Today’s homeowner is fortunate to live in a time when water features as part of a yard’s landscaping have become an economical and engaging art form and few companies are better at creating stunning residential water features than ME Contracting. In this guide we’re going to take a look at the various types of water features available to the contemporary homeowner, their average costs as well as their relative strengths and weaknesses. Let’s get started.
1. Natural Ponds
Natural ponds are a basic landscape feature that has proven immensely popular with homeowners. Natural ponds are typically built by excavating a hole and lining it with either a rigid or flexible liner. A filtration system is installed along with a submersible pump in order to keep the water clean and some people will add a waterfall to help mitigate noise from the pump.
Natural ponds can be designed to meld seamlessly with virtually any landscape.
Average cost: $5,000 – $10,000 and up.
- Provide a natural look
- Design flexibility
- Liners can rip and leak.
- May require extensive excavation
With a waterwall water slowly cascades down the face of a wall and is fed back up to the top so as to continually cycle through. Waterwalls are an elegant feature that ramp up the luxury in an outdoor kitchen or pool area. A filter is used to ensure the water stays clean and isn’t overwhelmed by mineral build up from the (typically) masonry wall.
You can alter the sound the waterwall makes through the use of texture on the wall. LED lights can be added to stunning effect.
Average cost: $5,000 – $15,000
- Timeless beauty
- Design flexibility
- A great conversation piece
- Children will require monitoring
- Maintenance can be expensive
- May attract wildlife
3. Standard Waterfall
The standard waterfall can be designed as a standalone feature or added to a pool area to give it a more natural aura. The standard waterfall can be fabricated out of real stones, sculpted concrete or fiberglass that is then painted and adorned to resemble the real thing. The height of your waterfall feature will depend in large part on the topography of your back yard.
The amount and type of noise generated by a standard waterfall will depend on the amount of water movement that is built into the design and the number and type of drops.
Average cost: $1,000 and up.
- Timeless design
- Adaptable to other features or as a stand alone
- Pleasing sounds
- Can be expensive
- Can require a fair bit of maintenance
4. Pondless Waterfall
While most artificial waterfalls are designed with a pond at the bottom to collect water and add a realistic overall effect you can negate the pond if space is tight. Since there is no stagnant water to worry about maintaining this type of waterfall is usually a fairly simple endeavor that involves topping up the water supply every couple of weeks to compensate for evaporation. You can eliminate this step as well by installing an auto fill feature.
Average cost: $1,500 to $5,000
- Can be wedged into small spaces
- Safer than pond waterfalls
- Low maintenance
- The can be pricey to install
- Can cost a lot to operate
5. Rain Curtain
Rain curtains are a very adult design feature. Tiny holes of equal size and in the desired pattern (usually a straight line) are drilled into the upper portion of the device. A pump is added to recycle water to the top.
Rain curtains can be added over a portion of the swimming pool or can be used to stunning effect as part of an outdoor kitchen design.
Average cost: $2,000 -$3,000+
- The effect can be quite striking.
- Plenty of design flexibility
- Relatively low maintenance
- Not advisable for homes with small children
- Choice of location is critical
Scuppers are similar to sconces but typically wider, more numerous and with greater water volume involved. Scuppers deliver water from an upper level to a lower. Sometimes that lower level is an existing inground pool and sometimes it may be a standalone channel.
Filters are integrated to keep the water clean. The sound they produce will depend on the volume of water and the size of the drop from one level to the other. Scuppers can be used in concert with waterfalls and other components to create elaborate constructs that descend in stages and evoke old world palaces.
Adding LED lights can create an astonishing look and feel. Costs vary widely.
Average cost: $2,500 – $5,000
- A timeless feature
- Myriad design possibilities
- LED lights will put your design over the top
- Can require a fair bit of construction
- Can be expensive depending on size
Sconces come from the same design universe as the scupper although they likely predate them. Sconces can still be seen dotting the landscape of cities like Rome, Athens and Paris. Classic sconces tend to feature lions heads or water ‘pouring’ out of an amphora being held by a cherubic figure.
If you are going for an old world look and feel for your backyard you’ll definitely want to consider adding sconces that empty into small receptacle ponds.
Average cost: $1,000 – $3,000
- Relatively Inexpensive
- Lots of design versatility
- The advantage of being unexpected
- May need another feature to give them context
- Can be trickier to install than you might think
8. Laminar Jets
Laminar jets have become increasingly popular in the past 20 years. So much so it’s a bit unusual to not see them in the landscaping around warm weather hotels. The streams of water that flow from the jets can be as wide or narrow as you like or can be expelled intermittently through the use of programmable units.
LED lighting can also be added to produce the effect of a solid stream of liquid light that can be quite compelling for night time pool parties.
Average cost: $500 – $1,000 each
- Hard to top from an interest perspective
- LED lights can create dazzling effects
- Labour intensive installation
- Tricky to repair
Often called gurglers these features create the impression of water welling up from underground such as you might see at a hot spring. Bubblers can be custom designed or can be installed by way of kits that are commonly available. Bubblers can be as large or small as you want and add visual interest and pleasant sounds to your backyard.
Having one or two around the patio, outdoor kitchen or integrated into the pool will add a pleasing air to the environment.
Average cost: $500 – $750 each
- Typically affordable
- A simple touch that goes a long way
- Require fair amount of maintenance
- May attract wildlife
Fountains can be grand or delicate, rigidly modern or minimally baroque and complex. They can and frequently do, include statues of all type, have built in sconces or scuppers and can include LED lights to ramp up the mystery and elegance. Fountains are almost always a standalone feature intended as an end unto themselves.
The sound they make will depend on whether the water in your fountain dribbles lazily from layer to layer or pours in great volumes down the face of elaborate rock constructs. Virtually all fountains have a collection pond from which water is pumped back to the top. Prices vary widely.
Average cost: $2,000 and up depending on design.
- A classic feature everyone relates to
- Unlimited design flexibility
- The more complex the fountain the more expensive
- Can be maintenance intensive
- May want to avoid if you have young children
Streams are a more elaborate type of water feature that requires a fair amount of space to do right. Incorporating a stream into your backyard is typically best done in concert with other landscaping features so that it doesn’t look like it was dropped randomly into your yard. As such they may be the most design intensive of all the different water features and require true professionals to achieve a satisfying result.
Average cost: $5,000 – $20,000
- Great for establishing a natural landscape effect
- Don’t require much vertical lifting of water
- Pleasing sounds throughout the yard
- Installation can be labour intensive
- Can require a lot of maintenance
- Can be quite expensive depending on the final design
12. Bird Baths
Perhaps the most common form of water feature ever invented, the bird bath can be a standalone feature you purchase at the home centre or can be an elaborate, custom designed construct integrate into the larger landscaping theme. Simply sitting on the patio on a summer afternoon watching the birds playing in the bird bath can be extremely relaxing and spiritually rejuvenating.
Average cost: $100 and up
- Ease of maintenance
- Attract birds to the yard
- You’ll need to clean them occasionally
13. Swimming Pool
You didn’t think we’d forget the obvious, did you? Swimming pools are without a doubt the most popular water feature in backyards because they are the most functional (i.e. fun). Homestratosphere.com has published extensively about swimming pools, including the cost, types, pool fences and of course our massive swimming pool photo gallery.
We hope you found this brief guide to backyard water features helpful. If you have any questions or would like to discuss installing any type of water feature in your yard call the landscaping pros at ME Contracting.