Of all the components of landscaping, none is more wholly soothing than a fountain or a water feature. A fine lawn is certainly pleasing to the eye. A well-designed flowerbed adds a pleasurable scent to the experience. But a fountain can intrigue the eye with its design, delight the ear with its bubbling and splashes, and mesmerize the mind with the water's continuous movement. It's no wonder that businesses and municipalities around the world include fountains in their architectural plans.
"Fountains please several of the senses," says Fred March, president of the U.S. subsidiary of OASE Pumps, Inc. "Fountains combine the auditory and the visual, and can truly relieve stress." March's company, based in Germany with U.S. headquarters in Irvine, CA, manufactures fountains, from table-top size, all the way to something you'd see at Disneyland.
Carla Barebo Ott, vice president of sales and marketing of Otterbine Barebo, points out that installing a fountain in a pond or open body of water offers aesthetic enhancement to a project. Otterbine Barebo, Inc., based in Emmaus, PA. manufactures aerators, fountains and surface and sub-surface air injection systems. "Keeping the water clean is an important function of our company," says Ott. It's essential to keep the water clean of algae and aquatic weeds. Landscapers and other professionals know that fountains give their projects aesthetic enhancement. They are also aware of the need for aeration. Fountains promote aeration and positive circulation. The secondary effect of the beauty of the fountain is when you add an attractive spray pattern."
Aquamaster, based in Kiel, WI, manufactures fountain aerators and subsurface air injection and mixing systems. Jerry Goldberg, vice president of sales, believes the increasing popularity of fountains has a lot to do with increasing consciousness about water ecology. "The world is becoming a smaller place to do business," says Goldberg. "The European-Asian influence of water gardening has increased the awareness of having to keep a body of water healthy. In this industry, we refer to it as water quality management and the awareness is at a peak right now.
"Fountains make sense for corporate interests." In any new project, Goldberg explains, the site is mandated to include a water runoff area. "In many cases these detention pond areas are landscaped, drawing people to the water. When the body of water is new and you start out with an aeration system, you'll have excellent water quality to enjoy for years to come."
The motive is a little more practical in the business world. A golf course superintendent, for example, is concerned at least as much with maintenance costs as with ecology. As Goldberg points out, "They're pumping water out of their ponds and irrigating their golf course. You can't be spraying algae, scum, and other decaying matter around the golf course; equipment can get damaged and the turf weakened. So they're very cognizant of maintaining good water quality."
When installing a fountain there are many factors to consider. What will the fountain look like, what materials to use, what type of filtration system, how much should it cost?
March says the first thing you must bring is your "vision." What will the fountain look like? Generally, people have seen something somewhere, whether in a magazine or in their travels, that has appealed to them. They have a rough idea of what they'd like.
Virtually anything one desires can be achieved, however, sometimes time or budgetary constraints become a factor. In those instances, pre-designed units are available.
Are you looking for a fountain in a pond or lake or do you want to build an enclosed "architectural fountain"? If it is architectural, what materials should you use to make the fountain? What type of filtration system should be used to maintain it? How much should you expect to pay (or work) to maintain the fountain? Many of these questions can usually be answered with the size of the budget and where the fountain is to be installed.
Ott says she evaluates a customer's intentions by asking whether the fountain will be primarily for aeration or aesthetics or both. "They typically say, 'both.' And then we'll start to analyze the pond. How deep is the pond? Is there a problem during the summer? Then we're going to look at a system that will handle all those needs."
Pond fountains are often perceived as simple floating fountains but they are much more than that. They use a state-of-the-art electric motor encased in a stainless steel motor housing. It's then attached (via brackets) to a flotation device. Then, it's a simple anchoring procedure to locate the fountain in the pond or lake as you see fit. There's an underwater electrical power cable back to shore-it simply needs to be connected to an electrical source. It is electrically-powered and very energy-efficient.
Goldberg points out that the aeration makes economic and environmental sense. "A superintendent spends hundreds of dollars annually chemically treating his ponds, whereas he is really treating the symptoms of poor water quality: algae, unpleasant odors, etc. Aeration equipment, when properly sized, will help to cut back on the chemical usage and virtually eliminate the need for it eventually."
Once the aeration begins to increase the oxygen levels, then algae blooms will decrease. "These pieces of equipment are workhorses," claims Goldberg. "If they are taken care of, they'll work for years and years."
Considerations for an Architectural Fountain
Cleaning up an existing problem is not necessary when building an architectural fountain, but there are other considerations. For example, once the general concept of your aquatic creation is determined, you must decide on the materials. Today's fountains can be composed of various materials, including: stone or concrete, stainless steel, PVC, Fiberglas or gunnite.
Filters come in many forms, whether they are standard screens or more fine filtration, the point is to prevent particles from reaching the pump. The kind of filtration used will depend on the environment that the fountain is in. Are there trees or overhanging plants? Is there grass mowed around the fountain and are the clippings left to blow around, or collected?
The type of filtration affects the initial cost of the fountain and the maintenance costs once it's built. The more extensive the filtration system, the cleaner the fountain.
In the case of a small fountain, if there is some kind of vegetation around it and the owners do not have time to regularly maintain it, an in-line filter that automatically flushes itself out periodically should be installed. It depends less on the conditions around the fountain than on long-term maintenance.
Once you filter out the "larger" undesirables in the fountain, (sediment, vegetation, etc.) there should be a system for dealing with microscopic life, like algae. Depending on the size and type of the fountain, you might use biological filtration. In this method, the filter creates bacteria that keeps the water clean, killing the potential algae that tries to grow in the water. Though not used in a lot of commercial situations, residential fountain owners like to use it, because it creates a balanced ecosystem in the fountain.
The most common commercial method for purification is ionization. The ionizer has been shown to be quite effective and uses very little energy. It also requires a great deal less maintenance than older methods. In this process, low voltage is passed through the water at various intervals, essentially "zapping" any life in the water. Though there are variations, the cost for a basic ionizing system is about $450 to $500.
Yet another technique of filtration is called an ozonator, which is used in some swimming pools today, instead of chlorine. An ozonator works in a similar way to the ionizer, except that ozone is injected into the water rather than ions. Ozone is very effective in the oxidation of organic and inorganic material, and helps in managing algae and odors removal, and in eliminating floating particles. Ozonation tends to be delivered through an aeration system. It's not mutually exclusive-it has to be delivered through a sub-surface aeration device.
A new system, developed by OASE, uses ultraviolet light. The light is shown through the water that passes through the filter, instantly killing a significant amount of the algae. The advantage of an ultraviolet system is that it not only kills algae, but actually changes the composition of mineral deposits in the water, making them more productive components in the system.
So, once you have the fountain, how much will it cost to maintain? "The key issue is installing it properly," says March. "You can automate a fountain to the point where it almost takes care of itself, depending on your budget."
The other costs of operating a fountain are actually quite low. These costs include: electricity, lighting, filtration and maintenance. March uses the example of the eight-foot diameter, 10-inch deep pond he has outside his office. "I might only use five gallons of water a day. There are no lights. The motor uses less power than a 300-watt light bulb. Operational costs are virtually nothing."
Even with the advances in technology, there are still people who rail against fountains, citing experiences of maintenance problems and headaches. These fountains were probably improperly installed and without a filtration system. This causes more maintenance to be done and eventually causes the fountain to go into disrepair.
Many of these problems emanate from the fountains being designed without ease of installation and long-term maintenance in mind. Usually, no automatic maintenance equipment is built into them and the owners have very little idea of how to maintain them. Some good pre-planning and investing in effort-saving equipment can eliminate many problems and give your client years of service and pleasure.