The Proper Care & Feeding of Your Indoor Water Fountain

Posted by Daniel Bogdan on

A Primer for The Newbie Indoor Fountain Owner

Congratulations! You’ve looked at a variety of fountains to purchase, and decided which one is best for you. Now that you’ve got it in your hands, it’s time to set it up and enjoy it. Like a new puppy, kitten, or baby rabbit that you received as an Easter gift, there are a few things you need to do for your fountain in order to maximize your enjoyment and minimize any potential issues...
After you’ve unpacked it and inspected it to make sure that all the parts are included, it’s a great idea to carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions, if included. Just like different breeds of animals, different styles and sizes of fountains have different requirements in order to perform to their maximum potential. This is particularly true of the larger outdoor fountains. For purposes of this article, however, my comments are directed toward the smaller indoor desktop, tabletop, floor or wall varieties. Step one is to carefully read and understand the directions provided to you. If no instructions for assembly, maintenance or troubleshooting are provided, the best way to approach things is to use common sense. Some basic things to consider:
  • Find a spot for your fountain that will not interfere with other activities, and where it can be seen and heard without getting in the way. Once you’ve found a good spot for them, you shouldn’t have to be shifting them around in order to do other things. If you find that you’re constantly moving them out of the way, then they are simply in the way, which diminishes your enjoyment of them and raises the potential that they’ll either be damaged or that spills will occur.
  • Keep children, pets and your workflow in mind when deciding where to put your water treasure. Kids and pets are naturally inquisitive, and will surely want to poke around to investigate this new object - sometimes causing accidents. Similarly, placing your fountain on your desk near a bunch of paperwork could potentially cause problems if the fountain gets jostled or pushed over, spilling water in the process. Battery operated fountains offer more flexibility in placement because they don’t require a location near a power source, but the down side is that they usually have an off/on switch located somewhere that necessitates you either pick it up or move it around in order to get to the switch. So consider pets, kids and power supplies when you’re initially thinking about where to place your fountain.
  • If your fountain requires assembly, as most fountains do, first get a soft cloth and some mild soap and gently clean off the various elements. This will wipe away any factory dust and will give you the opportunity to carefully inspect things to ensure that there are no cracks, dents or other defects that might detract from its performance or from your enjoyment. Many smaller fountains are made of polyresin, a form of plastic, so be sure to use a soap that won’t damage or erode any of its components. Once you’ve done this, proceed to assemble it according to directions. If there are no directions, here is a rule of thumb: most smaller fountains have a top piece which simply lifts up out of the basin to reveal room for the pump, lighting, wiring and plumbing. Most of the time, assembly is pretty self-explanatory. If it seems like rocket science to you, there should probably be material that provide step by step instructions.
  • Assembly is usually a straightforward process: Remove the top piece from the bottom reservoir. Then connect the water pump to a tube and place it in the basin. Next, connect the unplugged cord to the pump, thread the wiring through some channels in the fountain to the pump (and lighting if included), and pour enough water into the basin to completely submerge the pump. Put the top piece back in place, making sure that the wiring isn’t in contact with the water. Place your fountain in your chosen location and turn it on (if battery powered) or plug it in. The rest should take care of itself…
  • Whenever possible, use distilled water in your fountain. The second choice would be to use filtered water, which removes much of the mineral elements which will otherwise build up over time, causing scaling to form and which could damage your water pump. If neither is available, then “normal” tap water will suffice. In any case, buy some water conditioning product for your fountain. Use it regularly to minimize scaling, foaming and mineral buildup. It will prolong the life of your water pump and keep your fountain operating efficiently. Most of these products are organic and will not harm pets if they should take a notion to drink water from the fountain. A little bit goes a long way, so be sure to follow the directions on the container for your particular fountain. “Regular” use of these products and “regular” cleaning of your fountain depends of how much you use it. Weekly cleanings and/or additives are probably excessive, unless you have your fountain running constantly. Even then, you should visually check out your fountain before undertaking an automatic cleaning. Use your best judgment. If you start to see foam or scum in your water flow, or a decrease in volume even after refilling the water supply, it’s probably an indicator that it’s time to clean your fountain. Over time, you’ll get a feel for this.
  • The first time you turn on your fountain, let it run for several hours before you start to tweak with it. This will allow the pump to stabilize and give you a chance to determine if any problems (such as unseen leaks or defective lights) exist. My experience has been that if everything functions well overnight, then your fountain will probably have years of trouble free performance.
If your fountain runs according to your expectations at this point, then nothing further needs to be done. However, many people like to experiment to see if they can increase or decrease the water flow. It’s also common that the sound of the water flow won’t be what you thought it would be. The most common initial issues I’ve found with a new fountain is either that the pump makes too much noise, or the water doesn’t make enough (or some combination of the two). Other common concerns: water splashes outside of the pump onto the desk or table upon which it’s placed, or the water doesn’t flow as much as expected. Here are some ways to solve these issues. If the pump vibrates, hums excessively, whines or otherwise makes distracting noises, check to make sure that it’s not pushed up or crammed against the basin walls or shoved tightly within the reservoir. Repositioning the pump solves the majority of these issues. Many pumps have the ability to adjust the flow of water. If the pump is making a lot of noise, sometimes it’s because it’s not getting enough flow of water into it to operate correctly. Adjust the water flow accordingly. Some pumps have a simple sliding mechanism somewhere on them, which allows you to increase or decrease the inflow. When making adjustments like this, allow the pump to operate for a while - up to several hours  - before re-adjusting it. It often takes some time for the pump to stabilize, so don’t be in a big hurry to readjust it. Other pumps have a switch to increase or decrease the volume of water. Again, make an adjustment and sit back for a few hours to determine if that solves the problem. If not, make more adjustments until you’re satisfied. If your pump continues to make excessive noise despite your best efforts, it might be advisable to replace it with a new one. If the water isn’t making the amount of sound you expected, there are a few things you can do to change this. The sounds of moving water (babbling, gurgling or trilling) can be increased or decreased by placing a few pebbles or river rocks in strategic spots until the desired result is achieved. The same technique can often be used to stop water from splashing excessively. As before, make an adjustment, let the fountain run for a while, and determine if any more adjustments need to be made. After some level of tweaking, you should be able to have the sound and flow that you desire. In some cases, the fountain wasn’t designed for the water to make a lot of noise, but focuses instead, on the visual aspect of the overall water flow. In this case, there is little you can do except try a different fountain design.
Never let your fountain run dry or low on water. This will absolutely ruin your water pump. If this happens, or if you are annoyed by a noisy water pump that refuses to quiet down despite your best efforts, it doesn’t mean that it’s time to chuck your fountain in the trash. You can order a replacement water pump from a variety of sources. Try and get a replacement pump that matches the capacity of your existing pump, and which will fit in your fountain’s reservoir. Whenever possible, try to get an exact replacement. With proper care and maintenance, replacing a water pump should be a rare thing. If you’re in the market for a replacement pump, it should be because of a dead or chronically noisy pump, or because you want to experiment with greater water flow, or a higher head for your fountain, not because you didn’t properly maintain it…
So there you have it. When you’ve taken the time up front to consider where and how you want your fountain to operate, and taken the steps to allow it to do so, you’re on track to maximum enjoyment.
Just like a new puppy, kitten or bunny rabbit, a little tender loving care goes a long way. The last thing you want to have to do is unload your new-found friend because you didn’t take the necessary steps to allow it to give you to the long-term pleasure that it promised when you first laid your eyes on it. Give your fountain some tender, loving care and it will pay you back in years of enjoyment.

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