How to Build a DIY Waterfall

Waterfalls can add a soothing oasis to your backyard. There is nothing more relaxing than the sound and sight of running water. Adding a waterfall will provide a heavenly place to escape to and unwind from a day’s work or general life stress. With your own pond and waterfall, you won’t have to take a vacation anywhere!  Did Dale Carnegie mention anything about waterfalls in How to Win Friends and Influence People? Because that book should have contained a chapter on backyard entertaining: the yard with the water feature is always the favourite party yard. You can even add fish and plants to the water for extra interest.

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Location, Location, Location

The first step in creating your own DIY waterfall is deciding where in the yard you’d like your waterfall to go. Ideally it will be visible from the house or close to a window so that you can enjoy its beauty and calming sound from indoors or outdoors.  However, you may choose to stick it in a rarely visited corner of the yard to make best use of the space. No matter where you put the waterfall, it will require digging, so you must call to have utility locates done.

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The surveyor will give you a plan of the yard, which will outline where the utilities are. Keep in mind the pump will have to connect to an outdoor power outlet, so position the pond near an outlet, if possible.

The pond will also require six hours of sunshine per day, to allow for plants to grow and thrive. Do not place the waterfall near a tree: falling leaves will create debris in the pond, a tree throws too much shade, and is home to birds that may defecate into your waterfall and poison the fish.

First you will have to install a pond. Try to build one that is around 10’x16’. Keep in mind that the pond will appear much smaller once you’ve added fish, plants, and rock. Funnily enough, it is easier to maintain a larger pond!

Tools Needed For Your DIY Waterfall

For this project, you will need:

  • rope
  • shovel
  • UV-proof pond liner
  • 2×4 plank
  • level
  • newspaper and sand for underlay
  • pump kit
  • pond filter or skimmer
  • PVC conduit to cover the electrical cord, if applicable
  • plastic weir


To install the pond:

Step 1: Outline and Dig

Using rope or a hose, outline the shape of your pond, and begin digging. If you do not want fish, your pond’s depth is up to you; however, goldfish require at least eighteen inches’ depth, while larger fish like koi require at least three feet.

Dig the entire space sixteen to eighteen inches down, and then dig the deepest part in the centre of the pond. You will want to leave some shallower areas (called shelves or terraces) where the plants will dwell.

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Ensure the pond is level by laying a 2×4 plank across it and setting a level atop this plank. Make adjustments where necessary.

You can use all of this dirt to sculpt the top of your waterfall. There are many sizes and shapes your waterfall can take: most people opt for stacked pools that flow into each other. You will have to dig a channel for the water to flow along. This channel should be one to two feet wide. Ensure the walls of the waterfall are high enough to prevent water spilling out!

Step 2: Line the pond

It is easier to buy two separate lengths of liner: one for the waterfall, and one for the pond. It should be easy to estimate the size needed for the fall liner. To find the dimensions for your pond liner, measure the maximum length and the maximum width of your pond, and add triple the depth measurement to each dimension.

First, you will want to lay an inch of sand along the entire base of the pond. Then place newspaper atop the sand. This creates soft bedding upon which the liner will lay, and prevent the liner from ripping. Using a heavy, weatherproof and UV-resistant liner, lay it down, starting with one side of the pond, and working toward the other side.

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For this step we recommend removing your shoes and tucking the liner into all crevices, ensuring it is taut. Then drape the second piece of liner over the waterfall, pushing it into each crevice.

Make sure it overlaps the pond liner by at least six inches. Then lay the perimeter with flat rocks, six inches tall, to secure the liner in place. Excess liner may be trimmed off with scissors or utility knife.

Step 3: Add a rock perimeter

You will want to use a mix of small and large stones – all relatively flat, in order to stack upon each other – to go around the perimeter of your pond. This will enhance the natural feel of the pond while creating a barrier and additional plant shelving. Build up the rock around the fall. After the water is added, it will take some experimenting to direct the water in a clean pour.

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Step 4: Add the water

In order to cut down on algae build-up, it is important for water to circulate throughout the pond. Begin by digging a holding pool that will direct water into the pond. Next, dig the course for the water to flow in. Two feet wide is a good dimension. Lay the liner in place, overlapping the pond liner by at least 6 in.

Step 5: Skimmer and pump

A skimmer is optional. To install: Dig a separate hole next to the pond. The skimmer’s intake will have to be along the edge of the pond. Make sure that the soil underneath the skimmer is level and compact. Once your skimmer is in position, you need to attach the liner. The liner is screwed in tightly between the faceplate and the rest of the skimmer.

installing-a-skimmer

Adding a pump and filtration system will help cut down on the required maintenance. Connect your tubing to the pump and submerge the pump in the pond. Then run the tubing to the top of the waterfall. You can use a small weir (a plastic bucket with a lip) at the top of the waterfall to keep the water in place and provide a place to attach the tubing.

You can now test the flow of your water and make adjustments where necessary. Keep in mind that these are rough instructions for building your own waterfall, but the parts and layout will vary from project to project. It is best to talk with a professional at a pond store.

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