Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].
Question from Jasmin in TX: Hi Brian, We’ve been excited about the patio season for a month or so. We have a nice large patio with an outdoor furniture set and BBQ but the rest of the yard is nothing but lawn, a shed in the corner, and a privacy fence. We’re planning to spend a lot of time in the back yard this summer and I want to add at least one dramatic accent. Although I’d like a swimming pool, something more appropriate is a small pond that will go with our smallish sized yard and budget. What all is involved with putting in a DIY pond about 200 or 300 gallons in size?
Answer: Hello Jasmin. If you have basic gardening and yard maintenance tools, having a small pond installation isn’t as challenging as you might think. It’s a great mid-sized project that doesn’t even require plumbing skills. If you hired someone to do it, the cost would probably be somewhere between $2500 and $4000. By doing it yourself, you should be able to cut the cost down to under $1,000.
Jasmine, you have three basic choices for the style of your pond. The easiest is an above-ground version that doesn’t require digging a hole. Personally, I don’t think these look at all natural but they are super easy to install. All there is to the installation is finding a level and solid plot of ground in your yard to place it. Then you fill it with water and plug in the small pump for the waterfall to circulate the water. Easy-peasy and done in a couple of hours or less. A big advantage with an above-ground pond is that you can also move it to a different location in an hour or so if you decide you want it somewhere else.
The two below-ground styles are similar to each other in the work required and the process of installing. Both require digging a hole in your yard. That means you want to choose the location carefully because you’re not going to want to change it. One place you don’t want to put it is in a low spot that gets runoff when it rains or when watering the lawn. The runoff will cause flooding as well as seep lawn chemicals like fertilizer and weed killer into the pond. That’s not good for several reasons including if you decide to add fish or waterborne plants to the pond. The other important consideration is that the pond adds a nice view from your patio and lawn furniture. Before digging, also consider a spot that gets sunshine for most of the day to prevent moss and fungus from growing. Also, place it close to a GFI electrical outlet to run the water pump. Another good idea is talking to your utility companies to be sure you won’t be digging up buried utility lines.
The difference in below ground ponds is either a preformed shell or a flexible liner. Once you select the general location for the pond, the first step before digging is outlining where to dig. For a preformed shell, place it on the ground where you want it and spray paint the outline about a foot beyond the edge of the shell (powered chalk is an alternative to spray paint). A flexible liner gives you more creativity for the outline but don’t complicate it with sharp corners or complex curves because even a flexible liner has limitations to how much it will twist and turn into cubbyholes. You might want to be relatively accurate about how many gallons of water it takes to fill the pond. A preformed shell should tell you the capacity. For a flexible liner, calculate the volume by measuring and multiplying the width, length, and depth. Then multiply the volume by 7.48 to convert it to gallons. An oval or odd shape will not give you a perfect gallon calculation but it should be close enough for most household applications and for determining any chemicals that will be needed. If you need a more accurate gallon calculation, you can measure the radius of the oval and do a few geometry calculations.
Once you have the outline, it’s time to start digging. Dig about 2 or 3 inches deeper than you want the final pond so that you can add a couple of inches of sand in the bottom to protect against rock punctures when the weight of the water is added. For preformed shells, the sand also shifts a little to better form to the contour so that it more evenly supports the weight of the water. Before adding the sand for a preformed shell, you should place the shell in the hole and dig minor adjustments as needed. Otherwise, once the hole is dug and lined with sand, you simply put in the liner. A flexible liner is probably going to need a little trimming at ground level or the excess can be covered with rocks such as flagstone. Most ponds will have some kind of perimeter added and you might even want to line the bottom with stone. If you plan to add stones on the bottom, be sure to dig deep enough to accommodate these. That’s about all there is to a small yard pond. All that should be remaining is filling with water and plugging in the pump/filter according to the instructions. Jasmin, after all of that digging, you’ll probably be ready to take a seat on your patio and begin enjoying your pond for the rest of the summer.
There are other costs to consider that depend on what you add to the basic pond. These can be plant pots and fertilizers; rocks or other materials to use around the pond perimeter; a water thermometer and test kits to monitor the water’s quality and cleanliness. More obvious should be mechanical and chemical filters. Your garden center or pond professional can help you choose the right equipment.
Please add your comments about decorative touches you include with your pond.
Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].