Friday, June 29, 2012

Waterfall and Pond in a Box...finally done

We purchased a waterfall and pond in a box from Costco of all places.  It showed up in a 1800 lb box delivered to our doorstep or rather our sidewalk, about 10 days after we placed the order. 
Pond and Waterfall in a Box®
Pond & Waterfall in a box

The instructions say that you should be able to complete the project in a day.  Of course I'm experienced enough with these types of projects to know that is overly optimistic, however I certainly didn't expect it to take 5 days!!

I'll go through the steps in the project and highlight the mistakes we made along the way that contributed to the project taking so long but I do blame a lot of the problems on the poor instructions that were provided with the kit.

The first step of course was to clear out a spot.  We rented a sod cutter for this project even though the area was pretty small.  For about $25 as a rental from Home Depot it makes the job so much simpler.
The edges are curved to make mowing easier.

Next you need to determine where you will put the pond and waterfall and create an outline with the cord they provide and then paint it. Then it's time to dig the hole for the pond.  I recommend deep but not too big around.  The deeper you make it the easier it will be to hide the pump. The instructions say to use the dirt from the hole to compact and sculpt the waterfall.  You will need to either buy more dirt or find it from another source because you won't have enough otherwise.  We just dug dirt from the surrounding area and back filled it with the sod and dirt we had just removed.

Some things the instructions DON'T tell you:
1. They assume you are putting this in a corner of your yard where you are not concerned about what the 'back' of the waterfall looks like AND that when you compact the soil you will have support to hold in the dirt.  We ended up having to build a stone wall for the back support.
2. They don't tell you that the outside diameter of the pond should not be larger than the width of your waterfall spillway.  It will prevent leaks later on and you will be very grateful you followed my suggestion.
3.  Make sure your dirt mound, which you will use to create your waterfall and spillway, are much wider than you will ultimately want so you can create a spillway that will not 'leak' out of the sides.

Next build your waterfall and sculpt your waterway.   I'm sorry I don't have a picture of our dirt mound and sculpted spillway but it wouldn't have help anyway because it turns out I did it wrong and we spent HOURS fixing leaks from the waterfall spillway. 

After your spillway is sculpted you will cover the entire thing with the liner provide and dry fit your spillway stones. 
Some things the instructions DON'T tell you:
1.  When you sculpt the spillway out of the dirt mound be sure that that your spillaway looks like steps with shoulders all the way down, including the vertical sections.  The shoulders on the horizontal sections should be at least 2 inches higher than your spillway stones and do not let your spillway stone extend out beyond your shoulders on the step below.
2.  Dry fit all of your spillway stones and pay attention to be sure your liner and spillway will stop any water from 'leaking' out of the spillway area. If you look closely at the picture here you will see the big stone on the 2nd step from the top and the one just below it.  Both of those extend beyond the side edges of the 'sculpted spillway and direct water outside of the spillway area.

Next mortar your spillway stones in place and set your pump, tube and exit points.  You'll need to wait at least 1/2 day to let your mortar set before you lay the rest of the stones in place.  We ended up having to buy another bag of mortar since one wasn't enough.
Once your mortar is set you can set in place the other stones in place.  I recommend you set your pump in the pond, run the tub up to the top and figure out how to best conceal it before going too far.

This is just before we filled with water for the first time. What we discovered was all of the mistakes we made during the sculpting of the spillway resulted in a lot of leaks that had to be stopped.  The water would run out of the waterfall an into the surrounding yard.  It was incredibly frustrating to try to solve.  I can't tell you how many times we moved all that flagstone around trying to find leaks and repair them.
 Here is the final product.  We ended up building another smaller wall behind the one supporting the dirt mound to give it a more finished look.  We planted a couple flowering bushes and use the left over stones to make a dry stream bed leading up to the waterfall.
I am ultimately very happy with the results but very disappointed in the poor instructions that came with the kit.  If you decide to do one of these yourself.  Please contact me for tips and tricks!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Simple maintenance for evaporative (swamp) coolers

An evaporative cooler (also swamp cooler, desert cooler, and wet air cooler) is a device that cools air through the evaporation of water. It is a very simple system and is popular in dryer climates since it also adds humidity to the air improving personal comfort.

Courtesy of Wikipedia
The typical swamp cooler is a metal box with removable louvered panels on all 4 sides. Installed in the vented side panels are cooling pads.  These pads can be made from a variety of materials.  In the bottom of the metal box is a water supply and water pump.  Water fills the bottom of the cooler and the pump pushes water through tubes that direct water to flow through the pads on the sides.  A blower motor in the center of the cooling unit pulls hot dry air from the outside, through the moistened pads and into the interior of the house through a vent in a ceiling or wall. Heat in the air evaporates water from the pads which are constantly re-dampened to continue the cooling process. 

Unit opened up
 Check the condition of the cooling pads.  Your cooler will run more efficiently if the pads are clean.  Consider replacing the cooler pads every 6 months, if you’re only using your cooler during the summer months this might mean you only need to change them every other summer.
Pump and float

Check to be sure the motor, pump and float are working properly.  If the float sticks the water will not shut off causing the unit to overflow, wasting water and potentially causing damage to adjacent structures.

Water supply and valve
Check the water line and all connections to be sure there are no leaks.  Especially if your unit is located on the roof and the water line runs through your attic space.
Check the water level.  The water should be about an inch below the top of the bottom tray.  If the water level is too high or too low adjust the float.
    Remember to clean out the entire unit and oil any moving parts prior to shutting down or starting up the system each season.