Home Improvement

Water Features: Eco-Friendliness and Home Value

Many water feature projects are both manageable and affordable. What’s more, they can give your home’s curb appeal a unique and attractive upgrade. Before you get started, it is important to know which kind of water feature might hold the most value
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Is there anything more relaxing than the soothing sound of water? From the crashing of ocean waves to the gentle babbling of a brook, the chorus of moving water satisfies something primal in humans. Of course, it isn’t possible for every homeowner to live near the beach or next to a creek. That is why, year after year, water features of all shapes and sizes are becoming increasingly popular.

You may be concerned that installing a pool, or even a more modest pond, is too complex of a project to undertake yourself, or too costly to justify. However, you may find yourself surprised on both counts: many water feature projects are both manageable and affordable. What’s more, they can give your home’s curb appeal a unique and attractive upgrade.

Before you get started, it is important to know which kind of water feature might hold the most value to you. Although you may not think of them as such, pools and hot tubs are both considered types of water features. Others are less common, such as koi ponds and fountains. To help you decide which type of water feature might be right for your property, you first need to learn about the pros and cons of the various options — for your budget, your home’s value, and the environment.

Can water features be eco-friendly?

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Despite their growing popularity, many people regard water features as a luxury or an extravagance. Surely, they reason, the energy and resources required to keep a fountain running or a pool full (and free of moss) are both expensive and damaging to the environment? It may not be intuitive, but water features can absolutely be sustainable and environmentally friendly.  In fact, although they may not seem like “green” initiatives at first, ponds, fountains and even pools can actually cut down on water consumption compared to many flora and fauna, especially the eternally thirsty grass in most lawns. It all comes down to careful planning, proper setup/installation and routine maintenance.

For instance, you can now purchase solar powered pumps and filters as a zero-emission source of energy to keep water moving and clear. By choosing the right plants to surround your water feature, you can also provide shade cover to cut down on water lost through evaporation, as well as to offset the initial loss of green space. Similarly, aquatic plants that grow within or on the surface of the water in ponds (and even some fountains) can go a long way toward limiting evaporation and keeping your water healthy and clear.

Although a swimming pool doesn’t present the same opportunity for reintegrating plant life as other water features, it still doesn’t have to be a source of waste or pollution. Keeping a pool covered when not in use ensures minimal water loss through evaporation, and drains installed around the perimeter can protect the rest of your yard and groundwater from contamination by chlorine and other water treatment chemicals.

Ultimately, water features can be just as beneficial to the environment as a host of other landscaping choices; it is just a matter of doing your research beforehand to learn about the installation and maintenance techniques that will best help to achieve a sustainable balance in your geographical area.

Do water features increase home value?

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A water feature can be the ideal home improvement for increasing curb appeal in either the front or backyard of your home. But regardless of size or placement, responsible homeowners are often wary of the lifespan, operating costs and maintenance issues involved in water features. Is a fountain purely an aesthetic improvement, or does it really add appreciable value to a home?

There are really two answers to this question: yes and no.

Water features and curb appeal

When it comes to selling a home, aesthetics definitely matter. No matter what “must-have” features a buyer might be focused on at the start of their search, they are just as likely to end up falling in love with a home that doesn’t include them on first sight. Just as in life, first impressions are paramount in real estate, and curb appeal plays an outsized role in creating positive first impressions of your home.

A water feature doesn’t even need to be in the front of your home — thanks to online listings and digital photos, buyers today can “see” and fall in love with your yard before ever visiting it in person. In fact, some 63% of buyers today do just that: check out homes online to narrow down those that are likely worth a closer look. A well-kept fountain or a shimmering pool can make your home stand out dramatically from the rest, especially after a buyer has toured countless other homes with various features that are all starting to blur together.

Water features don’t always raise home prices

Getting buyers to fall in love with the look of your home can make or break a sale, but simply adding a water features does not always lead to a higher selling price. In fact, in the strict sense of adding monetary value, water features generally don’t have much of an impact. Outside of arid, desert climates like the American southwest, pools and other water features are generally not regarded by most homeowners as a must-have.

While many buyers may be happy to see a pool or pond on a property they are viewing, water features seldom rank highly among the top features of importance to buyers. Today’s home buyers care most about location (a feature of perennial importance) and interior features more than landscaping or yard features. However, many buyers today do care deeply about energy efficiency and technology, so a modern, efficient water feature, properly marketed, can potentially check that box for conscientious shoppers.

It seems like a contradiction that buyers shopping for a new place to live care most about interior features, yet the sale of a home can still hinge on the power of curb appeal to win over buyers in the first place. Ultimately, installing a water feature in your yard is a personal choice that, when done well, can help your house stand out from the rest of the market and enhance your lifestyle (or that of future owners), without necessarily resulting in more equity when it comes time to sell.

If you still dream of falling asleep listening to the sound of trickling water or waking up in summer to take a few laps in your own pool, rest assured that making it work for your home and your wallet can be a reality. Read on to learn more about what you’ll need to consider and which water feature might be right for you.

Swimming pool or hot tub

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A swimming pool or hot tub may seem like the most attractive water features to include, but in reality, they may not be worth your investment.

Pools can be a polarizing feature for homeowners and potential buyers. The lifestyle benefits can appeal to buyers of all ages, as homeowners envision hosting pool parties, having an alternative to the gym, or simply as an excuse to spend more time relaxing outdoors and soaking up the sun outdoors.

At the same time, some buyers view it mainly as a maintenance chore and safety hazard, especially compared to other, more modest water features.

For those who appreciate private pools, though, it pays to know how to maximize your investment and, to do this, you need to factor in the environmental impact of a pool as well as the upfront and ongoing costs.

Environmental impact

Believe it or not, a swimming pool or hot tub is more eco-friendly than watering your lawn on a regular basis. However, pools and hot tubs require harmful chemicals to keep them clean, as well as energy to heat and pump the water, that can increase your overall energy consumption. You can make your pool more sustainable by installing a solar water heater and energy efficient pumps. And salt can be used as a natural way to clean your swimming pool, reducing or even eliminating dependence on harmful substances like chlorine.

Cost

Installing a pool: The costs of a new swimming pool can vary widely. Swimming pools come in all different shapes and sizes, are made out of different materials such as concrete or fibreglass and can be above or below ground. These factors, along with any of the eco-friendly upgrades above, will affect the cost of your swimming pool.

An above ground pool can cost over $1,000 CDN and is likely your best option for saving money with a DIY approach. For in-ground pools, prices vary greatly according to the amount of concrete that needs to be poured, excavation costs, filtration and water pumps and the labour involved based on the scale of the project and the number of pool professionals serving your area.

Maintaining a pool: Just like any other fixture or appliance in your home, a pool will also require regular maintenance and repairs to keep it structurally safe and environmentally clean. Daily upkeep will include checking the pH balance, regulating the water temperature, adding chemicals to keep the water clear and safe to swim in, keeping your filters and pumps clean and skimming your pool to remove debris. Seasonal maintenance will require winterizing both above and underground pools, with the size of the pool dictating winter water level, chemicals to be used and preparation to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting — potentially causing serious damage.

Expect the same amount of maintenance for an above ground pool. Chemicals may cost up to $80 a month, with a further $400 or so needed for pumps, filters, ladders and other permanent accessories. The cost of a cover will depend on the size of the pool and whether you want a basic soft cover to control evaporation (as little as $50), or a rigid safety cover that is strong enough for people to walk on (starting closer to $500). An automatically retractable cover will cost more but will make the process of covering or uncovering your pool for use much faster and easier.

Building your own

While an above ground pool will just require assembly, the possibility of building your own inground swimming pool will depend on your comfort level and skills as a general contractor, heavy machine operator, plumber, electrician and possibly engineer. An inground pool will require heavy machinery for excavation (depending on the geological conditions under your property, you may have some serious rocks to haul off or breakthrough) and to pour concrete, and will likely entail permitting and inspection by local authorities to ensure compliance with safety, zoning or environmental codes. Almost always, you will also need professional help to prevent any digging mishaps with underground utilities to avoid creating dangerous hazards while constructing your pool.

  • Eco-friendly: Moderate
  • Cost: Varies
  • DIY: Challenging

Koi ponds

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A koi pond can be a satisfying addition to your yard on several levels. It is tough to beat a well-designed koi pond for aesthetic value; you may find yourself spending hours watching the koi meander through the water, watching the surface ripple in the breeze, or catching sight of birds or other wildlife stopping by to enjoy your pond. A koi pond might be appreciated by prospective buyers who are keen to spend some reflection or meditation time in a beautiful and tranquil setting. But to make a koi pond work for you, you need to plan the project carefully.

Environmental Impact

Koi ponds, and ponds in general, don’t require nearly as much pumping, cleaning, harmful chemicals, or other expensive upkeep as a pool. A koi pond uses less water and energy than a pool as well, making it an eco-friendly, low maintenance addition to your home. Koi go into a dormant, hibernation state during the winter and can withstand the cold weather, so even a heater is not needed. However, a de-icer will be needed so you can feed the fish, and to keep the ice from trapping toxic air into the water. Year-round care for your koi pond will be minimal; however, it will be necessary.

Since koi ponds can be large enough for a human to fall into, you’ll need to make sure you understand the potential for, and how to protect yourself from, the risk of injury to others. Of course, you will also have to make sure that your fish have a clean and healthy environment in which to live. That includes making sure your pond is deep enough for your koi to escape predatory animals looking for food.

Cost

Installing a koi pond: Similar to building a pool, the cost of a koi pond will depend on its size. Your koi fish will need a big enough space to live — an area that can hold at least 1,000 gallons of water. Once you have factored in the costs of materials, the filtration system and the fish themselves (which can range from $15 to more than $200 each), a koi pond can cost in the ballpark of $2,000 and up.

Maintaining a koi pond: Although a koi pond will require considerably less effort to maintain than a pool, it will definitely need some attention. Most notably, you will need to feed your koi fish. To ensure the water in your pond stays fresh, it is recommended that you drain 10% daily and replace it with fresh water. Your pond should also have some shade, not only for the sake of the fish but also to help regulate the water temperature. The growth of algae is best controlled through the use of a small filtration system, as well as by cleaning rocks and any other accessories you may have in the pond. All of these steps are necessary in order to create a healthy environment for your koi fish to flourish.

Finally, fish that are flourishing are also likely to be reproducing, in which case you will eventually need to re-home some of them or build a bigger pond where they can all live happily.

Building your own

Building a Koi pond requires much less time and effort than building a swimming pool, but it still demands lots of research, time and planning. You can dig out the shape of the pond, pour your own concrete or other containment material, add plants and vegetation and a filtration system all by yourself, but it’s even easier with the help of a friend or family member.

  • Eco-friendly: Yes
  • Cost: Low
  • DIY: Yes

Fountains

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An outdoor water fountain is another feature that is sure to add charm to your landscape. Additionally, if you live in a noisy area, a running fountain can help to drown out some of that background buzz. Potential buyers are likely to appreciate both the beauty and the reduced noise that the fountain brings to your yard.

Environmental impact

Indoor and outdoor water fountains can be configured with a small pump to recirculate the water, meaning that you’ll only need to replenish water as needed due to evaporation over time. This is an eco-friendly way to conserve the amount of water use for your home. Solar fountains are also available that rely on green energy for their power. Any cleaning materials used to prevent algae should be non-toxic, especially if (as is likely) your fountain is a drinking source for critters and birds.

Cost

Installing a fountain: There are many styles of fountains you can choose to accent your front or back yard, from small and basic to large and intricately designed, so prices are sure to vary. For instance, you can find a plastic or fibreglass fountain for around $100, while the cost of an elaborate marble fountain can exceed $4,000. Additional costs can pile up when your fountain is to be added to a pool or pond. Premade fountains will be the easiest to install, requiring just the assembly of pumps and filtration, while more elaborate setups can involve drilling through rock and other surfaces to run your pump line.

Maintaining a fountain: Even indoor fountains can accumulate algae and bacteria and will require monthly cleaning. In many cases, your fountain’s pump will need to be cleaned to prevent clogging, and the water periodically drained and refilled to keep it clean and offset evaporation. Outdoor fountains are susceptible to the same issues but, due to their size and location, may require even more maintenance.

Building your own

Your local hardware or big box store is likely to have a selection of easy-to-install free-standing fountains, wall fountains, and even waterfall fountains for use with pools. As long as no major modifications are needed, a prefabricated fountain may be the easiest choice for sprucing up your landscape. Outdoor water fountains can demand alterations (drilling through surfaces for a pump line, removal and modification of landscape features to make room for the fountain, etc.) that make them a far more complex undertaking than the simple installation of a pre-made fountain.

  • Eco-friendly: Yes
  • Cost: Medium
  • DIY: Yes

Are water features worth it?

The value of water features is subjective. You can’t always count on fountains or pools to give your property a boost in monetary value, but with careful planning and diligent maintenance, they can contribute to an unparalleled curb appeal advantage. You are the only one who can really decide whether or not the investment of time, effort and expense are worth it, as you will be the one who gets to enjoy the finished product.

The costs of integrating a water feature into your landscaping can be offset by taking a DIY approach; the more you can do on your own, the more you stand to save upfront. There is more to consider than just your ability to dig the hole and install the water lines and pumps correctly, and by letting professionals handle it you may end up with a more reliable system that saves you on maintenance and repairs. In either case, the ultimate cost will also depend on the local going rates for labour, materials and other elements, so the best way to estimate accurately is by doing research closer to home.

Your investment may help attract buyers who love the idea of making summertime memories with a pool, taking a peaceful stroll through their koi pond and garden, or listening to the sounds of trickling water and bird watching in their downtime. A water feature will not necessarily boost the cash value of your home, but as an investment in enjoyment and quality of life, it may nonetheless be well worth it.

Romana King
Romana King

Romana is an award-winning personal finance writer with an expertise in real estate. She is obsessed with the property marketplace and is the current Director of Content at Zolo.