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Recirculating Backyard Fountain

How to Build: A Recirculating Bucket Fountain

This article discusses the steps involved in creating a backyard bucket fountain.

  • Create a lovely setting in any yard
  • Attract birds and other small animals
  • Hear the sounds of cascading water

Start with Large Hole

We are using a 17 gal. galvanized bucket to catch our water.

COST: ~ $265


The rock and copper pipe are optional. Of course, you create a cascading water feature with many other items, like broken pottery, tile, etc. Many simply run the flexible plastic tube from the submersed pump to the top of the fountain.

In the winter, put a deicer in the water and it'll never ice over. I used this one: 250W Aluminum Bird Bath Deicer -- $35

Our aim is a simple fountain you can make in a day, but a good sized bucket will make things easier.

In the past, I tried a 5 gal plastic bucket and it lasted 2 years. Eventually time and sorrow cracked it. However prior, there was some water loss from evaporation, splashing, birds -- and we didn't like filling the bucket every day. So now we're using a Behrens 17 Gal. Hot Dipped Steel Round Tub. For the money, it's a good value.

OK, back to the hole

You'll want a hole bigger and deeper than the bucket. Why?! My preference is ...

  1. To set the bucket on bricks and to surround it with gravel
  2. Around the bucket, I am building a basic 2"x6" wooden box to support the rock feature. You can use cedar or pressure-treated. I prefer the cedar because it holds up well and it's natural.
Recirculating Backyard Fountain: Galvanized Bucket embedded in Gravel

Set the Galvanized Bucket atop some bricks or concrete chunks, add broken concrete & gravel around for better drainage


Next: Put Your Pump in First!

NOTE: If you need your pump to go much higher than 3 feet, you might consider a stronger pump.

The pump makes the magic, so don't pinch the cord

We used a $22 PonicsPump Submersible Pump from Amazon and it's been going 5 years plus. It can deliver a good stream of water three vertical feet through a 1/2" tube which is fine for our requirements.

Of course, the pump requires electricity, so run an extension cord out to your fountain, or in our case we ran conduit underground (but that's another article).

Recirculating Backyard Fountain: Add the pump

Set the Galvanized Bucket, then add broken concrete, so its well-supported then gravel around for drainage.

To protect the cord: After building the box around the bucket (out of 2"x6"), we made a 1/2" knotch for the pump's electrical cord. IMPORTANT: Any electrical connection must be outside the water AND don't pinch or compromist the wire!

At this step we are just putting the pump at the bottom and running the electrical cord outside the bucket. The actual water connection from the pump to a copper elbow was done earlier.  Since I knew I needed 1/2" copper elbow (at the end of my pump), I just took my water pump, my flexible plastic line and asked them to fit the parts that get me to 1/2" copper elbow.

Our rock supplier drilled a hole for us at the yard where we chose our rocks.

So after dropping the copper tube through hole in the rock, I can slip the copper elbow onto it below (i.e. in the bucket). Note, there is not enough water pressure to separate these, so soldering is not necessary.


Secure the Liner

The vinyl catches splashing water and funnels to the center

The vinyl liner is layed on top of the wood box again. Don't make it tight, let it sag in the middle to help water return. We then trimmed the top of the 2x6 box with 1" material and screwed it in using 1¼" cabinet screws. This ensures your liner is secured and water falls freely into the bucket. Vinyl liners are not a cheap material, we purchased the 7'x10' Pond Liner at Home Depot for $35. It was the smallest availalble. 

Cut an "X" in the liner over center of the bucket: So it's totally fine to cut a hole for water to return to the bucket now. You'll likely want cut another small hole later -- once your rocks are in place and you know how things will line up.

Recirculating Backyard Fountain: Add the Liner

The liner catches the water ensuring a return to the bucket. Liner secured by trim wood.


Screen and Concrete Stakes

We add screen over the top of the box again, but leave one third for access

Recirculating Backyard Fountain: Add the Netting and Cross Stakes

The screen keeps debris out of the water and your pump

Recirculating Backyard Fountain: Add the Rocks on top of the Stakes

The screen can roll back allowing access in case anything happens with your pump connections or water flow issues.

Next we used 1/16th Brite Aluminum Sreen ($8) over the box -- this ensures debris does NOT go into the bucket. Over time, you'll find leaves and finer debris can clog your pump grill. So definitely do not skip adding screen. Otherwise, the maintenance will make wish you hadn't added a water feature.

In the picture, you'll see we trimmed about 2/3rds of the box with some pine trim material AND left gaps for the round stakes to go across. The stakes will support your rocks.

IMPORTANT: Leave one third of the screen unattached for access to the bucket. In the picture, the screen is rolled back allowing access in case we need to adjust water connections, the pump water pressure, or clean the pump grill.

Most pumps come with about 6' of cord, but I suggest leaving most of the cord in the bucket and have your electrical connection close but as dry as possible. Some put a bowl over the plugs.

So, we used the round stakes which are very strong, three 3' round stakes ($6/ea) to support the rocks.

In the picture above, we set the copper pipe thru the rock hole (this was drilled at the supplier) reached underneath to feel where the copper pipe pushed against the screen and that was the only hole in the screen. In the picture below, you can see the copper pipe. 

Add More Rocks To Create a Cascading Water Feature in Your Backyard.

So we have two 100 pound rocks shown and clearly you do NOT want to support them on your bucket, thus the 2"x6" wooden box and the horizontal stakes.

Recirculating Backyard Fountain: All objects in place / Ready to Test

Get creative -- Add rocks, shells, tile and pottery to carry the water and ideally make some nature noises

Recirculating Backyard Fountain: Finished Look

Many birds come daily to drink and bath. Humming birds sometimes fly right through the stream. Even a hawk tried to bath in it! Bees and other creatures all come to drink. An oasis in my backyard!

From here on out, get purely creative!

Plants have grown in now ...  

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