Winterizing Outdoor Fountains
Fountains are a beautiful addition to any property, including personal homes and residential areas. While they are stunning, they do require some regular upkeep to ensure they function well and continue to look appealing. Come winter, the harsh temperatures and weather can damage smaller components, making the fountain unusable. It is strongly recommended that they fountains are winterized properly to prepare it for the ice and snow.
Winterizing a fountain is not a complicated process and only becomes easier over time. Whether the structure is large or small, almost everyone has to follow the same simple steps:
- Drain the fountain
- Clean away any residue
- Remove the pump and all other small parts
- Cover the fountain
Step 1 – Drain the Fountain
Remember to shut the fountain off before doing any work with it. Failing to do so can result in injuries or broken equipment, especially if the basin is draining but the pump is still trying to move water.
The process of draining a fountain does not have to be difficult. Most modern models include a small plug somewhere near the bottom, especially if the fountain is made of plastic or another synthetic material. In this case, all the owner needs to do is pull the plug. Some time should be given to allow all of the water to drain thoroughly. At this point, the fountain can be cleaned as well.
Fountains without plugs are a little harder to clean, especially if water continues to cycle through the pump. The easiest way to empty the basin is by hand. The owner will need to get a bucket and start bailing. If the fountain is made of plastic or movable, it is possible to simply turn the fountain over and dump the water out, but otherwise the owner will need to do everything by hand. As usual, the owner should allow any remaining puddles at the bottom of the basin to dry out once draining is complete.
If neither of the other options work, it’s time to use a siphon. A siphon works using basic physics, which say that fluid can be removed from a body of water using a segment of horizontal tubing. For example, the standard garden hose.
Using a siphon is a little more complicated than the other methods. The full list of materials required includes: a hose long enough to stretch between the fountain and dumping ground, a rock, a nozzle, and a working spigot. The following steps detail the entire process.
- Attach the nozzle to one end of the hose and seal it so no water escapes
- Attach the unoccupied end of the hose to a working spigot
- Put water into the hose until it is completely full
- Detach the hose from the spigot without spilling the water
- Place this end of the hose in the deepest part of the fountain
- Weigh down the hose with a rock or brick so it stays submerged
- Open the nozzle so water starts draining
Because of how physics works, the water will drain from the hose and then from the fountain until there is no more that the hose can reach. Why? Because the molecules which form the water will essentially “stick” together, forming a long chain of the liquid. The owner will still need to let the basin dry after siphoning to ensure no liquid is left behind.
Step 2 – Clean off Residue
Fountains getting dirty is a fact of life for owners. All sorts of residue gets trapped in and around the fountain, causing stains and overall ruining the appearance of the structure. Each type of residue requires a different method to be fully eradicated. Some of the most common messes include:
- Growths like algae and mildew
- Mineral stains from hard water
- Dirt and animal messes
Algae is a slimy, nonflowering plant which grows in areas where there is a lot of moisture. Fountains which aren’t regularly scrubbed and maintained are likely to develop some form of algal growth, especially in the basin and around the spurts where water emerges. The easiest way to eliminate algae is to mix a few drops of mild dish soap with water. The owner should use a soft, non-abrasive sponge to scrub the fountain with the mixture. Once finished, all of the soap needs to be rinsed away to avoid buildup.
Mold is a different animal – or plant in this case – entirely. Mold is a woolly growth caused by fungus that lives on damp or decaying materials. The majority of mold found on fountains is not harmful, but some can be dangerous for humans. Mildew is basically like a mold but is different because of its color. Mildew tends to show up as a thin white film that covers areas where there is consistent moisture.
Mold and mildew are cleaned in the same manner as algae. The owner needs to mix together a small amount of dish soap with water and then use a soft sponge to scrub away the fungus. Anyone doing this job should wear protection like rubber gloves to make sure the mold fibers don’t touch skin. Not all types of mold are dangerous, but some can be, especially when
Mineral stains also need to be scrubbed with a soft-bristled brush or sponge. Sometimes the mineral deposits, also called hard water stains, take a lot of cleaning to remove. If they continue to be reoccurring problem, it might be worthwhile to invest in some sort of filter to remove the minerals from the water source used in the fountain.
Finally, there are dirt and animal stains. Believe it or not, most of these messes can be cleaned using warm water and the same soft brush used in the other scenarios. Dish soap can be added but is not necessary, especially if there is just dirt. If scrubbing doesn’t work, the dirt might need to be scraped off before cleaning commences.
Once all of the stains have been removed, the fountain is ready to continue the process of winterization.
Step 3 – Remove the Pump and Other Small Components
The pump is an important part of any fountain. It’s one of the most crucial components which keeps water flowing from the basin, up through the fountain spouts, and back out into the basin. Before doing anything, make sure the power supply to the fountain is disconnected so the pump does not start back up. Each pump will have different rules on how it should be taken out and how the small parts should be removed. Just make sure that no moving parts remain inside.
So, why should the pump get taken out?
The pump and the other moving components spending all of the spring, summer, and fall in action. Many of them will get worn down from the constant use. Each part should be inspected before it goes back into the fountain just to make sure everything will function normally.
Another reason to remove the pump and other moving parts is that they might not react well to the cold. It’s difficult for the internal pieces to dry, so it’s possible for them to freeze, crack, and break in the winter. Winter also provides an excellent opportunity to clean these pieces. Again, they are always exposed to water and moisture, which means a buildup of algae and mildew should be expected.
Pre-purchased fountains usually come with instruction manuals that explain how to take the pump and other components out. Someone who owns a custom fountain might need to contact the builder for more information. On average, the removal process should only take 30-60 minutes. Afterwards, the parts can be cleaned with the same dish soap and water mix found in step 2.
Once the pump is removed, it is time to double check that everything is thoroughly dry. Use old towels or blankets inside the bowls to absorb any moisture. Moisture that stays in the fountain can freeze and cause cracking.
Step 4 – Cover the Fountain
Covering the fountain is the easiest step of winterizing the structure. All the owner needs to do is acquire some kind of waterproof cover to protect the structure from the wind, ice, and snow. There are a few requirements for a cover. The best kind will be waterproof to prevent damage or the buildup of mold and mildew on the fountain. Covers should also be fitted correctly to the fountain, which means there should be no gaps or loose patches. Some models will also come with additional features like a zipper or a drawstring at the bottom to pull shut the cover to further defend the fountain, which is important in making sure the cover provides the maximum protection possible.
Not all fountains come with covers since it can be difficult to mass-produce a model which fits even standardized fountains. For these, the owner will need to purchase one. The best way to ensure a cover fits is to buy it from the same manufacturer or builder of the fountain pieces since they will know the dimensions of the fountain and how the cover can be fitted the best. If purchasing from the same manufacturer isn’t an option, two measurements are needed: the fountain height and diameter.
These two measurements are really easy to take. For height, the owner needs to use some form of tape measure. One end should be kept at the bottom and the other needs to be brought all of the way to the tip of the fountain. Most people should add an extra inch or two to their measurement to ensure that the cover fits well. The person doing the measurement should bend the tape measure over any curves leading to the top because measuring straight up and down will not accommodate the true shape of the fountain. Almost all covers sold in the United States are cut and measured in inches, so fountain owners should use the inch as their unit of measurement.
For the diameter, the owner wants to measure the fountain at its widest point. For most fountain styles, this will be around the basin where water collects before going into the pumps. As with the height, the diameter should be measured in inches. With these two measurements, the owner can either purchase a standard cover sold by hardware stores or they can special order one sold from a specific retailer.
It’s important to get a well-fitted fountain cover so that snow and moisture don’t pool over the cover, similar to what can be seen on cloth canopies or general swimming pool covers. Pockets of liquid add extra weight, which can be detrimental to a fountain’s structural integrity and the efficiency of a cover. It would be disappointing to invest in one only to have it pulled away from the edges of the fountain by extra weight.
Covering the fountain requires little effort. Simply air out the cover and place it over the structure. If there is some sort of zipper, drawstring, or Velcro to hold it in place, use it. The owner wants to make sure everything is tightly sealed before leaving it for the winter.
Fountains can be an enjoyable part of any yard or garden, but they can’t remain on all year. Before winter comes, it’s important to make sure the fountain is properly prepared so that it doesn’t freeze or suffer any damage from the cold and ice. All of the steps in this guide should be simple to follow, especially when it comes to cleaning and covering. Remember to do each part to prevent long-lasting problems with the mechanical components of the fountain. If there are any questions, be sure to contact a specialist or the fountain’s manufacturer for assistance. It’s better to be safe than cause damage to the fountain!
- Catherine Sibi