How Wall Fountains Work

Wall fountains can add aesthetic value to an area.
Wall fountains can add aesthetic value to an area.
Grant Faint/Riser/Getty Images

The door opens and, practically before you cross the threshold, you feel a sense of calm and tranquility settling over you. The air somehow feels gentler against your skin and cleaner as you breathe it in. The knots of tension in your neck and shoulders begin to loosen as the soothing sound of gurgling water reaches your ears. Welcome to your own personal nirvana (the Buddhist variety, not the Seattle grunge band sort), courtesy of an unassuming and surprisingly uncomplicated wall fountain.

The word "fountain" may conjure up images of places such as Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg or Versailles in France. But the wall fountain is a much subtler and simpler cousin of these grandiose water displays. It's even a far cry from burbling garden fountains that empty into koi-filled ponds. Rather, wall fountains are quite compact, electricity-powered contraptions that fit right into the décor of a home or office. Unlike fountains that shoot or spray water, a wall fountain sends water in a cascade down a flat front surface. While the effect may not always be as dramatic as an outdoor fountain -- and the ensuing calm and relaxation not always as instantaneous as that described above -- wall fountains certainly add aesthetic value to their surroundings.

Wall fountains are most commonly made from four basic materials: resin, fiberglass, concrete and stone, with resin being the most affordable and stone being the most expensive material. The design of wall fountains can vary from classical to modern, simple to elaborate, even slightly kitschy to downright sophisticated. Designer fountains, for example, feature works of art incorporated into the fountain's surface. But what almost all wall fountains have in common is a no-frills and no-fuss method for circulating water. Unlike outdoor fountains -- and the rare, oversized wall fountain that requires a large amount of water -- wall fountains skip the hassle of plumbing and rely on the clever little duo of a fountain pump and its impeller, which you'll learn more about in the next section.

The Mechanics of Wall Fountains

If you assume that wall fountains and complicated plumbing go hand in hand, think again. Wall fountains don't waste time with those sorts of issues. Instead, they employ a system of re-circulating water, which, as you will see later on, helps makes installation and upkeep quick and straightforward.

Here's how the re-circulating system works: Wall fountains have a reservoir at the base. Before you turn on the fountain, this reservoir must be filled with the recommended amount of water. Bear in mind that it's important to get the amount right, because it determines both the fountain's noise level and the amount of splashing that occurs.

Submerged in the now-full reservoir, you'll find the fountain pump. This pump is usually a magnetic drive pump powered by a standard North American 110-volt connection, but its size and power will vary depending on the size of the fountain. Sometimes the pump comes along with the fountain kit, but sometimes it needs to be purchased separately. Water pump power is measured in average gallons of water output per hour. For a medium-sized indoor fountain, the pump usually needs an output of 100 to 200 gallons per hour [source: Kinetic Fountains]. Despite being powered by electricity, these pumps are designed to operate safely in water because the motor itself is sealed off from the liquid.

Most water pumps feature an impeller, a small wheel with blades or vanes somewhat like those found on a windmill, and fountain pumps are no exception. In a magnetic drive fountain pump, the pump's motor and impeller are not directly connected. Instead, the motor is connected to a "driving magnet," and a "driven magnet" is attached to the impeller. These magnets are aligned to create a strong magnetic attraction. When the motor power spins the driving magnet, this attraction causes the driven magnet to rotate, too.

The spinning of the driven magnet turns the impeller, which forces the water from the reservoir up into tubing that runs up the back of the fountain and connects the pump to the "head" of the fountain, or the place where the water leaves the tubing and tumbles back down the wall fountain's flat surface before collecting once more in the reservoir.

This cycle repeats itself continuously, which allows the fountain to recycle its water supply.

However, it takes more than an electric outlet and a jug of water to keep a wall fountain running in tip top shape. As you'll learn, even the simple and subtle wall fountain needs a little TLC now and then, and it starts with proper installation.

Installing Wall Fountains

The first step to wall fountain bliss is properly installing your wall fountain, and the most important part of the process is finding an appropriate wall stud (2-foot by 4-foot or 61 centimeter by 122 centimeter pieces of wood that are part of the wall frame) on which to hang it. Most wall fountains are quite heavy, particularly those made of concrete and stone, and it would be disastrous to hang them directly on sheetrock. A basic stud finder can help you locate an appropriate place on which to attach the equipment necessary to hang your aquatic décor. Fountains weighing more than 30 pounds should be hung with brackets, while lighter fountains can be hung using a weight-appropriate picture hanging set.

Although wall fountains don't require any special plumbing, you may want some help from an electrician when installing one. For aesthetic purposes, it makes sense to have the electrical outlet placed in such a way that the outlet and cord are hidden behind the fountain. For this reason, you might also consider having the outlet wired to an easily accessible light switch; otherwise, it could prove quite challenging to turn the fountain on or off. Lastly, when installing a wall fountain, it is crucial to make sure the fountain and its hanging space are a good fit for each other. It would be unfortunate if, for example, a large and protruding wall fountain found itself hanging in a narrow hall where it was constantly getting jostled by passersby.

Once the fountain is securely up on the wall, the next step is to fill the reservoir at the bottom of the fountain with water -- preferably distilled water, which has been freed of any solids or organisms. This pure water helps prevent mineral deposits from forming in the fountain. Once filled with the right amount of water, the fountain is ready to start its melodious cycle. But the maintenance and upkeep don't necessarily end as soon as you turn on the switch to start the fountain, as you'll see in the next section.

Maintenance and Upkeep of Wall Fountains

The water in a wall fountain may re-circulate, but that doesn't mean it's immune to a well-known process called evaporation. Because water molecules are constantly moving, some of that liquid will eventually turn to vapor, so it's important to refill wall fountains regularly. In hot and dry climates, fountains should be refilled once a week, while they can generally go for two weeks between refills in milder climates. It's vital to keep the water at the right level. Too much water can lead to a noisy fountain and one that splashes, sometimes causing damage to furniture, walls or flooring. Too little water is equally problematic -- it puts an unnecessary strain on the pump and can cause it to wear out more quickly.

That point brings us to the fact that fountain pumps do eventually wear out and need to be replaced. But most wall fountains use relatively inexpensive pumps (less than $50) and can be easily installed by following the instructions.

Wall fountains, although they tend to be free from the kind of debris that clutters up outdoor fountains, still do require regular cleaning. Every four to six months, it's a good idea to turn off the fountain, remove all the water and wipe the fountain clean with either vinegar or a non-toxic water clarifier, to prevent algae growth. You can also use bleach, although some wall fountain manufacturers advise that homes with pets steer clear of bleach, just in case Fido or Kitty ever gets thirsty and sneaks a sip. Bleach can also be hard on a wall fountain's finish. Finally, wall fountains look their best if you treat them once a year with a mild product that removes calcium, lime and rust buildup. When cleaning the fountain, it is a good idea to remove the pump and clean it, too.

Maintaining an indoor wall fountain is a much simpler task than managing a garden fountain, which gets exposed to nature and the elements. But for a relatively small amount of work and upkeep, wall fountain owners get a surprisingly rich array of benefits. Keep reading to learn more about the advantages of having a wall fountain.

Benefits of Wall Fountains

If you're the sort of person who revels in relaxation, a wall fountain could be the perfect addition to your home or office. The naturally soothing sound of running water induces a relaxed feeling, much like the feeling you get if you sit by a babbling brook or listen to the distant echo of a waterfall. For this reason, fountains -- including wall fountains -- often figure in feng shui designs, which aim to place items in a way that promote positive energy in a room. And for people who have trouble drifting off or staying asleep at night, wall fountains can even act as a natural sleeping aid.

But the benefits don't stop with the soothing sound. Wall fountains actually help humidify the air around them, which is good for your skin and your breathing. It's a particularly nice feature in dry climates or during the cold winter months, when indoor heating sucks the natural humidity from the air. Also, the process of water molecules cascading down the fountain is believed to release negative ions into the air, and some studies claim significant health benefits from negative ionization. For example, an increase in negative ions is believed to help boost energy, reduce stress and improve moods [sources: Kinetic Fountains, American Psychological Association]. Of course, if nothing else, wall fountains can also be appreciated simply as an aesthetic part of a room's décor.

The potential disadvantages of wall fountains can generally be avoided by proper maintenance and care -- assuming you don't view the maintenance required as a disadvantage. However, if you still find yourself worrying that your wall fountain might come crashing down off its brackets or it might somehow leave a lingering damp spot on your wall, you have other options. Floor and tabletop fountains operate on the same principle of re-circulating water, but they don't require quite as much effort in terms of installation. You can even get creative and make your own tabletop fountain using a submersible pump, a decorative bowl and shells or smooth stones.

Of course, you could always pass on the fountain completely and just get a humidifier and a noise machine with a water setting. But the hum of the humidifier might drown out the noise machine and, after all, who has ever heard of a humidifier that was also a piece of art?

Learn more about wall fountains and other indoor decorating ideas by visiting the links on the next page.

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  • Representative from Kinetic Fountains. Personal correspondence. (February 5, 2010.)
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