5 Water Feature Design Styles to Incorporate Into Your Home

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated February 22, 2022
Family playing in swimming pool
Photo: E+ / Getty Images

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Water is the source of life and, just like the other members of the animal kingdoms, we are drawn to it by a kind of primeval power. Several backyard water feature design styles harness that power to provide your home landscape with visual interest and soothing sounds while offering a place for recreation or nature-watching. 

With so many different kinds of features, where to start? Read on as we survey five of the most significant styles and their different subtypes so that you can spruce up your landscape.

1. Fountains Are the Foremost Feature

Fountain in garden
Photo: Moment / Getty Images

Low-maintenance, inexpensive, and coming in an almost endless array of styles and types, fountains are one of the most popular kinds of home water features, with options available to suit almost every size of outdoor space and all different aesthetic preferences. Combining the sounds of bubbling water, the sights of crisp, clean H2O, and the refreshing feeling of mist coming off the surface of the pond, fountains have it all. Speak with a local fountain installer to get a sense of all the options available to you. These are a few of the major categories.

Freestanding Fountains

Whether it’s a simple concrete pedestal tier (starting at $50) or a multi-tiered marble luxury item ($4,000 and up), a freestanding fountain can provide the tranquility of water with a minimal ground footprint. Freestanding fountains are the most popular type of backyard water feature, and many models are among the most affordable—but there are versions in every size, material, and boasting every feature you could ever imagine. 

Wall Fountains

Depending on the size and material, expect to pay between $150 and $500. When mounted on a wall or fence, a fountain can lend your yard an air of Old World elegance. Taking up no ground area, they can also be the perfect solution for those with tighter spaces. 

Bubblers

Creating continuous swells of white water like hot springs, bubblers—also called gurglers—create soothing white noise. Often installed as a mechanism in larger fountains or ponds (where they also serve to aerate the water), bubblers can also form their own standalone features for landscapes with a tighter fit—whether in a small bowl or a more sculptural piece, like bubbling rocks.

Birdbaths

Small, inexpensive, and simple to operate and care for, birdbaths are the easiest water feature to add to your home. There are birdbath styles to suit every taste ranging from lightweight, standalone pieces that you can install out of the box to elaborate custom designs. Birdbaths bring not only the pleasures of water to your garden, but also delightful wildlife, providing entertainment for you and your guests and a place to rejuvenate for the local avian population. 

2. Do Go Chasing Waterfalls

Waterfall in backyard
Photo: scaliger / Adobe Stock

Whether natural or artificial, a waterfall seems to exert a kind of primal attraction, the sights and sounds of cascading H2O drawing in the senses of any nearby humans and instilling a sense of peace and relaxation. A waterfall adds dynamism to any space it occupies, creating sound, motion, and leading the eyes vertically, bringing out new dimensions. There are various waterfall types that you might consider for your home landscape. 

Standard Waterfall

Standard waterfalls are made from stone, concrete, or fiberglass and designed to mimic nature. If you’ve got the space for one, a standard waterfall can blend in naturally with a wide array of design styles and add timeless romance to your landscape. The downsides are the cost—sometimes as high as $4,000 and up, depending on the specifics of the design and your home—and higher maintenance demands than some other features.

Pondless Waterfall

Expect to pay between $1,500 and more than $5,000 to add one to your home. While a standard waterfall usually includes a pond at the base to collect water and add a naturalistic touch, pondless waterfalls cut them out so that your yard doesn’t host a basin of standing water. Over time the water in the pondless feature evaporates, requiring you to manually fill it or employ an automatic filler. They are safer and smaller than a standard waterfall and require less regular maintenance, but they are more expensive to install and operate. 

Water Wall

The average cost to install a water wall runs between $5,000 and $15,000. A staple of traditional Japanese gardens, an artificial water wall provides the same soothing sounds and visual interest of a standard waterfall but swaps the naturalistic appearance for elegant design. Often made with ornamental or reflective material like tile or steel applied to masonry, water walls cut a more dramatic vertical profile than standard waterfall. They are popular additions to outdoor kitchens and pool areas. 

However, they’re not the most family-oriented feature, require regular maintenance, and can pose risks to children. Constructing them with different materials allows you to alter their sound, and LED lights enhance their appearance. 

Rain Curtain

Not every yard has the right kind of space to accommodate a rain curtain, but if yours does, they can provide a luxurious, sensuous effect for less money (about $2,000 to $3,000 on average) and less upkeep than other waterfall styles. Like a water wall minus the wall, a rain curtain consists of a frame outfitted with tiny holes. The device pumps recycled water through the holes (in different patterns and droplet sizes, depending on the model you choose) to create a thin sheet of falling water. 

3. Ponder Life’s Pleasures Beside a Pond

Koi pond
Photo: sutsaiy / Adobe Stock

As in nature, artificial ponds come in all different shapes and sizes. There are a few different basic types. 

Natural Pond

Typically, natural pond construction costs range between $1,200 and $5,500.Even if you’re not lucky enough to have a backyard that already features a natural pond, you can likely build one that fits perfectly within your landscape. Contractors excavate the space, dig a hole to reach an underground water source, and add a natural or rigid liner. A water pump keeps the bed filled with water. It’s the perfect choice to give your home a burst of natural wonder. 

Fish Pond

A garden pond that can support aquatic life requires a liner, aquatic plants like water lilies or irises, chemicals to balance the water, and often a heater. Koi and goldfish are the most popular species.

Water Garden 

Whether contained in a simple basin or forming a more elaborate hardscape feature, water gardens offer lush and romantic greenery in addition to the tranquil sights and sounds of water. The feature supports aquatic surface flora like water lilies, floating plants like parrot’s feather, and provides the perfect setting for edging plants like sweet flag. 

4. Plop Into a Pool

Boy jumping into swimming pool
Photo: Mike Ende / Adobe Stock

Whether designed for recreation or ornament, pools have long represented one of the most desirable home features. 

Reflecting Pool

You don’t need a backyard with as much square footage as the Taj Mahal to install a beautiful reflecting pool. Decorative features that often form the centerpiece of a landscape design, reflecting pools are typically shallow and square or round in shape. It’s a perfect choice if you want to enhance the appeal of an already gorgeous outdoor landscape.

Swimming Pool

You know and love their virtues (Cannonball!) and have considered their vices (from cost to risks and legal liability). Average costs for an above-ground pool fall between $700 and $3,600; to excavate and install an in-ground pool, expect to pay between $36,800 and $66,500—and more than $100,000 for a custom pool. 

5. Let the Streams Flow

Backyard stream
Photo: Tan Kian Khoon / Adobe Stock

Building a stream can be pricey, costing anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. If you want to combine the natural beauty of a pond with the dynamism of a waterfall, a stream is the perfect choice. Meandering through your landscape, streams can connect to other features, such as ponds and waterfalls, and fill your landscape with the white noise effect of a babbling brook. A stream requires a lot of space and a lot of landscaping care to function most effectively, so it’s not an option for every home.

6. Sport a Stylish Spout

Lion head fountain
Photo: Moment / Getty Images

While many water features require large basins or elaborate, sculptural architecture to seize the eye, there are a number of different spout features that can create visually arresting water displays by propelling water through the air.  

Sconces

Typically attached to a pool or fountain, sconces send a steady stream of water through a hole, as if pouring. The most familiar types are the elaborate stone lions and cherubs that one can find at public fountains in ancient European cities like Rome and Athens, but today you can find all sorts of different design options. 

Scuppers

Like a sconce with a wider mouth that circulates a higher volume of liquid, scuppers pour water from an upper to a lower level, whether a pool, pond, or dedicated basin. They are most familiar from hotels and resorts in warm-weather locales and elaborate Vegas casinos. 

Laminar Jets

Expect to pay between $500 and $1,000 for each jet. A laminar jet sends a single stream of water arcing through the air in one smooth trajectory, often illuminating it with a color LED. Laminar jets give an elegant, luxurious touch to your landscape, but they require a long and involved installation process and can be difficult to repair.

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