What You Need to Know About Outdoor Water Fountains

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What You Need to Know About Outdoor Water Fountains

An outdoor water fountain not only enhances the beauty of your yard, it serves as a center of calm that encourages you to relax and connect with nature. Whether your fountain is traditional and grand, or minimalist and Zen-like, it requires regular care and maintenance to keep it a tranquil amenity rather than yet another source of stress.

As a Central Florida homeowner, you’re fortunate enough to enjoy the magical ambiance of an outdoor fountain throughout the year. We offer the following methods and tips for optimal upkeep – as well as how to recognize the signs of a leak!

How to Clean and Maintain Your Outdoor Fountain

Exposure to the elements exposes your fountain to build-ups of dirt, grime, debris, scale, algae and bird droppings. But did you know that cleaning the pump is just as important? In fact Serenity Health & Home Décor recommends cleaning it first!

“To clean the pump thoroughly, take it out of the fountain and wipe away any debris or build-up with a cloth. Open the cover and wipe down the inside of the pump, as well. Any hard-to-reach areas can be cleaned out with an old toothbrush. Just a few minutes of pump maintenance will keep your fountain running smoothly and beautifully for a long time to come.”

If you purchased your fountain, follow manufacturer’s instructions for exterior cleaning. If your fountain was in place when you moved in, here are basic care instructions that apply to most types of outdoor fountains. Of course, empty the fountain of water, first!

Remove debris – Central Florida’s storms can deposit leaves, twigs, sand, dirt, etc., into outdoor fountains. Not only does such debris look bad, it can clog the pump. Debris can also build up when the fountain is left off for long periods of time.

Clean scale build-up – White scale is a calcium buildup that develops from hard water. An environmentally friendly solution is to gently rub the buildup with white vinegar and run the fountain afterward to rinse. Cleaning products specifically for outdoor fountains are available, but be sure that they’re non-toxic to birds and other wildlife.

Use an algaecide – Algae damages the surface of your fountain and may also clog the pump. It tends to grow in fountains that aren’t run on a regular basis. Adding an algaecide will prevent its growth, but be sure it’s safe for birds and other wildlife. Some products are toxic to fish, so read the label if your fountain feeds into a fish pond. Chlorine is not recommended, as it’s hard on the fountain’s pump. However, chlorine could be necessary to disinfect the system if an algae bloom occurs. Should this be the case, add ¼ cup of chlorine bleach for every five gallons of water, and let the pump run overnight.

Clean up after birds – Depending upon the location of your property – as well as the presence of plants and insects popular as bird food – your fountain may be a favorite rest stop. Although birds bring welcome color and song, their droppings are unsightly and unsanitary. Because outdoor fountains can be made of concrete, stone or metal, follow the cleaning instructions provided by the manufacturer or company that installed it.

As for maintenance, prevention is better – and less expensive – than repair! Giving your outdoor fountain the regular attention it needs will keep it running smoothly. Our blog post – “Outdoor Fountain Care and Maintenance 101 – What You Need to Know” – covers this topic in further detail.

The most important rule to follow is to always keep the pump submerged in water, except when you’re cleaning it. According to Sunnydaze Décor, “Fountain pumps are specifically made to run underwater and if you let it run dry then you risk drastically shortening its lifespan. The pump will sound louder with the less water you have in your fountain, so find the right balance where your pump is submerged enough in the water and the outdoor fountain has minimal splashing.”

Other essential maintenance steps include the following, courtesy of Sunnydaze Décor and Pacific Dreamscapes of San Diego:

  • Remove the water once a month. You can use a wet/dry vacuum to take it out completely. When the fountain is empty, wipe the interior with a soft cloth. Follow this by scrubbing off buildup with vinegar and a soft nylon brush. Wipe clean and refill the water.
  • Place a nylon stocking over the pump and intake area to prevent dirt intrusion.
  • Make sure the water level remains at the right level – never let it fall below the intake pipe, or pump damage will occur.
  • Let your fountain run constantly. It is hard on the pump if you turn it on and off every day. The only times you should turn off the fountain pump is if you are cleaning it or if you are going to be away from it for several days. It is better to turn it off than to risk the water levels getting low and the pump running dry while you are gone.
  • Clean your fountain once a month with an anti-algae cleaner.
  • White scale occurs in fountains when there is a lot of calcium or lime build-up in your water. This is typical if you are using hard or tap water that contains high levels of these minerals. Use only distilled water to prevent white scales from building up. If you must use hard or tap water, use a white scale cleaner, or use vinegar water and a mild abrasive pad to scrub the area with the deposit build-up.

How to Tell if Your Fountain Has a Leak – and Other Reasons Why It May Be Losing Water

Your outdoor water fountain needs to hold water to run smoothly. However, if there is a leak, it will start losing water. Any unusual loss of water other than evaporation should raise a red flag. As our blog post – “The Benefits of an Outdoor Water Feature” – covers, the fountain base is the most conspicuous location that provides evidence of a leak. If the base leaks without a visible crack, Serenity Health & Home Décor advises to turn off the pump and let the fountain sit for one week. If there is a crack, this should cause it to appear white. You also can turn off the pump and let it stand for 24 hours. If your fountain loses more than an inch of water, it could have a leak. Another common sign is a drop in water pressure. This can be caused by a leak in the seal or the suction line, which may slow down your fountain to a trickle. In addition to damaging the fountain over time, a leak will increase your water bill.

There are many other reasons a fountain can lose water. Liquid Features provides a list of some of the most common:

Overspray – When a fountain sprays water out of range, it is known as overspray. Another condition of overspray is when your fountain shoots the water up; its return causes a splash, resulting in water loss. If possible, refer to your fountain manual to adjust the height and width of the spray.

Water flow problems – If there is an issue with the fountain pump, you may face water flow problems. Make sure that your fountain pump and tube are correctly attached, and that there are no leaks in the pump and tube. You may have to change the tube if it has a hole, or the pump itself may need to be replaced.

Plant growth – Water is essential for plants to survive and grow – which is why plants tend to grow in and around fountains. If any vegetation is growing on or around your fountain, it could be the reason the water is disappearing so quickly. Removing the weeds should solve the problem.

Evaporation – This is one of the most common reasons for water loss, causing fountains to lose as much as one inch of water a week. If your fountain is in a sunny spot, keep an eye on the water level and add water as necessary.

Fountain architecture – The design of the fountain may make it impossible to keep enough water inside. For example, fountains with low edges might look like they can hold a good amount of water, but the edge isn’t high enough to keep it all in, and it will spill out. The best way to keep from wasting water is to notice where the water line is on your fountain and refrain from filling above that line. Otherwise, you might keep refilling it, only for it all to spill out, and it will start to look more like a waterfall than a fountain.

Fountain composition – Some fountains are made of porous stone, meaning that they are full of little holes that air and water can sometimes seep through. Fountains made from porous stone will absorb water, so it will look like the fountain is losing water. Apply a sealant to seal the holes and prevent water loss.

The Take-Home Message

Regardless of the troubleshooting steps you might take, the cause of the water loss may not be revealed. If you suspect a leak – or confirm that your fountain is leaking, but can’t locate the source – call Certified Leak Detection. We are experienced in leak detection for swimming pools, spas, hot tubs and fountains. Serving areas throughout Central Florida – including Orlando, Longwood, Lake Mary, Sanford, Kissimmee, Clermont and Winter Springs – we are ready to help keep your fountain a source of beauty and enjoyment. Contact us for quick, reliable service.

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