Words By Jeanne Huber, (c) 2018, Special to The Washington Post
Q: I have a medium garden fountain that hasn’t worked in several years. I have called garden centres that sell fountains, but no one seems to do repairs. The store where it was purchased has gone out of business. Do you have any ideas?
A: A fountain brings a bit of magic to a garden and serves a couple of practical purposes: delivering soothing sounds that help mask traffic noise and attracting birds or other small wildlife. Luckily, although fountains can be pricey, the working components are fairly basic. You should be able to get your fountain working again even if you aren’t particularly handy. You might need a new pump, but that’s easy to find and might put you out only $15 to $30.
Begin by dumping out the debris and stagnant water. If your fountain is too heavy to tip safely, use a shop vacuum to clean out the bowl. Then figure out how the fountain goes together. The centre section probably lifts out. Or perhaps it’s bolted to the base. The pipe or tubing attached to your existing pump is likely to slip into a hole through the centre, and there is probably a recessed area at the base to hold the black box part — the pump itself. Once you have the parts figured out, you can scrub the concrete or clay sections now, or just hose them off and do a more thorough cleaning once you have everything working again.
To test your existing pump, first, make sure it isn’t simply plugged with debris. Remove the pipe that goes up the centre of the fountain and make sure it’s clean. A pipe cleaner, thin bottle brush, or even running water from a faucet or hose can dislodge gunk, especially if you soak the pipe in a bucket of water for a while. Most fountain pumps have a removable cover that gives access to the area where the propellers are. Open that, if possible, and use an old toothbrush, a toothpick or running water to clean out any gunk. Then reattach the cleaned parts and submerge the pump in water. Plug in the pump and see whether water comes out of the tube.
If nothing happens, get a new pump. Submersible pumps, the type you need, are rated for how much water they pump per minute or hour, plus how high they lift the water. They also vary by the size of the tubing or piping they accommodate. For retrofitting into an existing fountain, the size of the pump itself also matters, although there is a workaround if you can’t find anything small enough. Perhaps the Beckett 40-gallon-per-hour fountain pump sold at Home Depot for $14.97 would be a good option. This pump can lift 40 gallons per hour up one foot, which appears from the picture you sent to be about what you need. The pump comes with a valve that lets you adjust the flow to the sound and level of splashing that you want.
This pump works for tubing or piping with a three-eighths-inch inside diameter. If that doesn’t match what you have, replace the tubing or look for a different pump. (Beckett, for example, makes ones that fit quarter-inch and half-inch tubing; see beckettus.com/pumps.) Or you might be able to find an adapter. If you want a spray pattern, rather than just a flow of water that drops over the top rim of the fountain, consider buying a nozzle set. Sets with tubing of different lengths and with different spray patterns are typically sold near pond pumps. If your replacement pump won’t fit where the old one did, get tubing that’s a little longer than the height of your fountain and submerge the pump in the basin of the fountain.
Once your fountain is working again, make sure to add water frequently enough so the pump stays underwater. If you find white mineral deposits building up frequently, consider using distilled water or a product such as EasyCare ProTec Scale and Stain Remover ($8.76 for an eight-ounce bottle from amazon.com, and also sold by many garden and pool-supply companies). What happens if you leave the pump running and forget to replenish the water as it evaporates? The pump will overheat and crack or melt. To prevent that, you have two options: Buy a submersible pump with an auto shut-off feature, such as the Beckett 160 GPH Auto Shut-Off Fountain Pump ($29.98 at Home Depot). Or follow the advice of Kirsi Williams, who works in customer service for Beckett, based in Irving, Texas: “Just unplug the pump when you go out of town.”
Featured Image: Joshua Case, Unsplash