check the stability and placement of the table itself -- you don't want to put a bowl full of water on the wobbly end table everyone always bumps into on their way into the TV room.

Floor fountains are often freestanding. These models are often "statement" pieces designed for indoor or outdoor use. They're bigger and heavier than tabletop fountains, so you should make sure the floor is sturdy enough to support such a weight. (Remember to think about the fountain's weight when full, not just its weight in the package. Water is heavy.)

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Wall fountains, as the name implies, are wall-mounted. That involves a whole other set of installation questions: What are your walls made of? Are they strong enough to hold up a fountain? Drywall and sheetrock can't support heavy fountains, so don't even try. Are you inviting water damage? If you can resolve these issues satisfactorily, a wall fountain can add a dramatic cascade of water to your home or garden.

Garden fountains can range from traditional classical styles -- the sort that wouldn't be out of place among the sculpted topiary of 18th-century gardens -- to modern series of bowls nestled into the ground. They may involve statues or other decoration. To install a garden fountain, you may want to do a little excavation. You can go with a ready-made variety, or -- for a bit more effort and not much expense -- use the garden's natural topography to create a connected series of pools.

With garden fountains, think about the landscaping. Consider any overhanging trees or shrubs. If they shed leaves, you'll need to clean leaves from the fountain periodically to keep them from clogging the pump or decomposing into unsightly muck -- even if there aren't any plants in the direct vicinity, you'll still need to clean out the pump every so often. Make sure you're up to the maintenance demands of an outdoor fountain.

Now that you've chosen a fountain, what goes into its installation? Read on.

Fountain Installation Plans

Most fountains have a reservoir, a basin in which water collects. Fountains work by gravity, so the reservoir is also typically the base. Assembling the fountain usually involves connecting a series of other basins to the reservoir and feeding a tube or pipe between the reservoir and the top basin.

The fountain has one or two motor-driven pumps (also called bilge pumps), which are submerged in water. The pump goes in the reservoir, or, in a two-pump fountain, in the reservoir and the top basin. It may or may not be encased in a filter box, which -- just like the filter in a swimming pool -- helps keep out debris. You'll need to install the pump and connect it with a power source -- either an electrical cable or a solar panel. Don't turn the pump on until you've filled the fountain. Pumps aren't meant to circulate air, and they can be damaged by being run dry.

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Most pumps use suction to circulate water through the fountain. You may need to experiment to find the appropriate pumping rate. If the pump is set too high, the fountain will splash (which can waste water, as well as damage the surrounding furniture, walls and flooring). If it's set too low, the fountain won't seem to circulate at all.

Before installing a wall fountain, you may want to have an electrician visit your house to install an outlet and a switch on the wall in question, in such a way that the power cord -- but not the switch -- will be behind the fountain when it's installed. A hanging cord can ruin the dramatic visual effect of a wall-mounted fountain.

An outdoor fountain, beyond these components, may involve a plastic liner. Any fountain that requires digging or excavation needs to be treated like a pond: You have to contain and manage the water. Once you've set a fountain into the ground, it's not so easy to relocate it. Plan this installation carefully. Look at such details as:

  • Light and shadow
  • Animal life (Is your fountain going to receive a lot of "decoration" from the birds' nest above?)
  • Sun exposure, particularly if you have a solar-powered fountain
  • Soil composition and settling
  • Vegetation (What do you want to plant around the fountain? What's already growing there?)

Now that you know how the different pieces go together, let's take a look at the tools you need to assemble them.

Fountain Installation Tools

The tools you need to install a fountain depend on what kind of fountain you're installing. With a kit tabletop fountain, you may need no more than a box cutter to open the package and a pitcher to fill the reservoir.

With the other kinds of fountains, though, you'll want to have a bit more equipment on hand:

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  • Felt or cork pad to protect wooden ta­bles or floors
  • Saw (not necessary for every fountain, but with a solar-powered fountain you may need to construct a simple post for the panel)
  • Crimp, for connecting wires
  • Stud finder, for wall-mounted or wall-supported fountains
  • standard and Philips-head screwdrivers
  • Power drill
  • Socket wrench
  • Level (especially for wall-mounted fountains)
  • Tape measure
  • Hammer (some wall-mounted fountains are hung more or less like pictures)
  • Shovel, for excavating outdoor fountains and covering their pipelines
  • Gardening gloves
  • A strong friend to help you lift the heavy components

You may also want to have a few other things handy:

  • Various screws, nuts and bolts (these may come with the fountain, but if you're deviating at all from the manufacturer's setup you may need extra)
  • Wire nuts and other connectors
  • Gravel, stone or cement cinderblocks to stabilize an outdoor fountain
  • Water-growing plants to add to the basin (each plant should be in its own submersible dish -- you don't want the roots tangled in the pump)
  • Rubber, PVC or bamboo tubing
  • Ornamental rocks to line the reservoir basin (wash these before putting them in, or you'll gunk up the pump)
  • An ornament (those little stone cherubs and bathing goddesses don't just make the garden more attractive, they can also conceal the pump)
  • Stone plinth to raise the ornament to water level
  • Electrical silicon (make sure you've chosen interior or exterior silicon, as appropriate)
  • A wooden post, if you want to elevate the solar panel to increase sun exposure
  • Epoxy or sealer to waterproof the basin

Toss a coin and make a wish: You've just installed a lasting source of tranquility.

To learn more, visit the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • Fountain Finder. "Fountains by Setting." (Accessed 3/6/09) http://fountainfinder.com/setting.htm
  • Kinetic Fountains. "Installing Wall Fountains." (Accessed 3/6/09) http://www.kineticfountains.com/installing-wall-fountains.asp
  • DIY Network. "Solar Powered Garden Fountain: Installing the Fountain Pumps." (Accessed 3/6/09) http://www.diynetwork.com/diy/el_cords_outlets_wiring/article/0,,DIY_13803_2277490,00.html
  • Swindells, Philip. "Installing a Fountain in a Garden Pond." (Accessed 3/6/09) http://searchwarp.com/swa53814.htm
  • Vandervort, Don. "Building and Installing a Container Fountain." Home Tips. (Accessed 3/6/09) http://www.hometips.com/install/landscape_hardscape/containerfountain_installation.html