5 Lessons Learned Building an Indoor Water Feature

Our pond was not this cool. This is in Berlin

Gather round children, and I’ll tell you a tale with not just one, but five morals. It was several a few* years ago, shortly after I graduated from college. I was living in a pretty large apartment with a couple of friends, a place that, well, let’s be generous and say that it had a lot of character. We decided, obviously, that we needed to build an indoor water feature. Not a little zen water trickler, but a full-on pond. Upstairs. I had a little bit of experience in the area, having built a few ponds before, so I was pretty confident that I knew essentially what I was doing. Which is, of course, exactly why my roommates decided to build the thing while I was out of town. I can’t really blame them. When I came home, I discovered what was essentially a plywood box full of rocks and pond, which is when I learned the first lesson:

1. It can be done with little to no expertise.

I’m not going to say that my roommate was an idiot, but only because he might read this. Idiot or not, though, with a small, inexpensive kit, a little research on the internet, and a few bucks worth of various materials from a local hardware store, he and another buddy managed to put together a fully functional and surprisingly attractive water feature, indoors, in just a few hours. I was astonished. There was a waterfall. There were plants. There were fish. The whole thing worked with no leaks and looked fantastic.

In fact, it looked so great that we decided that we wanted to move it to a place where it would be closer to the center of activity in the room. That’s when we discovered that

2. Once in place, it will not move.

Water is heavy. Like, really heavy. A gallon of water weighs more than eight pounds, but you probably know that. It’s hard to turn that knowledge, though, into the useful realization that you and your college buddies are probably not going to be able to drag a pond full of water across the room. Especially when you factor in the weight of the wood and veneer and the heavy substrate that the pond was built in (we used large gravel). We could have drained the pond and taken it out of the substrate and moved the whole thing piece by piece, but that would have essentially meant starting over, and we were fairly sure that it would end with leaks in the pump or hoses or something. So, the pond stayed right where it was. Which was actually good in the end, because it wasn’t near anything important, and was on tile near a floor drain (again, a very classy apartment). Moving the thing would have led to a much less pleasant learning of lesson number 3.

3. Don’t underestimate the spray.

A pond with a waterfall sprays everything around it. It doesn’t seem like much, just a droplet here or there, but that adds up, and quickly. You’ll want to take this into account with every decision you make in building the pond. What’s near it, what plants you choose, what type of floor it can be on and how that floor is treated prior to installation, what substrate you use, even what the wall coverings are. You’ll need to clean the area regularly to prevent mildew. You’ll also want to keep your caulk ready to go. Your caulk is your friend with an indoor pond. Speaking of new friends, the caulk gun and fish might not be the only friends you make with the indoor pond. You’ll also need to

4. Watch the Windows

Also not our pond, though we were this ridiculous around it, easily. (credit)

We loved our goldfish that we had in the pond. That’s why we were so sad when the first one disappeared. Sad and a little confused, but we figured we were just missing something. However, after losing about two fish a week mysteriously for a little less than a month, we were seriously wigging out. It wasn’t until early one morning when I came out to water the few plants that were outside of the spray zone that I figured it out. I walked in, and a big bird looked up at me with about as guilty an expression as a bird can have. Then, I swear on my oldest koi’s life, that bird shrugged at me and flew out the open window. Mystery solved, though not without losing several fish and getting a kinda funny new story to tell at parties. The same parties, incidentally, where we learned that

5. Everybody loves an indoor pond.

We were recently out of college, we had a sweet, huge, kind of trashy apartment, and we were dumb guys. So, yeah, we threw a lot of parties. You know the one thing that never got broken in our place? The pond. Everyone went nuts over the thing and would ask us tons of questions about it. People were deeply impressed and, until now, we never admitted just how easy it had been to build.

*Let me have my soothing delusions about how long it’s been, thank you very much.

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