Common Fountain Setup Issues & Tips

Posted by Daniel Bogdan on

Buying a fountain - whether a tabletop size or a grand outdoor variety - can be a fun, but sometimes complicated proposition. Not only does the fountain's visual appeal and size play into the equation, but so does the anticipated sound that the fountain is expected to make. Some folks prefer a quiet fountain that has a lovely look, but little to no gurgling or bubbling water action, while others prefer a splashy, active waterfall or bubbling action that adds a nice background sound to the surroundings. Your preference on the fountain's sound and the fountain's design ultimately determines which model you purchase. But the purchase is just the first consideration to take into account when you've made your decision.

Once you've narrowed down your choices for a new water feature, other factors come into play to determine if your purchase of a particular model will achieve your objectives of sight and sound. Are you looking for a water fountain that is durable enough to last for many years, or are you looking for a relatively inexpensive lightweight, easy to move model that will last for a few years and give way to a new model somewhere down the line? Will a mass-produced fountain meet your design objectives, or are you looking for something that's a bit more custom - perhaps handmade - to make you stand out from the crowd? If you're seeking to highlight an outdoor space, are you willing to buy a "heavy duty" fountain that is more or less permanent once placed? If so, then you need to factor in the added responsibility of being willing to properly winterize it against the elements during inclement, icy weather so that it will be around in the Spring to continue to offer you its unique sight and sound. If you want a minimum of fuss with a fountain, your best bet is to buy one that it easy to take care of, while offering a reasonable return in form and function, adding a nice ambience to its surroundings without requiring a lot of work in setup and maintenance. Whatever your objectives and expectations are for a fountain, there are two things that you'll never be able to avoid: setting it up and properly maintaining it over time. And the devil, it is said, lies in the details.

Setting up any fountain should not require an advanced degree, nor should it entails hours of labor. When it comes to tabletop varieties, it's usually pretty simple. If you're the type of person who only reads Owners' Manuals or Instructions when you can't figure it out for yourself, then a Tabletop variety is probably your best bet. The fountain usually comes in three parts: the basin, the pump assembly, and the top section that sits on the basin that holds the pump and water. Setup for these types of water features usually involves attaching the pump to the tubing that is part of the top section, adjusting the water volume on the pump - usually via a mechanism on the side of the pump, then filling it with an ample amount of water, placing the top on the basin, and in your desired location, then plugging it in and enjoying the show. But it's not uncommon for a fountain to have some sort of issue when you first get it up and running, and there are usually quick fixes to address most issues that might initially pop up. Here are a few of the most common issues I've had personally with setting up tabletop fountains, along with a few pointers on how to resolve most of them.

• No flow of water or inadequate flow of water. There are a number of reasons why this might cause some frustration for you when you just don't see the volume of water that you anticipated when you first set up your fountain for use.

It's quite common on initial startup for an air bubble to get caught in the pump and initially move little or no water through the system. Simply unplug the pump, wait for a few seconds, then plug it back in. If this solves the issue, you're on easy street!

The water level may be too low in the reservoir. As a pump draws water in and runs it up through the tubing and into the part of the pump that displays its design, water gets put into small pools and crevices, bringing the overall water level down. Slowly add a bit of water to see if this resolves the issue, being careful not to put too much in the reservoir and having it spill onto your table of other furniture upon which it's sitting. The pump should always be completely submerged and never allowed to run without water going through it. Running a dry pump will definitely shorten the lifespan of a pump, and relegate your fountain to nothing more than a knick-knack on a table or other surface. Always keep an eye on the water level and add more (preferably distilled) as needed - usually no more than every week or so.

Sometimes the tubing that attaches to the pump is too short and, when placed in the reservoir, pulls the pump up above the water level. You could either add more water, if the basin allows, or add a small segment of tubing to drop the pump lower. You can find tubing at any pet store or home improvement store that is the size of your current tubing. Take the pump or a section of the tubing with you when you look in a store to make sure you've got the right size. Then buy a small section of tubing the next size up that your smaller tubing will fit snugly into, as well as a small section of the size that attaches to the pump. A length of 1/2-inch should be more than sufficient for both. Then attach the smaller size to the end of the pump, pushing it inside the larger section, then push the larger section around the tubing that is situated inside the top, smaller tubing to extend the length of the tube a bit. This should solve the "too short tube" issue.

Check the adjuster mechanism on the pump to make sure it's fully on the side that has the "+" sign, to make sure it's at full volume. Sometimes this solves the problem right away. Other adjustable pumps have a switch on the side that allows you to choose between several levels of water volume.

Check the tubing in the top element to make sure that there aren't any constrictor valves holding back the full flow of water. Sometimes manufacturers insert these valves to make sure that the water doesn't splash too much if the pump is capable of pushing a lot more water through than what it needs to for your particular model. Simply remove this constrictor if it is impeding too much water flow and see if that takes care of the issue.

Sometime, ironically, the tubing supplied by the manufacturer might be a bit too long and when attached to a pump, will crimp when the top part of the fountain is set upon the basin. You won't know this when you're setting it up, but if you suspect that this is the case, then gently lift up the top section a very small amount as the pump continues to run. If the flow of water visibly increases when you do this, then this is the culprit. Simply snip off a small section - about 1/8th of an inch - and reattach it to the pump and plug it in again. Once the flow of water is clearly unimpeded by any kinks in the tubing, it will flow properly at full volume, once the top section is fully resting on the basin.

If all else fails, haul out the Owner's Manual or Instruction pamphlet and make sure it's set up properly. Experiment with the pump alone, unplugged from any tubing in the fountain, to make sure it's operating properly and moving an an adequate amount of water on its own. If so, then move one step at a time to troubleshoot any of the issues I've outlined above. If the pump hardly moves any water on its own, or none at all, you may have a defective pump, and will need to replace it with a pump of similar size and capacity. Check the label on the pump and look for where it has a designation of liters/hour (or gallons per hour). Replace it with another that moves at least the same volume, but I always recommend that if you're replacing a pump, do so with one that is designed to move more water through than the original pump that you're replacing.

 • No lights or malfunctioning light element. Many of today's smaller fountains contain a pump with a light attachment as part of the design that highlights part of the fountain when it's plugged in. Most of these lights are of the newer, LED variety, but some fountains still use specialized Halogen or other custom lighting elements.

Check to make sure that the light bulb/element is properly seated in its socket. Sometime in the course of packing, shipping and unpacking, they can work loose. Simply reseating the bulb/lighting element can fix this issue.

Check to make sure that if the pump has a separate connector that comes apart from the pump, it is securely fastened to the lead to the lighting element. This is by far the single most common reason why lights don't work at first, and is an easy fix. Does the lighting element have a separate on/off switch? Try switching it to the other setting to see if this takes care of the issue. Other pumps have an integrated wire that comes out of the pump and leads directly to the lighting element that stays on whenever the pump is active. If this is the case, you have no recourse if reseating the light bulb/element doesn't fix your issue. Your choices at this point are either leaving the light off or buying a new pump with a lighting element that matches what you've got.

If the lighting element/bulb on your fountain is of a Halogen variety, make sure that you don't touch it with your bare hands if you check to make sure it's seated. Always use a piece of tissue paper so that any oils in your fingers don't get on the glass bulb. This will cause the bulb the malfunction. The good news on the Halogen bulbs is that you can usually get a replacement relatively cheaply, so that you might not have to get a new pump assembly if just the light doesn't work properly. Just make sure to avoid touching the glass bulb when switching the bulbs out.

 • Water Splashes Excessively. Many fountains seem well designed, but when put into service, sometimes splash water out of the fountain and onto the surrounding surfaces. This can be problematic particularly for indoor tabletop varieties, where they are often placed on indoor furniture that can be damaged by the unintended splashing.

Reduce the water flow by adjusting the volume control on your pump to the "-" side or choosing a lower volume setting. This is the single easiest workaround for most people.

Try adding some strategically placed pebbles or polished river rocks to the area where the water is splashing to absorb some of the splashing or to build up a small pool where the water can more gently be received and the splashing stopped or diminished.

Add a dampener to where the water is bubbling up if that's where it's causing the splashing to occur. This dampener is usually some sort of sponge-like material that you can place around the bubbling column to spread it out more and reduce the likelihood of splashing. Experiment a bit with the pump setting, placing pebbles, and a dampener, until you get just the right combination of water flow to suit your specific taste. Once accomplished, you'll rarely have to adjust them again.

The issues and fixes I've outlined above can also affect the performance of larger garden or outdoor fountains as well. It's particularly important with these larger, higher performance models, that you read and understand the Owner's Manual and any instructions for setup before you roll up your sleeves and get them going. With solar powered fountains in particular, always make sure that the solar panel gets the maximum amount of sunlight wherever they're placed. It may also take a few sunny days or more to fully charge any backup batteries, if they're part of the assembly. Always double check the connections to make sure that they are snug and not exposed to water, which will short circuit them. Outdoor fountains that have traditional electric requirements to run them should be connected, wherever possible to UL approved, heavy duty extension cords with three prongs connected to an outdoor-approved, CGFI outlet. Using an extension cord that's too lightweight for the draw that a fountain will pull can result in dangerous conditions of an overheated extension cord or excessive tripping of a CGFI outlet, so be sure to use a heavy duty extension cord, if required for maximum safety.

Over time, water in a fountain will develop a sludge or buildup of "goo" in the reservoir, which can gum up a pump and result in a gradual reduction of water flow. I highly recommend using some sort of water conditioning agent, such as Fountec, to keep organic matter from forming and your pump running at peak performance. This is particularly true of outdoor fountains - bird bath varieties especially - where organic matter is constantly finding its way into the water in the system.

If you have a fountain that has stopped working entirely, there's no need to throw it in the trash! I recommend that you consider purchasing a fountain "tune up" kit that consists of new tubing, lighting (if applicable), pump and water conditioner. Simply replace the inside "guts" of your fountain with the new elements, fill it with water and start the new pump and you'll have a fountain that's as good as new! Just make sure that you've matched the new pump capacity to at least the capacity of the old pump. I always recommend using a stronger pump than the original one. Also consider installing a misting element that can be placed in the basin of some fountains. They usually come with lights that can be programmed and produce a unique misting effect when plugged in. The downside to this is that they can cause a bit of extra splashing that you'll want to consider before implementing this on small, indoor models. For large outdoor or garden fountains, they add a lovely touch - particularly on quiet summer evenings when the wind is still. When used in indoor fountains, they will add a much needed amount of humidity to the air in your home. During winter, this can help to humidify your home, but it will quickly draw down the level of water in your fountain, so you'll need to keep a close eye on the water level and replace as necessary. Experts always recommend using distilled water, to keep the buildup of calcium, rust, lime and other minerals present in tap water down to a minimum. Water conditioner agents such as Fountec, also helps to avoid this buildup. When using a misting element, be aware that they will cause a bit of overspray around your fountain, so plan accordingly.

Careful consideration to setting up your fountain beforehand can lead to a pretty straightforward installation - even with large outdoor fountains. Maintaining a regular schedule of replenishing water, proper cleaning and inspection can help your prolong your enjoyment of your water feature and when things do go wrong from time to time, can help you to more easily pinpoint the component that is causing the issue. If your water pump or lighting elements do eventually fail, don't consider it a death sentence for your favorite water feature that you've grown to enjoy over time; consider a tune-up to give it a new lease of life and you a new way to enjoy for fountain friend!!

If you have had any of these issues - or ones I haven't discussed in this post - please comment below and share your experience with other fountain owners who can benefit from your experience.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and that it contained some valuable content for you. Don't hesitate to contact me if you need any assistance or have any questions or ideas for future blog posts! Feel free to like and share this on any of your favorite social media platforms!


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