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Installing a Recirculating Fountain: What To Know

One of the best ways to add design interest that is both visual and auditory to your outdoor living space is to invest in an outdoor water feature. Fountains, ponds, reflecting pools, and more could all be classified under the broad category of “backyard water features”. However, while there are many kinds of backyard water features available on the market today, one of the most commonly used varieties is a recirculating fountain.

Offering ambience and visual appeal without the drawbacks of stagnant water, they can be an excellent addition to your space. Before deciding to go ahead with installation, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of recirculating fountains, as well as what models are available.

Informing yourself about potential care and conflicts that could arise from introducing a water feature to your space will help you make the right decision for your yard, and prevent you from spending money on a project you may regret.

What is a recirculating fountain?

While many styles of fountain installations exist, the most commonly found feature in many backyards is the recirculating fountain. A recirculating fountain is defined as a fountain feature that recycles water in a loop to provide a continuous stream of water.

Put simply, recirculating fountains work as their name suggests. When water is pumped from the spout or top of the feature, it falls back to the base, where it collects and is sent once again to the surface by a water pump. This cycle is ongoing, so long as proper maintenance of the installation is observed by the homeowner.

Fountain Pumps and Reservoirs

Depending on the size of your recirculating fountain, you will need to take into consideration the size and function of several of its working parts. Larger fountains require both larger pumps and reservoirs to continue to work as desired without a need for constant attention or refilling.

Water pumps for recirculating features are graded by GPH, or gallons per hour, in reference to the amount of water they can move to the surface per hour. Determining the optimal speed and volume of the flow of water you desire will help you determine the grade of water pump necessary for your fountain.

Most fountains in this style contain one or more channels or tubing constructions through which water flows. The more channels or tubing a water fountain contains, the more dynamic the feature may be. Keeping reservoirs full and appropriate channels clear will result in the best effect.

Maintaining Circulation

In order to maintain efficient circulation in your fountain, you must take care not to neglect certain areas of care. The two main ways in which fountains cease to function properly can be linked back to improper filling, and failure to clear water channels.

Because water is constantly cycling in these features, it is important that build up is avoided. Buildup from hard or mineral rich water can clog channels and result in failure of the fountain, repairs to tubing, and even replacements. As such, homeowners should take care to fill fountain reservoirs with distilled water to prevent mineral build up. Rain barrels to capture water may also be appropriate, and cost effective.

Take care to clean tubing on recirculating fountains semi regularly, or about once every two months. With moderate care, you can ensure your backyard water feature is functional for years on end.

Popular Backyard Fountain Styles

As with any popular outdoor design feature, many styles of recirculation fountains exist in a wide range of makes and materials. Deciding what design works best for your yard is contingent on your tastes and overall aesthetic goals. Having a general awareness of your options when it comes to the look and composition of your fountain can help you begin to envision how a fountain may look in your space.

Wall Fountains

Among the most popular of recirculating fountains is the wall fountain. The design is as is suggested by the name, and consists of a water feature mounted against a wall in your outdoor space. These features come in many different styles and designs but are well-loved for their ability to add visual interest without claiming too much real estate in your yard.

Vertical water features like wall fountains are great design additions to compact spaces, and can be worked into many different outdoor designs without costly or complicated installation.

Pool Fountains

Pool fountains offer heightened auditory interest for those looking to add more dimension to their space. In this design, water recirculates before landing in a visible pool reservoir. This enhances the sound of falling water, and can create a soothing ambience. These designs typically demand more room than vertical styles such as wall fountains, but are a great way to create a focal point in any yard or patio.

recirculating fountain cascading into a pool of water

Tiered Fountains

Often thought of as “formal-looking” fountains, tiered fountains are recirculating features that contain multiple levels. Here, water cascades down each level before returning to a bottom pool or reservoir to be recycled. While some may associate tiered fountains with more classical or conservative styles, varying the design and material of your installation can allow you to adapt the style to better fit your space.

Disappearing Water Fountains

“Disappearing” or hidden water features are recirculating fountains specially designed to create an illusion that the water being recycled is simply being naturally absorbed into the ground. The overall effect of this style of fountain can be more naturalistic than the aforementioned varieties, and tend to look great integrated into spaces such as large gardens. However installation of a disappearing fountain is more extensive and more costly.

To function, these fountains have hidden reservoirs installed beneath the ground. This requires digging and expertise not required in many other fountain installations. Furthermore, maintaining these types of features can be more difficult for homeowners, as accessing the mechanics of the fountain is a larger challenge.

Other Designs

Though certain styles of recirculating fountains are undoubtedly more popular than others, the design options are limitless. Bubbling vases, DIY builds, and boulder or rock fountains are all within arms reach. If you have an idea for a recirculating fountain and are having troubles bringing it to life, reaching out to a landscape designer can help.

Common Materials Used in Recirculating Fountains

Once you choose your preferred design for your recirculating fountain, the next step is deciding on an appropriate material. Today, backyard water features are created using a wide range of natural and manmade materials. Each comes with their own set of benefits and drawbacks, and each gives a slightly different finish to the space.

Natural Stone

For those looking to spend a little more on a water feature that maximizes durability and overall appearance, natural stone is a preferred material when constructing recirculating fountains. Stone such as granite can be cut to resemble an innumerable amount of styles and fountain designs, not to mention unique grains and colorways. When cared for and sealed correctly, this material can stand the test of time and look great doing it.

However, those on a budget may wince at the price tag associated with natural stone. Thankfully, many alternatives exist that offer similar style and functionality without breaking the bank.

Synthetic or Manmade:

As the years go on, man's ability to produce synthetic materials that mimic the look and feel or natural material only continues to improve. When it comes to outdoor water features, several synthetic and hybrid materials are available. From lower price tags to great durability, those looking to spend less for a great result can find what they’re looking for in a manmade option.

Cast Stone

Cast stone is a material constructed to closely mimic the look and feel of real, naturally cut stone. Made from cast models, fountains in this style can be poured and produced quickly and offer high aesthetic appeal for a lower price tag. Unlike granite, however, cast stone is quicker to degrade than it’s natural alternative. But for those looking to spend less for an overall effect that makes a big difference in your outdoor space, cast stone is affordable and accessible to almost everyone.


While not as natural looking as cast stone, fiberglass fountains are a great way to add visual and auditory interest to a space without adding significant weight to your space. When compared to other models, fiberglass fountains offer homeowners a benefit not found in stone or metal composition- they’re surprisingly lightweight!

While the weight of your fountain may not seem initially important to you, heavy fountains can make repairs, replacements, and repurposing of the area far more difficult, Fiberglass construction can be customized and made to mimic many natural materials.


As with other outdoor composite material, composite fountains refer to fountains made from a blend of materials. Typically, this blend includes something called GFRC, or glass fiber reinforced concrete. Similarly lightweight to fiberglass, this blended material offers increased aesthetic appeal, as well as enhanced durability.


Last but not least, many homeowners may prefer the look of metal finish fountains in their outdoor space. Metal offers a different look compared to stone or stone imitations. Those looking to finish or create modern focal points may turn to metal as a more forward thinking take on a recirculating fountain. There are two main metals used in today’s fountain features. These include stainless steel, and copper.

Stainless Steel

Excellent in modern yards or homes, the clean lines of stainless steel fountains may appeal to many looking to give their backyard an updated look. When properly maintained and observed for potential damage, stainless steel fountains can enjoy a long lifespan in your outdoor space.


Hard to replicate with any other material, a copper fountain offers timeless elegance to your yard that evolves as the fountain ages. The finish, hue, and changing gradient of the metal all are big draws. Homeowners should take care to treat and closely watch copper to ensure that it ages properly without becoming significantly tarnished or accumulating mineral build up.


Cost and difficulty of installing a recirculating fountain in your backyard is contingent on a few key items. Location, design, material, and effect all have big say in the price tag and problems you may face implementing a recirculating fountain. Generally speaking, larger or more involved pieces (say, a disappearing feature made from natural stone), will require a lengthier, more costly installation process.

Alternatively, precast, above ground fountains such as wall or tiered fountains may require little to no professional installation help. If homeowners feel cautious about whether or not they may be able to take on a recirculating fountain installation, consulting a professional can help.

Power Sources

Function of your fountain can be determined by a variety of power sources including battery, electric, and solar powered energy. While each has its own benefits and drawbacks, the style that will work best in your yard is largely contingent on the overall look and feel of your space. Consistently shady yards, or those located in cloudy or rainy climates may see no benefit from investing in solar powered fountains.

However, those in temperate climates may be able to enjoy the environmental and cost benefits implicit in solar power. To understand what is best for your space, take a quick tour of your yard and note things such as light, electricity access, and what you are aiming to get from your fountain installation.

Pros of A Recirculating Fountain

The benefits of a recirculating fountain are largely in line with that of most backyard water features. Depending on what is important to you, and what you most enjoy about an outdoor living space, a fountain could be the missing puzzle piece in your dream outdoor design.

Visual Interest

Most apparent is the immediate visual interest a fountain feature adds to your space. The movement, texture, and look not only of the running water itself but of the fountain design creates a focal point that draws the eye. And with so many styles on the market, homeowners can strike the right tone. Whether you’re looking to modernize with a drilled granite fountain, or bring traditional flair with a tiered piece, the best fit for your space is available at a garden or landscape design center near you.

Auditory Interest

Water features offer appeal to senses that few other backyard installations do. Most notably, features such as recirculating fountains offer auditory interest, creating another layer of appeal to your space.

Many homeowners find the sound of running water soothing or relaxing, and talk of sitting outside to relieve stress. It should be noted that your fountain should not be too loud. Even those who love the sound may get annoyed if it’s all they begin to hear. Adjusting the flow of water will help achieve your preferred volume.

Attract Birds and Other Wildlife

In addition to the relaxing sound of running water, recirculating fountains also offer an attractive opportunity for you to view more rarely seen species of bird and other wildlife. In general, one of the most helpful things you can do to diversify bird traffic in your yard is add an outdoor water feature. For those looking to birdwatch over their morning coffee, a great recirculating fountain can be a no-brainer.

Eco-Friendly Landscape Design Option

Last but not least, recirculating fountains offer an eco-friendly way to conserve water while still benefiting from the look and overall aesthetic of the installation. Because water is recycled, these fountains are less wasteful than other water features available today.

Cons of a Recirculating Fountain

While there are numerous positives to installing a fountain feature in your yard, it’s important to be realistic about potential drawbacks. Those unwilling to do maintenance or risk potential repairs may find themselves happier investing in other focal points for their outdoor space. Such drawbacks of outdoor fountains include items like:

  1. Difficulty to cleaning and or keeping clean

  2. Standing reservoir or pooled water, which may attract bugs or increase mosquito populations

  3. Invasive or pricey installation, depending on design

  4. Recirculating fountains have a risk of leaking

  5. Regularly required maintenance to keep water tubes and channels clear

While not make or break items for most who are set on the idea of adding a fountain to their space, being aware of potential issues simply helps homeowners to make an informed decision prior to purchase.

Is a recirculating fountain the right fit for your backyard space?

If you’re looking for a great way to add a layered or textured sensory experience to your space, investing in a water feature such as a recirculating fountain may be the design answer you’re looking for. However, having an idea of fountain style is appealing to you, as well as a preparedness to undertake any necessary repairs or maintenance can allow you to make an informed decision.

Whether you decide to install a recirculating fountain, or another outdoor water feature such as a pond or reflection pool, adding a water element to your space can elevate your yard quickly. For more information or for a design that fits your vision, we recommend consulting a landscape designer or team who can formulate an overall design layout for your backyard space.

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