Waterfalls: Building a Waterfall

Your pond pump is one of the most important aspects of your pond
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One of the highlights of a pond or backyard watergarden can be the waterfall. A waterfall is something that when we experience one in a natural setting always fills us with awe. I have been camping as a child and some of the most vivid memories are of seeing a cascading chute of raw river water tumbling over a natural granite formation!
As I grew older, and perhaps a bit colder, I never ceased to be awed and amazed by a is perhaps one reason that so many of our clients are looking for free waterfall plans or instructions for building a cheap waterfall.

The thing is, I always tell my clients that there is no such thing as a really well built cascading waterfall that is cheap.

I have seen some of my clients refuse to believe that they needed a 45 mil EPDM membrane to line their rocky cascade and instead they went and bought a cheap pond liner that was nothing more than a geotextile that they used to line their waterfall.

The result? Well you can imagine that the waterfall leaked and the liner disintegrated within a year and the pump clogged and get the picture...if you are looking for the best way to build a waterfall you should always try and build it can build a cheap waterfall but it often won't be right.

Having a leaking waterfall or a waterfall pump that doesn't have the right flow for the head or width of the waterfall can make it look like a leaking swamp!

Building a waterfall, doesn't really require an expert as much as it requires expert advice. The thing to do when you are building a waterfall is to make sure the pumps and liners and rock structure and waterfall lighting is actually appropriate for the height of the rock pile and width of the water cascade you are envisioning.

Your Pump Is The Heart of Your Pond and Waterfall
Your pond is alive with fish and pants and algae and insects and all of them are trying to find a balance. Think of your pond as a human body with blood and bones and skin and hair and you see how we can draw parallels between a pond and a living person.

What is the one thing that every one of us needs to keep healthy in order to guarantee our survival? The Heart! Yes the heart pumps our oxygenated blood through our veins and into our brains and lungs and keeps our vital organs strong and is much the same for a pond and the pump is like our heart; you need a reliable pond pump to ensure that everything is moving and the nutrients, lungs and organics in your pond are all well kept!

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Just like our own nutrition is important so is the nutrition of a pond and again, the pump plays a primary role in ensuring that the water doesn't stagnate and keeps moving through the thermocline and into the upper levels of the pond and to the surface where the oxygen transfer can occur. Yes...the pond pump is one of the pieces of the puzzle that should be researched before buying. Check the favorable reviews for your pump before you buy it...there are many variations available from and but not all motors are created equal.

Many of my clients ask me how to build a pond pump or how to build a pond aerator and the answer is always pretty much the same: you can't really! Well of course if you are like the Professor from Gilligan's Island you might be able to build a pond aerator system out of palm tree leaves and coconut husks wrapped around old stainless steel dishwasher muffler parts but not everyone has been to NASA science school...some of us...myself included couldn't build a homemade windmill aerator if my life depended on it!

You may have electricity near the pond are considering a 110 volt or 120 volt submersible or shore mounted linear pump. These work very well even for driving a waterfall. Some of my clients consider solar pumps, solar aerators or solar powered lawn mowers! OK...I may be exaggerating with the solar powered lawn tractor as usually it is too expensive to make a fountain or pump work with cheap do it yourself solar power systems.

"Listen up" my wife said! Instead of trying to build a cheap aerator or fashion a homemade pump system from the old tennis rackets and fireplace bellows you have in the garage just make the leap and buy a good quality pump for a few hundred dollars. I know it isn't in some of your genetic code to spend more that $19.99 on a pump but if you value the investment you have put into building a pond and stocking it with fish then you should perhaps use professional equipment to aerate and make your waterfall instead of trying the DIY route!

I'm not against trying to whittle a beer-opener out of a tree branch, heck, I've done that many a time but when it comes to my pond I want to just buy a cheap pump that lasts for years and has good reviews and then I'm all set! My time is becoming more valuable as I get older and I don't want to spend 12 hours in the garage building my own aeration pump if I can order one for a few hundred bucks!

After The Pump
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Stage 1 - Placement of pump Secure flexible tubing to the outlet of pump using a stainless steel hose clamp. Submerse at the furthest point from the waterfall. Route the tubing over side of pond (can be hidden under perimeter stones). Make sure the stone does not pinch the tubing, and avoid sharp bends in the tubing so it does not kink and reduce flow.

Stage 2 - Tubing Route the tubing to the waterfall. Bury under soil.

Stage 3 - Building waterfall pond Use displaced soil from pond to build an elevated area for waterfall. Consider making a small auxiliary pond in this mound. Position the spillway to flow into main pond. Build the small pond using the same techniques and liner as the main pond. Two layers of liner are recommended for this pond. The first one contains the water. The second liner channels the water towards the fall. Important! Be sure the liner drapes underneath the waterfall spillway stones - otherwise you will experience water loss when the waterfall is in operation. You may need to use liner seam tape in this stage.

Stage 4 - Building spillway Once the spillway liner is in place - you will want to pump water up to the auxiliary pond and watch it flow down the liner spillway. (At this stage - your pond should be full of water). Carefully select stones and position them - while the water is flowing over them. With the water flowing over the rock, you may replace, shift and add stones so you achieve the desired water spills you desire. Place plant moss and small plants between the stones around the waterfall to achieve a natural look.

Complete Water Fall Kits | Pond Building Books and Guides | Waterfall Building Books and Guides

All About Building Waterfalls, Ponds, and Streams

A practical, easy-to-understand guide to adding both still (ponds) and moving (waterfalls and streams) water features to any garden. Includes complete, easy-to-follow instructions on designing, establishing, and caring for a variety of eye-pleasing water projects.

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Expert advice on selecting the right fish and plants for embellishing any backyard aquatic paradise. Solution-based format will inspire you to confidently create water havens in your own yard.

Smart Guide: Ponds, Fountains & Waterfalls (Landscaping)

Whether readers are deciding on the type of pond that best suits their wants and needs or trying to decide whether a stream or a waterfall fits better into their landscape, Smart Guide: Ponds, Waterfalls & Fountains has it all.

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Chapters cover everything from plant and fish selection to tips on choosing a spray or statuary fountain, how to install pond shells, digging out a watercourse and waterfall, and even adding accents such as bridges and steppingstones to the backyard.

For homeowners who can't wait to get started in the spring and want to show off their creativity, Smart Guide: Ponds, Waterfalls & Fountains will not only help their project take off; it will instill the confidence to finish.

How to Build Ponds and Waterfalls and Much More...: The Complete Guide

How to Build Ponds and Waterfalls and Much More. was written with the consumer in mind: it's a show and tell presentation of everything needed to build spectacular water gardens. Jeffrey Reid proves that knowing the correct steps and using the right product for the job practically guarantees success.

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Adding a pond or waterfall to your landscape can be very rewarding. "How to Build Ponds and Waterfalls and Much More." Ensures it will also be successful.

Back To The Waterfall
Let's look at my last simple, cheap waterfall in a small pond I built with my brother-in-law. I'll tell you first off I'll think-twice next time I say "Yes" to building a pond for a friend or relative without setting some clear contractual rules of engagement. Shaking Jimmy's hand after a few cold beers at last month's Family Reunion the pig-roast might not have been the best idea! But hey...any time you can built a unique and original cascade for a pond it is worth it in the end! So Jimmy, I salute you in the end! It looks fine!

We used a molded pond often called a "molded" pond by perfectionists and folks from Canada so we had to excavate the hole in the backyard to place the pre-formed pond.

While I prefer to work with a 45mil EPDM liner in most ponds, in this case we had found a cheap prefab pond and it looked good.

So we got our shovels out and spent the day digging around the tree roots and gopher holes and finally had a three foot deep hole with the approximate shape of the pond which was only a 400 Gallon pond shaped like a pork chop. We had a pile of soil beside the pond hole and this is what we we planned to use for the waterfall structure.

Most of the time I like to build a small catchment basin or a smaller retention pond above the main pond so the waterfall has a high point to allow water to gather and then spill over the rock waterfall structure that I have built.When I decide on what sort of waterfall pump I will be using for the homemade waterfall I start with a very simple calculation to ensure that the flow of water down the width of the waterfall will appear natural.

It is important to understand the volume of your pond system (including the total volume any streams and waterway diversions you create) in order to choose the best submersible pump for the job.

If you use a pump that pumps 1600 Gallons Per Minute but your waterfall requires a pump that delivers at least 2200 Gallons Per Minute that your cascade will look like a drought has struck your pond!

Pond Waterfall Plans Diagram!

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For waterfalls it is recommended to have between 50 Gallons per Hour and 150 Gallons Per Hour for every inch of width of your waterfall. I.e.: If you want an 18" wide waterfall you should have a pump giving between 900 and 2700 Gallons per Hour.

To determine the size pump you need for your pond, take the total volume of water of your pond (in gallons) and select a submersible pump that will pump at least that much water per hour. So, if you have a 1000 gallon pond, you will need a pump with a flow rate of at least 1000 gallons per hour. It is better to use a larger pump that required and add a flow restrictor valve, this allows you to adjust the flow as required.

Why should I have a pump?
You do not absolutely have to have a pump for a pond you may want it to look "natural" without any ripples or movement but sometimes stagnant or still waters can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes and algae and green water can become a problem...not all the time but often a pond without a good circulation/aeration system will develop problems so if you do want a pump there are many benefits as we've discussed in our aeration pages. As we've said the
pump is the "heart" of any pond and is good at supplying a small fountain, a waterfall or even pumping through your skimmer and biological filter.

The size of the pump you choose depends on what you want it to do. If it is just for a fountain then most pumps come with suitable attachments. If it is to run a filter and fountain then it needs to be slightly bigger. There are multipurpose systems that have multiple outlets that allow tubing to run to your spitter or waterfall as well as add-on fountain nozzles that can be changed to create cheap fountains anywhere from 12 inches to 6 feet of spray above the pond!

The quantity of water in the pond dictates this. If you have a "average pond" then the water should be turned over every 3-4 hours, but it should be every 1-2 hours for a koi pond. Your choice of pump should be one that is big enough to turn the water over often enough and run a fountain (if required) It is better to have a bigger than required pump as you can reduce the flow easier than trying to increase the flow of an undersized pump!

Now...choose the best pump for your surroundings
There are two types of waterfall pumps we use. The External Pump and the Submersible Pump. The external pump sits outside of the pond much like a swimming pool pump would. It has an intake hose in the pond, preferably at the deepest point of the main pond and far from the waterfall to provide the best circulation efficiency for the system. The Submersible pump is actually in the water and sucks water directly through the pump into the outlet hose to the waterfall or retention basin. Both work, but all pumps are not equal.

So what is the best pump available? The choice of pump is up to you, but you should take a few things into consideration once you have made up your mind on using a submersible sump pump type of pond pump or fountain pump or the ground mounted external system. 

If you want a fountain and filter will the pump be strong enough to run both? I often suggest that you have two separate pumps but the 110V submersible pumps are often the best choice for the average small pond or water garden. Do not forget at night the general ambient noise level is quieter than during the day so what may be a pleasant "lapping" or "tinkling" sound when the fountain is splashing during the day can become an extreme "crashing" or "gushing" noise at night which may upset you and your your neighbors more than the teenager with the new car down the street with his new sound system in his totally tuned Honda! If you have two pumps you can turn the fountain pump off when it gets late, or better still fit a timer on to your pond system and have the noisy pond bits running only when it is appropriate!.

Another thing to be considered is how much will it cost to run? The cheap pump from the hardware store or the one you bought on Ebay may be cheaper to purchase but what about its running costs and the warranty? A "sump" pump is fine and you can buy one from the local hardware store for less than $100 but those sorts of pumps are mainly for sucking the flood waters from your basement and not designed for continuous duty in a pond!

A system that must run 7 days a week and 24 hours per day must be reliable and when it is running most of the summer, with the cost of electricity, you need to avoid the cheap "power hungry" models and get something that is efficient...the initial cost may be high but just because you get a deal from Jimmy in South Dakota selling his aquarium filtering pump on Ebay doesn't mean it's the right thing to do!

How to calculate the right size waterfall pump:
First you should look at the width of your waterfall. When you measure the width you are looking at the width of the top of the waterfall, starting from where the water flows out of the catchment pond if you have built one. Of course, you can always setup a system of a single tube from a pump or multiple outlet pipes from one or more small pumps in the pond at the far end, typically the deep end of the pond, that simply cascade over rocks.

If you are not using a catchment basin and are only having hoses hidden under stones or rocks to create the waterfall then you have to make sure the pump and tubing is correctly sized or you may have a waterfall that sprays out like my my Gramma used to say looked like "Pee out of a Tomcat!". A waterfall, when it is natural, flows, drips, dribbles and definitely does not spray out like a spitter or a fountain. This is why having a small elevated pond or retention basin to be the start of the falls is often preferable.

For every inch of width of the lip of your waterfall you need to have on average of 100 Gallons Per Hour or 1.6 Gallons Per Minute. For every 10 feet of tubing between the pump and the output end of the pipe you should calculate a loss of about 1 foot of head. Plus the final height between the pump in the pond and the top of the output pipe must be counted. It's a simple calculation really.

The waterfall is 36" wide (width at the top, this is how wide you want the water stream over the waterfall lip to be)
The total "head", the height between the bottom intake of the submersible pump to the highest point of the tubing, is 4 feet.
There is a 50 foot length of tubing running from the pump on the main pond to where it enters the retention pond or the top of the waterfall.

The 36 inch wide waterfall requires 3600 Gallons Per Hour (100 Gallons Per Inch)
There is a 4 foot head (Height difference from pump to top of tubing)
50 feet of tubing is equal to an additional 5 feet of head. (Every 10 feet of tubing equals 1 foot of head)

You need a pump that can pump 3600 Gallons Per Hour at a 9 foot head, or lift as it is sometimes called. Make sure your pump can deliver the correct flow at the correct head!

Now...choose the best pump for your surroundings

There are two types of waterfall pumps we use. The External Pump and the Submersible Pump. The external pump sits outside of the pond much like a swimming pool pump would. It has an intake hose in the pond, preferably at the deepest point of the main pond and far from the waterfall to provide the best circulation efficiency for the system. The Submersible pump is actually in the water and sucks water directly through the pump into the outlet hose to the waterfall or retention basin. Both work, but all pumps are not equal.

Complete Pondless Waterfall Kits

Aquascape's Waterfall Kit comes complete with everything you need to incorporate the sight and sound of cascading water into your yard or landscape All necessary components are provided in a convenient, all-in-one kit that takes the guesswork out of purchasing individual components The innovative AquaSurgePRO 2000-4000 allows you to adjust the flow of the pump wirelessly Includes Waterfall Vault makes accessing your pump and checking water levels quick and easy and Complete LED Lighting Package for night-time enjoyment Aquascape is passionate about the products we produce, providing unique products, designs, and features that stand above the competition.

The Aquascape Medium Waterfall and Stream Kit comes complete with everything you need to incorporate the sight and sound of cascading water your yard or landscape, providing up to a 16-foot Waterfall and Stream. All necessary components are provided in a convenient, all-in-one kit that takes the guesswork out of purchasing individual components. The innovative AquaSurgePRO 2000-4000 allows you to adjust the flow of the pump wirelessly.

The included Pondless Waterfall Vault makes accessing your pump and checking water levels quick and easy and the included AquaBlox eliminate the need to fill your basin with large quantities of gravel and stone. Aquascape is passionate about the products we produce, providing unique products, designs, and features that stand above the competition.

Kit Features and Includes: -Waterfall Spillway and Waterfall Vault - Automatic Water Treatment Dosing System for Fountains - AquaSurgePRO 2000-4000 Pump Complete LED Lighting Package: Featuring (2) 1-Watt LED Spotlight, 60-Watt Transformer with photocell sensor, 3-way Quick-Connect splitter and 25 Feet of LVL Extension Cable - 25 Feet of 2" Flexible PVC Pipe - (5) Aquablox [small] - 10 Feet x 12 Feet Liner - 10 Feet x 20 Feet Stream Liner - 100 Sq. Ft Underlayment - Welcome Kit with complete product, installation and care guide

External Pond Pumps
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Cheap Pond Pumps

External pond pumps are usually mounted on the shore and are great because they are easier to service because you don't need to go up to your elbows in stinky, smelly pond water to retrieve them!

Place the pump in some sort of insulated cabinet, shed or pool house to make sure the system is not exposed to rain, snow or other such hazards like the gnashing teeth of muskrats, beavers and squirrels! The diagram below shows one popular way how to install your pond pump. The units we use are all 220V so if you only have 110/115V then check out the pumps with fountain heads included below this section.

The Pond Report has tested dozens of external pond pumps including the Dynamo Pumps, WunderFlo Pumps, Aqua Flow, Artesian Pumps, Cascade Pumps, Swing Check Valve Sequence Pumps, Little Giant etc. etc until we were sick of trying every little cheap pump that said "Made in China" on the sticker!!. Of course we all prefer something that is "Made in USA" or we have found Japan, Taiwan, and Germany also make very good aquatic systems!

Our overall best-performing winner of all reviews of external pond pumps is the SF-SeaFlo series of pumps. They are a high performance pump that require a 208/230V electrical service. Designed for larger ponds and systems that require an extra and powerful flow these are self-priming with a high efficiency impeller and life extending diffuser wear ring. They all have a fiberglass reinforced. 2” suction and discharge ports. Single piece corrosion resistant over sized strainer pot and volute.

Unique diffuser and impeller provide excellent pressure performance across wide range of desired gallon per minute flow rates. User friendly drain plugs. All stainless steel hardware. These pumps are our favorites as they offer an unprecedented 3 year limited warranty.

The Pond Report has given Pentair Sea Flow High Performance Self-Priming Pumps feature sophisticated design translated into unprecedented power that offers the ultimate in efficiency our highest PK 7 rating as they are simply the best pumps money can buy. . These unique external pond pumps are designed to handle the larger capacity jobs of ponds or larger aquariums to deliver excellent flow with less friction and less noise while using smaller horse power motors.

For best pump performance, install this pump out of direct sunlight within 3' of the water surface level.

Perfect for use in pool, water garden, and koi pond applications, these aboveground pumps keep maintenance convenient. The large strainer basket and see-through lid permits fewer services and easy inspection. Their unique diffuser and impeller provide excellent pressure performance at a wide range of gallon-per-hour flow rates. Easy to remove drain plugs on the strainer basket and pump chamber make end of season maintenance a breeze.

Complete Water Fall Kits

This pond-less waterfall (also known as disappearing waterfall) kit contains just about everything that you need to construct your waterfall except for the stone and water. With this waterfall kit you can build a basin up to 5 ft x 5 ft x 2 ft deep with a waterfall and stream up to 5 feet long. Includes: 10 x 15 Pondgard Rubber Pond Liner, Pond Underlayment, Leader Clear Answer 2 Pump, Savio Pond Free Waterfall Well, 16" Savio Waterfall Weir, 20 ft. 1-1/2" Flexible PVC, 1 Can Black Waterfall Foam (more may be desired, this depends on the application), Waterfall Inlet Assembly, Pump Outlet Assembly, PVC Cement, Installation instructions

An alternative to a full-fledged pond, a pondless waterfall is simply a waterfall and stream, without a pond. The pondless waterfall is for people that have safety/cost related concerns about ponds, as well as people who enjoy the soothing sounds of waterfalls. This is a complete system. If it is hard for you to imagine a waterfall and a stream without a pond, it must be hard to figure out how it works. Questions like, Where does the water come from? and Where does it go? These are common questions for the inquiring minds.
DIY Waterfall Kit

Well the truth is that it works much like a regular pond. A hole, deeper than a normal pond, is dug, then lined with rock and gravel, and filled with water. The water is then circulated from beneath the rocks and gravel by a pump that sits on the bottom. A pipe runs from there up to a BIOFALLS filter and into an overflowing waterfall,

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