How to Build a Low-Maintenance Water Feature

Construct a simple (one-weekend!) stone and gravel fountain that needs almost no maintenance.

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Time

Multiple Days

Complexity

Intermediate

Cost

$101–250

Introduction

You can build this beautiful artesian fountain in just two days. And once it's built, you don't have to worry about maintenance. In this story, we'll show you everything you need to construct this stone fountain, complete with running water.

Tools Required

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Caulk gun
  • Cordless drill
  • Drill bit set
  • Dust mask
  • Garden rake
  • Hearing protection
  • Safety glasses
  • Spade
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife
  • Wheelbarrow

Materials Required

  • 1- to 2-in. smooth round stone (about 1000 pounds for large fountain)
  • 1-in. elbow
  • 1-in. male adapter
  • A small roll of indoor/outdoor carpeting (or any other old carpeting you may have on hand).
  • Boulders
  • Corrugated pond tubing only.
  • Five 5-gallon pails with lids.
  • Garden hose
  • Pea gravel
  • Pond liner padding
  • Pump
  • Silicone caulk
  • Spray paint
  • Two tubing clamps
  • Waterproof liner

If you’re looking for an eye-catching water feature for your patio, deck or front entry, this natural-looking DIY water fountain will do the trick. We designed this fountain around a special stone, one with a one-inch hole drilled through it. Water from the pump gurgles up through the hole and overflows the stone.

To reduce maintenance, we eliminated the collection pond. Instead, a gravel-filled reservoir below collects the overflow for recirculation.

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Project step-by-step (18)

Step 1

Fountain Details

This illustration shows how the DIY water fountain is constructed.

Step 2

Find the Right Fountain Stone

Begin your search for fountain stone by looking online for stone suppliers in your area that custom drill stones or have a selection of predrilled stones.

  • When you go to pick out your fountain stone, bring several gallons of water with you and pour water over your stone selections to see how it flows.
  • Adjust the stone to alter the flow. Look for a stone that has natural chutes or channels if you're seeking a “stream-like” flow, or one that has a natural basin if you're after a gurgling-up-from-the-ground look.
    • Pro tip: Pick a stone that's less than 15 inches thick at the fountain hole location. That's the limit for available drill shafts.

Step 3

Drilling a Stone

If you don't have a source for drilled stones, buy a stone and drill it yourself.

  • Just about any stone can be drilled, with a few exceptions (petrified wood being one).
  • You'll need to rent a rotary hammer drill and a one-inch-diameter masonry bit long enough to drill through the stone you choose.
  • Drilling your own stone may only take a few minutes, depending on the hardness and thickness of the stone. It's noisy, so wear hearing and eye protection.
    • Pro Tip: Don't force the drill; let the weight of the hammer drill do the work. Pull the bit out of the stone every inch or so to clear the dust. If you've picked out a rounded stone, stabilize it before drilling by digging a little crater in the ground to rest it in.

Step 4

Mark the Fountain Location

  • Group the pails and roughly assemble the stone fountain.
  • Use a rope to shape a natural-appearing perimeter for the basin and gravel bed. Keep in mind that a larger basin means more digging.
  • When you're satisfied, mark the edges with spray paint.

Step 5

Dig Out the Fountain

  • Dig the reservoir end of the hole six inches deeper than the pail height and the fountain end six inches deep overall.
    • Pro Tip: Pick an area that has no more than a few inches of slope over the length and width of the water feature you plan to build.
  • Roughly assemble your fountain and other decorative large stones and cluster the five-gallon pails to locate the deep end of the basin.
  • Dig the deeper part of the hole with steep sides and a flat bottom to leave plenty of room for the pails.
    • Pro Tip: Use the depth of the pails as a guide to the proper depth.

Step 6

Insert the Carpet and Liner Pad

  • Lay old carpeting in the bottom of the hole. Then lay in the liner pad, folding it to follow the contours of the hole.

Step 7

Place the Liner in the Hole

  • Unfold the liner and center it over the hole.
  • Push it into recesses and pleat it wherever necessary to fit against the sides of the hole.

Step 8

Drill Holes in the Buckets and Set Them in the Hole

  • Drill four columns of 1/2-in. holes around the middle and near the bottom and top of each pail. Then snap on the lids and rest the pails in the hole.
    • Pro Tip: The whole purpose of the pond liner padding is to protect the waterproof liner from punctures, but it won't offer complete protection. Cut off roots flush with the bottom and sides of the hole and dig out sharp stones.
  • Lay indoor/outdoor or any other old carpeting beneath the padding to further protect the liner, especially where the pails and heavy stones will sit. Then line the entire hole with the liner pad. If you need to cut it to fit the contours better, go ahead. Just do your best to keep folds to a minimum and avoid large voids between the soil and the pad.
    • Pro Tip: Work in your socks when you're installing the pond liner to reduce the chance of damage.

Step 9

Cut the Rim off the Bucket

  • Cut off the rim from the pump pail and cut and fold down a 1-1/2-in.-wide x 2-in. flap at the top for the water line and electrical cable
  • Use a spade bit or a twist bit to drill 1/2-in. drain holes in all the pails.

Step 10

Spread Gravel Around the Buckets

  • Backfill around the reservoir pails with one to two inches of gravel, resting the pump pail on the gravel so its top becomes even with grade. Keep the gravel two inches below grade.
    • Pro Tip: When you start backfilling around the pails, they'll want to shift a bit, so keep a foot on the lids while you shovel a few inches of rock around each base.
  • Stop filling when the height of the pump pail is about two inches below grade level. The pea gravel will fill the final two inches.

Step 11

Attach the Water Line to the Pump

  • Connect the water line to the pump and route it to the stone fountain location, avoiding areas where heavy stones will rest.

Step 12

Spread the Pea Gravel

  • Pour in and level the pea gravel until it's even with the edges. Then use a steel rake to even out the surface.

Step 13

Adjust the Fountain Builders and Test the Water's Path

  • Place and roughly adjust the fountain boulders using a garden hose placed near the fountain hole to simulate the water's path. Then flip over the boulder to access the underside of the hole.

Step 14

Fountain Fittings

  • Use a hose clamp to attach the adapter to the water line. Then screw the elbow to the adapter.

Step 15

Connect the Fountain Fittings to the Water Line

  • Cut the water line to length and attach the fountain fittings.
  • Coat the plastic elbow with silicone sealant and work the fittings into the hole on the underside of the fountain stone.

Step 16

Lock the Stones in Place With Pond Foam

  • Test the water flow by filling the basin and running the pump.
  • Shim the stones as necessary, then fill around the stones with pond foam to lock them into place.

Step 17

Decorate the Fountain

  • Scoop out the pea gravel and set in potted pond plants, then finish the water feature with decorative topdressing and perimeter edging stones.
  • Trim off the overhanging liner and pad even with the rim of the hole.

Step 18

Buying a Water Pump

A 300 gph (gallons per hour) water pump will give you the type of flow you need for this style of fountain.

  • If you'd like a smaller, gurgling flow, buy a 200 gph pump or install a restrictor valve at the pump to allow you adjust the flow.
  • We selected a low-voltage pump because it's safer and the wiring is easier to install. You only need to bury the cable an inch or two below grade. For a standard 120-volt pump, however, you'll have to apply for an electrical permit, bury the wire much deeper and install a GFCI protected outlet.