How to fix an outdoor fountain -- or time to give up?
April 15, 2017 2:26 PM   Subscribe

This is a fountain in a covered (but basically outdoors) area in my yard. The photos show the pump and the place where the water is supposed to come out of the tube in the friendly demon (?)'s mouth. It only works sometimes. Can I make it work all the time with minimal ongoing effort, or should I give up and just accept this thing as a decorative non-water feature? I know nothing about fountains.

The previous owner of our house got a new pump for us before Mr. hansbrough & I took possession last fall. It worked for a while and then stopped working. We've tried jiggling the pump around and unplugging/plugging it back into the pipe/tube that leads to demon-friend's mouth -- sometimes that gets it going again. We've also used our air compressor to blow air through and clean out the line a couple of times -- that got it going again for a few weeks. The air compressor is a pretty big production to schlep over to where this thing is located, though, so we don't want to have to do that every week or two.

The other thing we have tried is treating the water with the chemicals pictured in the imgur link. They are:
Small fountain cleanser - one capful per week
Foun-tec algaecide & clarifier - 5ish drops per week (the fountain is 5 gallons)
I don't know if any of that is doing anything. The water still doesn't really look clear to me.

I don't mind putting in the chemicals and topping off the water periodically, and I would do a more involved one-time project to fix it if it would work, but other than that I'm not really interested in making this fountain a big focus of my free time on an ongoing basis. However, I enjoy the fountain enough that if there's some magical product I can put in there or a different pump of some kind that would be more reliable or some other solution to this problem, I would like to know what that is. Please tell me what to do! Or is it time to throw in the towel on this and just live with it sans running water?
posted by hansbrough to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
The friendly demon is a Green Man.
Try cleaning the filter.
The pump may be too small, check and see what size is recommended for that size fountain. There is probably somewhere on the pump that tells what size it is. Check online and see if you need something larger.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:48 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]

I got a new pump for a fountain I found in an alley and it worked fine all last season. I did have to buy a bigger pump than expected.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:51 PM on April 15

And check to make sure the tubing is in good shape. If it has holes or cracks it may suck air and lose the vacuum it needs.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:55 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]

It depends what you mean when you say it stops working. Is the pump still running, but no water coming out? Or the pump stops?

It's a submerged pump, so a vacuum leak can't be it. It should keep trying to move water as long as it's covered with water and the suction screen isn't clogged. (is it?)

If the tube from the pump to the Green Man's mouth is blocked, the pump might not be able to pump up the pressure enough to overcome the blockage. If you notice that happening, it should be not too time-consuming to use a long pipe cleaner in both ends of the tubing once in a while.

If you don't notice it's running but not pumping water for a long time, the pump might overheat and break.
posted by ctmf at 3:20 PM on April 15

Hello! Cool to know about the Green Man. Thank you!

Thanks for the suggestions also. I have no idea how to clean the filter or check the tubing, but I'll try to figure that out. I think we have some kind of instructions somewhere. Pipe cleaner is a good idea -- so that's what they're for! :)

When I say "not working," I mean the pump runs (it is submerged) and no water comes out.

Thanks for the help so far!
posted by hansbrough at 3:33 PM on April 15

I think I'd recommend draining the reservoir and either taking very good pictures of all the pump bits or just see if you can pull the pump out and take it to a pond and fountain store and see if you can get a quick lesson in how the pump works and how to troubleshoot (they may do diagnostics as well, for free or a few bucks). They're generally very hobbyist- diy-oriented places with staff who are hobbyists/pros themselves.

You might also peruse youtube, which is how I have learned to troubleshoot and fix all kinds of pool, aquarium, and plumbing issues.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:46 PM on April 15

I'll answer the 'time to give up?' part....

NO! Fountains are cool and that one is especially cool. I have a really low rent fountain made out of a pump, an upside down old glass lampshade, and some terracotta pots that hide the tubing.

It's not even close to being as cool as that one, and it's just a lovely sound in the summer.

One thing I've noticed is that the tubing really impacts water flow--like if I use four feet of tubing and hide it in the terracotta pots, it's kind of a slow trickle that cascades down. If I use 18" of tubing, the water pressure is much higher and it's much more fountain-y.

I find the slow trickle more relaxing and more 'like nature', like a stream, but that's a personal preference. If I lived in a city I might go for a higher powered cascade of water.

Anyway: stick with it! I'm lazy and I still think it's awesome. And when the sun hits the the rippling water you can space out like never before.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:06 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]

Oh here's another piece of news you may not know, because I didn't. Plastic tubing is sold in hardware stores by the foot.

There are many sizes. If you snip a piece of your tubing, you could go to the hardware store, match it, and have someone cut you off like ten feet--so then you have a bunch and you can play with how it affects things. It kind of sounds like maybe the tubing length is long and maybe the pump isn't up for pushing that water that far (that doesn't mean the pump is wrong or anything is wrong; it's kind of a combination of physics and personal preference.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:12 PM on April 15

You might also be able to clear the line by disconnecting the pump from the tube, then back-flushing with a garden hose held tightly over Green Man's mouth hole.
posted by ctmf at 6:03 PM on April 15

I have a very small decorative fountain in my house which my cats have decided is their drinking fountain. I have to add water to it even when the pump is fully submerged, or it won't circulate. It seems to only run when it's as full as it can possibly be. Since my cats use this as their primary water source, this means I have to add water every day. YMMV, but try topping it off even though the pump is submerged.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:11 PM on April 15

It sounds like your pump is clogged. It should come apart so you can clean it. Check the model or type online, I'm sure there is a manual or video so you don't feel like you're about to break it.

There's usually a panel on the side and a little latch that opens so you can get to the propeller bit. There might be a mesh screen thing. It's gross and unfortunately you have to get in there with toothpicks or whatever, you can't just chuck some cleaner in the water or soak it in alcohol. Depending on how big the pump is, and how scuzzy it gets, you might have to do this monthly. I'm sorry. It's worth it sometimes to get a bigger pump.

Source: proud owner of many fountains
posted by ananci at 10:14 PM on April 15

Seconding a ananci to clean the pump. Our pump gets a buildup of scum over the intake "grate" every season. Try giving that a good scrubbing, first, then move on to checking the tubing.
posted by sarajane at 4:16 AM on April 16

Coming back to agree about the cleaning. After this post yesterday I ended up having to de-scunge an aquarium filter that's only about 7 weeks old and it was extraordinary how little water was moving before I cleaned it compared to after.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:34 PM on April 16

Clean the pump. For sure. You have to do it pretty regularly, too. Also, the connection between the pump and the rubber tubing needs to be very tight. I use a bolt hose clamp To make sure it doesn't leak.
posted by raisingsand at 7:29 PM on April 16

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