How to Choose the Perfect Water Feature
Water features are increasingly popular, both indoors and outdoors. They come in a range of sizes and prices to suit any budget. There is something particularly relaxing and pleasurable in both the observation of flowing or cascading water and also listening to the varied sounds the water makes.
Modern water feature design is influenced by the advance of technology including smaller, cheaper pumps and batteries as well as solar power and programmable devices. Features on the market range from small, self-contained table top waterfalls, that plug into an electrical socket and can sit on top of a table, to large DIY installations consisting of streams, waterfalls and fountains forming an integral part of the garden landscape.
Water Feature Technology
Before we look at designs its worth looking at the underlying technology behind the water feature. These include:
- Solar panels
- Remote controls
Virtually all water features require an electric pump in order to get the water flowing. These can either be directly powered via the domestic electricity supply or (better) driven by a low voltage transformer. Pumps typically either force water up in the air via a fountainhead or lift water from a lower reservoir in order get it to flow downwards again under gravity.
Low voltage cabling is much lighter in weight and safer to lay across the garden in order to power your pump. If you run mains electricity around your garden then it needs to be through armoured cable and (in the UK) inspected by a qualified electrician.
If, like me, you don’t fancy your garden water feature hard-wired into one location then why not consider the inclusion of a rechargeable battery?
Many modern outdoor water features are made of resin, designed to look like stone. This makes them relatively light and easy to move around your garden. Lithium batteries are much lighter and more efficient these days and are easy to recharge. This means your water feature is effectively wireless and therefore portable.
Recharging can either be done by running a low voltage cable from a transformer plugged into the domestic supply to your feature or by removing the battery and plugging it into a transformer indoors.
The model I have has a very small, light battery that is easy to remove so recharging indoors is preferable.
You can see in my picture, there is a simple panel in the base of the feature that can be easily removed in order to extract the battery for recharging.
Some cheaper water features have a solar panel built into the feature itself that powers the pump. Beware that they may only work in direct sunlight. If there is no built-in battery then as soon as the sun disappears, the water stops flowing.
Also the amount of water flow depends on position of the sun and amount of cloud. A common complaint levelled at built in panels is the power from the sun is insufficient to generate a reasonable flow of water.
More expensive models may be driven by an external solar panel that can be attached via a few metres of cable and is typically freestanding or supported by a post in the ground. The panel can therefore be moved in order to track the sun; ideal if you have part shade in your garden. However this again introduces a trailing cable that, arguably, spoils the ascetics of a wireless water feature.
The ideal solar solution includes a decent battery that can be recharged from either a solar panel or the domestic supply and has sufficient capacity to keep the water feature working (not continuously) for about a week. The model I have comes with battery and charger included but you can optionally buy a compatible external solar panel in order to also recharge the battery, using solar power, if you prefer.
If your water feature is wireless then how do you control it? In simple terms how do you switch it on and off? Mine comes with a tiny radio remote control rather like a radio controlled toy. This communicates with a tiny pump controller located in the base of the feature.
Not only can you simply switch it on and off from the couch in your living room but you can also program it to turn on and off at the same time each day for various periods (my feature supports 2,3 or 4 hours).
It’s really quite cool operating the fountain from inside the house. Incidentally, I call my bird bath feature ‘The Fountain of Doom’. This is partly because the tiny remote has a distinctly retro feel with its extending antenna and is reminiscent of the gadgets in an early Bond Movies (but thankfully not as lethal)!
Typical Indoor Water Feature
Choosing a Water Feature
The key things to consider include:
- Your budget
- Where you want to locate it?
- Do you want to move it around?
- Do you want something contemporary or more traditional?
- Do you want a fountain or do you prefer a waterfall?
- Are you prepared to ‘do it yourself’ ie construct the fountain, stream etc. with your own fair hands or would you prefer something ready made in stone or resin.
We have a lot of birds (and squirrels) in our garden so we chose a traditional bird bath with water emerging from the top onto an upper level pool then overflowing into a larger, lower pool. This creates peaceful running water sounds but isn’t dynamic enough to scare the local wildlife away. The pump is hidden in the centre section in the bottom pool. When turned on it pumps water from the lower pool out through the pineapple feature on top of the bird bath and into the upper pool.
Typical Do It Yourself Water Feature Kit
Make you own garden waterfall!
Do It Yourself verses Complete Water Feature in a Box
If this is your first water feature then you may prefer to buy something ready-made. You can also buy complete kits where you need to dig a hole to contain the reservoir and arrange stones around the source of the water.
These type of features, when completed, typically consist of a rock at ground level with water pouring out disappearing into the ground or a hidden fountain head. The water flows through a bed of small stones and a hidden mesh, into an underground reservoir where the pump is located.
Finally, for the more adventurous, you can design the whole thing yourself and buy all the individual components such as battery, pump and pond linings from an aquatic supplier. If you want a small river flowing across your garden, complete with rapids and a waterfall then everything is possible. Just be prepared for a big cash outlay on powerful pumps and a JCB hire to shift all the earth and rocks!
Here is a Movie to Help you Fall in Love with Water Features!
Buyer's Guide to Water Features
A very basic INTERNAL water feature, suitable to put of a table in the home, including transformer, starts at around £12/$15.
Ready to go garden features start at around £70/$90. The Bird Bath I’ve featured here cost around £130 in the UK ($160) with a recommended price of £199. There are usually big savings on water features compared to the list price so do shop around.
Amazon is a good place to start although I got mine cheaper by going to a large aquatic supplier’s website. Anything made of materials such of stainless steel can be much more expensive.
As they say, you get what you pay for. Make sure your chosen feature includes a pump, power supply and ideally, a rechargeable battery with sufficient stored power once charged, to keep the water flowing for at least 10 hours before a recharge is required.
If you are going for solar, then make sure that there is sufficient power to keep the water flowing when the sun is partly obscured by cloud. A common complaint regarding budget solar water features is that there is, depending on the amount of sunlight, too little water flowing resulting in fountains that dribble rather than gush up into the air!
Birds Just want to Have Fun!
So What Happens Next?
First decide roughly what you want. Is it waterfalls and a stream, a bird bath or a pond with a fountain? Where you want to put it? Decide what your budget is then start looking On-Line to see what is available.
Websites like Amazon usually feature videos of the products but if you really want to see what water products actually look and sound like then why not visit a store or a garden centre where you can see and hear some fountains and waterfalls in operation.
The birds and other wildlife will really adore you for installing your water feature as will children of all ages. However, do remember to make sure unaccompanied young children are safe around your feature. In other words, make sure there is no deep water!
Water features may seem an unnecessary luxury but once you've tried one you'll find it so relaxing you'll wonder how you ever managed without it!
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