Fountains vs. Ponds: Comparing Water Features

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Updated March 22, 2022
A cottage house next to a beautiful pond
Photo: Jon Lovette / Stone / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Fountains can cost as little as $20, especially if you DIY. Most ponds begin at a few hundred dollars and can cost as much as $50,000 or more.

  • Fountains offer more variability than ponds design-wise, coming in various styles and materials.

  • Fountains can take up very little space, whereas ponds require a bit more room.

  • Ponds require more maintenance than fountains, especially with fish or plants.

  • Fountains provide soothing sounds, whereas ponds are usually quieter.

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Watch sunlight glint off the still surface of a pond, listen to the trickle or splash of a fountain, and feel instantly transported and relaxed. For a dose of serenity and to enhance the beauty of your property, add a water feature. The question is, should you install a fountain or a pond? To help you decide, read on for a head-to-head comparison of these two options.

Fountain Pros and Cons

A cottage house facade with a water fountain in the yard
Photo: Perry Mastrovito / Image Source / Getty Images

When it comes to water features, fountains are the most elemental. These sources of serene sounds include a reservoir of water, pump, tubing, and basin. Besides being inexpensive, fountains are easier to maintain than ponds and can work in the tiniest spaces. For the lowest maintenance design, install one whose water reservoir is underground

Pros of Fountains 

Cost

You can find a fountain on any budget, from $20 to $10,000. Most cost between $150 and $500 or up to $2,000 for a seven-foot-tall cast concrete model. If you DIY, your investment could be a few dollars. Just use a stack of rocks, an old planter, and a pump or stick a bubbler in a birdbath. The only requirement for the basin is that you drill a hole in its base for the waterline. 

Installation Difficulty

Many fountains are easy enough to install yourself. That said, you’ll probably need to hire a local fountain installer to put in a larger, heavier model with a reservoir. You should be able to complete the project in a few hours versus several days or weeks for a pond. Even better, you shouldn’t need to secure a building permit or install a fence. 

Space Requirements

Since fountains are small, they can fit on tiny patios and postcard-sized yards. 

Maintenance

Being smaller than ponds, fountains require less maintenance. For the least amount of work, go with a pondless model. Since leaves can't collect in the reservoir, you won’t need to worry about cleaning out debris. 

Design Options

In design, fountains run the gamut from six-foot tiered towers to orbs and vases. They also come in a range of colors and materials, spanning from glazed ceramic to cast concrete and fiberglass. 

Sound Effects

From gentle burbling to pouring and splashing, fountains offer many different sound options—all calming. 

Cons of Fountains

Size

Fountains tend to be smaller than ponds, often making less of a visual impact. That said, you can go with a six-foot-tall model for more drama.

 Life Forms

Fountains are too small and shallow for fish to call home. Meanwhile, you can incorporate more life forms with ponds, like lily pads, frogs, and koi fish. That said, if you install a bubbler in your fountain, it will likely attract birds and butterflies. 

Pond Pros and Cons

A modern house with a pond overlooking at nature
Photo: Portra / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Ponds consist of an underlayment, liner, pool of water, filter, and pump. Since they’re usually larger than fountains, they make more of a visual statement. Plus, they can shelter a variety of wildlife. Unfortunately, these more complicated water features are usually pricier to install and maintain.

Pros of Ponds 

Size

In most cases, ponds are larger than fountains and will give you a tranquil view from different vantage points on your property. If you have the room and budget, put in a pond deep enough to support fish and large enough to make a major visual impact. A significant budget could even accommodate a pond large enough for boating. 

Wildlife

By installing a pond, you can sustain koi and other fish, as well as frogs and plants. For help maintaining your koi pond, just hire a local koi pond service.

Extras

For more drama and beauty, add a waterfall, rock wall, or extensive plantings. 

Cons of Ponds 

Price

You can buy a kit with a rigid plastic tub, tubing, and a pump for a nine-square-foot, 84-gallon pond for as little as $70. However, expect to pay at least $5,000 for a 176-square-footer installed by a pro and up to $50,000 for more elaborate versions.

Installation

If your pond will be deeper than 18 inches and longer than six feet on at least one side, hire a local pond company. Even if your pond is small, you’ll need to bring on a local plumber and a local electrician—that way, you’ll be sure to avoid any water, sewer, or electrical lines. Plus, there’s a good chance you’ll need to obtain a building permit and install a fence with a locking gate. Even with an experienced team, many ponds take several days or weeks to install. 

Space Requirements

To put in a pond, you need a larger area than you do for a fountain. Some yards are too small and not level enough. If you plan to stock your pond with fish, you must make your pond at least 24 inches deep—or 36 inches in colder climates. 

To cut down on algae growth, situate your pond to receive sunlight in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Depending on local building codes, you might need to set your pond back a certain amount of feet from property lines. You’ll also need to call 811 to make sure your chosen site won’t disturb existing utility lines. 

Maintenance

Ponds tend to be more costly and time-consuming to maintain than fountains. For instance, because ponds are larger and hold more water, they require more time to remove debris. If your water feature features fish and city water, you’ll also need to add a de-chlorinator directly to the water. 

Design Options

Ponds don’t offer as many distinct looks as fountains. Forget modern or contemporary; ponds are more about organic, natural beauty. 

Fountains vs. Ponds

A courtyard fountain with blue tiles
Photo: rodho / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Which type of water feature is best for your home? It depends on your needs and circumstances. Let’s look at how each option performs in a head-to-head battle. 

Price

Generally, fountains cost hundreds or thousands less than ponds.

More affordable: Fountains 

Installation

It takes a few hours to install fountains versus several days to weeks for ponds.

Quicker installation: Fountains 

Maintenance

In general, fountains are less pricey and time-consuming to maintain than ponds.

Less maintenance: Fountains 

Space Requirements 

You need more yard space to install a pond versus a fountain.

Fewer space requirements: Fountains 

Design Options

The sky’s the limit with fountains, which you can purchase in a range of styles and materials.

More design options: Fountains 

Sound Effects

Fountains offer a range of sound options, from burbling to pouring and splashing.

Better sound: Fountains 

Size

You can go as big as you like (and your budget will allow) with ponds. Meanwhile, fountains are much smaller in scale.

Larger: Ponds 

Wildlife

Ponds can support fish, plants, and frogs. Fountains are too small and shallow to shelter flora and fauna.

More wildlife: Ponds

The Winner: Fountains Or Ponds?

Fountains win out for convenience, price, design options, and sound effects. However, if you’re set on fish and want to make a larger design impact, choose a pond. Better yet, install both.

Winner: Fountains

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