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How to Build Outdoor Waterfalls Inexpensively

Simple Instructions for the "Cheap" (Like Me)


Outdoor waterfall picture shown here. I advise on its construction in my article.

The completed waterfall.

David Beaulieu

In planning to build outdoor waterfalls, you need to concentrate on two structures: the pool into which the water falls and the cascading structure for the waterfall itself. The latter is often the more difficult to build, but in this article I show you how to build it in a way that is not only simple, but cheap. It involves using rock, which many homeowners have right in their own backyard (or can find readily elsewhere). Once these two structures are in place, you'll use a pump in the pond to keep water recirculating from the pond to the top of your waterfall, whence it can plunge back down to the pond.

Outdoor waterfalls come in all shapes and sizes and make for emphatic focal points. When mulling over your design options, the main consideration is how to achieve the necessary height for the waterfall. Often, a landscape designer exploits a slope on the property, or else (if the whole property is level ground) erects a berm (i.e., an artificial slope) to create such an area behind the pond. Either way, it means a lot of work. And it won't be cheap, either. When building such large outdoor waterfalls, you must lay down a flexible liner on the ground between the top of the waterfall and the pond, to channel the water. Boulders are then placed on the liner to hide it and hold it down.

Unless you're building an outdoor waterfall of large dimensions, such work and expense are unnecessary. Indeed, many homeowners who are landscaping in small spaces would prefer a smaller waterfall, as long as it brings the wonderfully soothing sound that results from water striking water. One alternative is to use pre-cast concrete forms that mimic stone for the cascading structure. They're compact and easy to install, as they're simply stacked up over the edge of the pond. But they cost money. If you have access to natural rocks, why not take advantage of a free resource? That's the route I take in this outdoor waterfall project.

Supplies Needed to Build Outdoor Waterfalls -- The Cheap Way!

  • Rocks.
  • Submersible pump.
  • Tubing to run from pump to top of waterfall.
  • Large plastic flower pot (or similar) to house tubing.
  • Rigid pond liner.
  • Carpenter's level.
  • Shovel.
  • Sand.
  • Garden hose.

You should be able to buy the pump, tubing and rigid pond liner that you'll need to build backyard waterfalls at major hardware chains.

The use of the flower pot will be explained later in the article. But to gain a hint on its use, click "More Images" under the waterfall photo (above right) to open the photo gallery.

See if you can find 25-30 rocks. A mixture of sizes and shapes is fine, but include at least a few large, flat rocks. This is a dry-wall project, so it is certainly to your advantage to have flatter rocks, where there's a choice: they're easier to stabilize. I collected several additional smaller stones to place around the edge of my pond (to hide the plastic edge) as decorative elements.

The pump I used is a "Little Giant" submersible pump, with a 6' cord. It's a 120 GPH pump, which means it displaces 120 gallons of water per hour -- sufficient for such a small garden pond. The width of the tubing that fits this particular pump is 1/2 inch. I used a small, cheap rigid plastic pond liner (also called a "preformed" liner) that is 2' in diameter and 7" deep.

You'll use the sand to supply "adjustable flooring" for your rigid plastic pond liner. Along with a carpenter's level, this will come in handy when you attempt to get your pond liner to sit level in its hole.

But before doing any digging for outdoor waterfalls, have a certified electrician install a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet near where the pond and waterfall will be, if you don't already have one. Since the cord length of the pump I selected was 6', I determined a location for mine that would be within 6' of the outlet. An ideal location in your landscaping for a waterfall is near a patio, where you can enjoy its soothing sounds.

There's another matter to attend to even before contacting an electrician. You should call the Dig Safe phone number to make sure your digging for an outdoor waterfall and pond won't damage any buried utility lines.

On Page 2 we'll begin with the digging the pond for the backyard waterfall....

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