Water features to complement the backyard pool

A Total Concept

By John Storch
Wednesday, 25 September, 2013

Water features to complement the backyard pool

Long gone are the days of the water feature in the back corner of a pool, constructed with three decorative rocks piled high and a PVC return to pool line poking out the top to create a ‘natural’ waterfall. A well-planned and -constructed water feature can provide pool builders with a monetary add-on to their business, can give them a competitive edge, may increase the value and the aesthetic appeal of a project and should increase the enjoyment of the swimming pool for the owners.

Water features add to the aesthetics of a pool. The addition of water features creates a stunning visual feature during the daytime and with lights, a glowing, mesmerising, night-time image. Water features also create a soft background noise for relaxation or a loud splash to drown out nearby traffic or neighbours. Water features may add to the usability of a swimming pool or spa, as heated massage jets and swim jets for exercise and for children to have fun, and they can also have a functional use, moving water around the pool, increasing circulation to skimmers and chlorinators.

Water features may be installed as an integral part of a new pool project or installed as part of a renovation. Most water features can be linked into existing pumps and plumbing within pools so the additional running costs can be kept to a minimum, only turning on when the pool’s filtration equipment does. Alternatively, a water feature can have stand-alone pumps and switches, depending on their complexity, allowing them to be turned on and off separately to the pool equipment, as required.

All water features can incorporate manual or automatic gate valves, allowing them to be turned up and down to get different effects from a trickling brook to a gushing torrent with multiple outlets. Gate valves can enable the pressure to be equalised throughout numerous flow heads or varied to create diversity.

All water features sound different. This is predominantly dependent on the volume of water being used but can be varied by the type of surface the water is running over; for example, cracked limestone makes a giggling sound, a Japanese bamboo water spout makes a loud ‘twang’ noise (also known as a Shishi-odoshi or deer scarer), a sheer descent makes a splash, spouts mixed with air can provide the sound of an effervescent bubbly brook, and if you run water over a smooth or mildly rippled surface you can get a soft soothing noise - great for meditation!

Different types of water features

Water walls: A vertical sheet of water cascading or rippling down a wall. The vertical sheet may be purchased ready made or almost anything may be incorporated as the running platform. A rippled sheet of toughened slump glass as the vertical wall can create unusual effects when combined with lighting, plant silhouettes or the sun behind. Stacked stone, tiles matching the waterline tiles, cracked marble and granite, rounded river pebbles and stainless steel all create different effects when water runs over them.

Due to the vertical height and the small compact width of a water wall, they are often used in areas where space is at a premium or to disguise a wall behind. The wall can be a piece of art in itself so that when water is not running the feature remains.

These features are often designed by artists or landscape architects and may be bespoke items costing many thousands of dollars.

Jets: There are two types of design positions available for jets: those positioned within the swimming pool and those positioned externally within gardens or in the pool coping. Jets positioned within the swimming pool are typically spa jets and may incorporate a blower to achieve the ‘champagne’ effect. Jets within a pool can also be swim jets, primarily incorporated for swimming exercise purposes, but also make a great ripple effect of movement with pool lights when operating at night-time.

Jets may also be positioned outside of the pool and create arching water into the pool itself. Not only do children love these, but when incorporated with LED or optic fibre lighting at night, the feature gives the appearance of light running along the stream of water.

Ponds: Ponds allow a great diversity of design style ranging from a tranquil billabong to a geometric contemporary pond adjacent to the pool itself. Ponds may be a sheet of still water or with the addition of a fountain create a sparkle of moving water. Ponds have the greatest diversity of use and scope for blending in with the surrounds and integrating with swimming pools or may also be very separate to the pool.

Often the ponds are integrated within the swimming pool plumbing system and the pond flows into the pool and water returns via an upper pond, but not always. It may be desirable to keep the water and filtration systems physically independent of each other but create the visual illusion for design purposes that they are integrated. Keeping the pond system independent of the pool filter would allow for fish and plants to be kept on one side of a sheet of glass while still maintaining a clean sanitised pool on the other.

Fountains: Fountains can range from a single jet, to a classical figurine, to a multiheaded kinetic moving extravaganza. Fountain heads and spouts can be incorporated within adjacent elevated pool walls to create a stunning piece of art or to set a period linking the pool to the garden. Bronze lions’ heads and other traditional sculpture types can look magnificent when used in conjunction with traditional gardens. Glass and stainless steel work well with contemporary gardens, while natural rock looks in place with native or tropical gardens, which also utilise grasses, succulents or palms.

Pools: It should always be remembered that swimming pools, spas and plunge pools are water features in themselves - just large ones.

The aesthetic value that swimming pools, spas and plunge pools can add to a property should never be overlooked. They have the capacity to change a drab space into a stunning entertaining area. Styles can vary from a traditional Greek pool, a spa set in formal gardens, a pool and waterfall dripping in tropical exotica, a native setting with tropical billabong or a contemporary rectangular plunge pool to provide family fun. Set a spa or plunge pool into a small courtyard, adjust the colour slightly, add a big jet and lights and you have a stunning water feature day or night. An infinity edge pool with a rural view, water view or large silhouetting Angophora trees is one of the most amazing water features a backyard could have.

The styles of these water features are limitless and their design should be incorporated into the surrounding gardens and house with particular attention to paving, pool interior colour and planting.

The possibility of incorporating other features in conjunction with the water feature such as sculptures, trompe l’oeils, pergolas, plants and gazebos should also be carefully considered to create a total concept.


Pools, spas and plunge pools require professional advice on filtration, pumping and sanitation. The following contains some general suggestions and common pitfalls but each water feature should be viewed independently.

  • If fish and plants are to be used in the water feature, it is important to ensure that a suitably sized biological filter is set up. This will allow for a balanced ecosystem to be established whereby oxygen and nutrients are provided. If this system is set up correctly, the living organisms will thrive and the water will remain clear. Chlorinated water cannot be used if you want fish or plants to survive.
  • If fish and plants are not included and if the water feature is incorporated into a swimming pool, regular chlorination, ozonators or ionisers may be an option to ensure clear water. These options should be designed by a professional to ensure their suitability.
  • Pumps and sanitisation for a water feature may be independent from the swimming pool or integrated with it. With either option there are numerous different configurations to set up the pumps using actuators, gate valves and switches, which enable the water feature to either turn on at the same time as the pool or run independently.
  • Pumps may be either external to the water feature or submersible and placed within the main body of water of the water feature. Low- and high-voltage pumps are available. It is important to choose a pump that has adequate lift, ie, has the capacity to pump the volume of water to the height of the fall. There is nothing more disappointing than completing a water feature, turning it on and seeing a dribble where a gushing cascade was envisaged.
  • As they may be structures in themselves, often council approval is required for ponds and water features and this should be verified before starting work. If independent of the pool and external to the pool fence, it is important to ensure that water features are safe for children and compliant with pool fencing codes and regulations. One method to achieve safety compliance is to secure steel mesh below the water line to reduce the effective water depth to less than 300 mm. This method is much less visible than a pool fence, but specific restrictions apply.
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