No matter how complex or lavish a hardscape project is, Jeff Blunkosky always includes some type of water feature in the design.
“People are always drawn to the water first,” says the owner of Pittsburgh Stone and Waterscapes. “It’s soothing, relaxing and beautiful to watch. It’s a great complement to the natural landscape.”
And with the design/build segment continuing to grow since the doldrums of the Great Recession, water features are a great way to enhance the backyard experience for your customers.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Rick Smith, director of sales at Easy Pro Products, says water gardens and koi ponds were on a fast track because of Baby Boomers. “They were much more of a do-it-yourself gardener. That’s how they got their relaxation,” he says. “Today, for a lot of different reasons, life is much faster and you are dealing with three generations instead of just one, and the trends are changing.”
The trend now is maintenance-free water features. Instead of homeowners taking an active role in maintaining the feature, they want something they can see and hear but don’t have to touch. That attitude has led to a rise in the popularity of pondless waterfalls.
“Instead of having the maintenance and the hands-on of a water garden, it’s just the waterfall portion of it,” Smith says. “The water disappears down into a reservoir down below the grade. What that does is, it looks like a waterfall you’d see in nature, but it can now be applied in all different applications. It’s less water, but has the same soothing and visual appeal with fraction of the maintenance.”
Blunkosky, who has installed water features for 20 years, says about 95 percent of his water feature projects are pondless waterfalls.
“They seem to be integrated into any backyard project we do whether it’s a pool project, landscape, a hardscape feature, we are just doing a tremendous amount of the pondless waterfalls with the natural stone,” he says.
Be very observant of the surrounding terrain when you install a waterfall, Blunkosky says. Don’t build the water feature where surface runoff goes toward your waterfall.
“If you have surface runoff coming down a hillside toward your waterfall, that surface water gets underneath your liner or even concrete for that matter, and it’s going to disturb the water feature,” he says. “Always make sure it’s on the high side of the hill.”
Blunkosky also advises not to be cheap when it comes to soil. When excavating for a water feature, you should be thinking of that soil as the sub base as if you were building a retaining wall on it.
You wouldn’t put a retaining wall on bad soil, so don’t put your waterfall on it.
“A lot of times people aren’t concerned about the soil and you build a nice water feature on top soil and it looks good for six months, but you get a couple of heavy rains and that ground starts to settle on you,” he says.
“All that rock starts to move and water is going everywhere, and you have an upset customer.”
Because no water feature is completely maintenance-free, Smith says contractors should leave an instruction manual with the customer, which some contractors forget.
“You have a frustrated customer and a lot of callbacks,” he says.
“That can be resolved by just leaving a maintenance guide behind.”