Are Solar-powered Water Features Any Good?

Are Solar Powered Water Features Any Good?

If you are looking into solar-powered water features for your garden, you will want to know if these water features are worth the cost. Perhaps you are concerned about whether the solar panels will be able to power the water features. You will also want to know if they are stylish and easy as other water features to maintain.

Are solar-powered water features any good? Solar-powered water features are a worthwhile addition to your garden. Some solar-powered water features can even run during nighttime. Considerations for best performance of a solar-powered water feature include the material of the water feature, the location, the length of the cable to the solar panel, the size of the solar panel, and whether a batter back-up is included.

Here we will address any concerns you may have regarding solar-powered water features. We will include tips on how to maintain and get the most out of them. We will also include information on the advantages and disadvantages of some of the top-selling solar-powered water features separated by type.

Solar-Powered Water Feature Materials

Solar-powered water features are made of the same materials that traditionally-powered water features are made of. 

The solar-powered water features you will be looking at will be made of one of several types of materials that such water features are often made of. Each type of material carries its own advantages and disadvantages as will be discussed below:

Ceramic 

  • Pros
    • Ceramic water features are usually hand-crafted and formed from clay that has been glazed and fired to produce a smooth finish
    • Ceramic water features are easier to maintain and keep clean than some water features made of other materials
    • Hand-crafted style will give each ceramic water feature its own unique look
  • Cons
    • Ceramic water features will shatter when they are dropped or tip over

Terracotta 

  • Pros
    • Terracotta water features are designed a lot like ceramic water features
  • Cons
    • Will not have the smooth surfaces that ceramic water features will have if that’s what you’re looking for
    • Porous material may be more difficult to clean
    • Can be brittle

Polystone 

  • Pros
    • Polystone water features are made of dense material that has been created via the mixing of resin with sand
    • Polystone water features are more durable than water features made of other materials
    • Are more customizable since different ratios of resin to sand or stone will produce finishes that vary in color, texture and thickness
  • Cons
    • May not last as long, as is described in this guide comparing resin and cement fountains

Fiberglass Resin

  • Pros
    • Retains the flexibility of fiberglass while having the hardening properties of resin
    • Can be shaped into just about any mold
  • Cons
    • May break easily

Solar-powered Cascade Fountains

Cascade fountains are ideal for adding serenity to a garden.

The Smart Solar Ceramic Solar Cascading Fountain features a top pitcher with several small bowls layered beneath it so that the water circulates from the bottom bowl to the pitcher and then gently cascades across each bowl. 

This fountain is one of the more popular cascading fountains online with owners remarking that the cascading fountain is:

  • Easy to set up
  • Beautiful to look at
  • Doesn’t take up too much space

The only concern with this fountain is that solar panel does not seem to have the ability to store much energy. Tips on how to overcome this issue will be discussed further in the Equipment and Performance section of this article.

Different Types of Solar-powered Water Features

Solar-powered water features come in a variety of different types depending on want you think will look best in your garden. It can be a difficult task choosing which type of water feature will work best for you. 

Here we offer what we like and don’t like about the most popular solar-powered water features separated by type of water feature.

Solar-powered Tiered Fountains

The Kenroy Home Frost Outdoor Tiered Fountain is one of the most popular tiered solar fountains on the market.  The solar fountain is made of a resin material and contains a beautiful sandstone finish. 

We like:

  • The ease with which the fountain can be taken apart and removed
  • The sandstone designs
  • The solar panel does its job as long as the fountain is located in a spot that receives plenty of sunlight

We don’t like:

  • It is too easy for the wind to knock over this lightweight fountain

Solar-powered Wall Fountains

The Sunnydaze Messina Solar Wall Fountain is a favorite among those looking for a solar wall fountains. This fountain is made of polystone.

We Like:

  • The beauty of the iron finish
  • Easy to put together
  • Can be bought with a battery backup option

We Don’t Like

  • Size is 26 inches tall (which will be perfect for some)

Solar-powered Pond Fountains 

One of the most popular solar-powered pond fountains is the Sunnydaze Floating Lotus Flower. This fountain is made to blend in with the lotus flows that may already be on top of your pond.  It can spray water up to 20 inches high.

We like:

  • The beautiful lotus flower design
  • Comes with a long cable(16 feet) to attach to solar panel

We don’t like:

  • Absolutely must be in direct sunlight to work, even the slightest shadow or small cloud will shut the pump off
  • Solar panel seems outdated considering the price of the product

Solar-powered Bird Baths

The Garden Style Two Level Tiered Design Solar-powered Fountain is popular among those who are looking for a solar-powered water feature that functions as a bird bath. The fountain is made of an oiled-bronze finish.

We like:

  • Easy to assemble
  • Solar panel works even under cloud cover
  • Material is heavy enough for wind to not be a major issue
  • Oiled bronze finish

We don’t like:

  • May not be durable enough to last a while
  • Can break easily

Solar-powered Fountains with Battery Backup

It seems that a common issue with solar-powered water features is that the solar panel alone may not be enough to keep the pump going. A cloud, shadow or tall tree in the vicinity of the solar panel may cause the pump to shut off. 

To set-up a battery back-up system:

  • You may run the pump directly from the batteries
  • Or in the alternative you can add an inverter that allows you to use a more powerful and affordable alternating current pump

Some solar-powered water features come with battery back-up systems built in. These systems are designed to keep pumps running no matter what the weather is.

One such solar-powered fountain with battery back-up systems is the Sunnydaze Modern Cascading Bowls Solar Water Fountain with Battery Backup and LED Lights.

  • The fountain itself is constructed of fiberglass and resin made to withstand a variety of weather conditions
  • The battery charges throughout the day while the pump is running off of solar power, then runs during the night or during cloudy times when the sun isn’t out.

Frequent Questions About Solar Water Features

Solar-powered water features come with their own set of challenges. One such challenge is maintaining a constant source of power for your solar fountain. Here I have included questions and answers to the questions you may have regarding solar water features.

How long do the batteries in solar water features last?

According to this expert source on solar water fountains:

  • The lifespan of a battery in a solar-powered water feature is typically 15-18 months.
  • The repeated charge and discharge cycle may cause the battery capacity to be reduced.
  • Leaving the solar panel in the sun for 2 or 3 days without the pump on may allow the maximum charge to be obtained
  • The battery will last for about 4 hours if it starts out on a full charge

How long will the solar pump last?

  • Solar pumps will typically last 2 to 4 years
  • The length of the pump’s lifespan will depend upon:
    • How well the pump is taken care of, it should be cleaned regularly
    • Panels exposed to direct sunlight often will not last as long

Dry Protection Pumps

You can extend the life of your solar pump by  purchasing dry run protection pumps. 

Most pumps will continue to run even if the fountain does not have an adequate water supply. This can cause the pump to dry out. 

One of the most popular dry-run protection pumps on the market is the AEO Dry-Run Protection 12V-24V DC Brushless Submersible Pump designed for solar fountains, fish ponds and aquariums. 

The output of the pump is up to 410 GPH (gallons per hour). Owners report it performing its desired functions and lasting a while as long as it is properly cared for.

How to Keep Consistent Waterflow in a Solar Fountain

If you have a solar water feature that doesn’t have a back-up battery system you may be able to keep the flow of water consistent by:

Oversizing the solar panel so that even in cloudy conditions the panel will have stored enough energy to power the pump:

  • In one system, the panel is 40% larger than what would normally be seen in solar water features.  
  • This does allow the pump to operate during partially cloudy conditions
  • However, an oversized solar panel will not work as effectively as a back-up battery system
  • The main advantage of using an oversized solar panel for water features is that the system will cost a little less than a system with a back-up battery built in will
  • Also keep in mind that many of the solar panels used in garden water features do not store energy like the panels used to provide energy for homes and businesses
  • No energy storage limits the effectiveness of this strategy when it comes to providing a constant source of power to your outdoor water feature, you will need to check into what kind of solar panel you have

Setting up the Water Feature Near the Solar Panel

One of your worries about going with solar-powered water features is that you will have to make sacrifices when it comes to design due to the need for sunlight. Fortunately, this need not be the case as many solar-powered water features are designed with this specific concern in mind, as is described here.

Some solar fountains come with set ups that allow the solar panel to be located as far away as 16 feet from the fountain itself. 

This can allow for the water feature to be located in an aesthetically-pleasing location while also allowing the panel to be located where it will receive the most sunlight.

Keep in mind that solar birdbaths often have a solar panel built into the fountain itself. Solar birdbaths will often need to be placed in locations that receive direct sunlight in order to work. This factor can limit the extent of exterior design options available to you.

Spatial Requirements of Solar-powered Water Features

A common concern with a solar power setup is whether you need more space to accommodate the solar setup.

You actually don’t need a whole lot of outdoor space to use an outdoor fountain.

  • Some tiered fountains come in at just under 4 feet in height and just under 2 feet in diameter at its widest point, and that solar water feature is one of the larger ones discussed in this article. Check out this example: Kenroy Home Frost Outdoor Tiered Fountain
  • Solar fountains will come with the pump systems housed within the fountain itself. Also, solar water features will require cords to the solar panel but do not require cords to an outlet. Any cords to solar panels will often be designed to be as unobtrusive as possible.
  • The solar panels themselves are usually on the small side. They do not have to provide too much energy since most of the solar fountains are on relatively small. 

Can a Solar Water Feature Be Used Indoors?

Some solar-powered water features, such as this tiered fountain, have AC adapters included within them to allow them to be used indoors if desired. The AC adapter is only approved for use indoors.

The Smart Solar 23963R01 Solar-Powered 4-Tier Cascading Fountain is one such fountain that comes with the option of adding an AC adapter for an additional fee. Customers who purchased and reviewed the AC adapter report it is working well. The fountain is small enough to fit indoors.

Solar-powered Waterfalls

You can put a solar-powered waterfall in your own backyard via the proper placement of solar pumps and panels. Best of all, this project can be completed in a way that doesn’t require too much technical know-how.

How to install your solar-powered waterfall:

  • Dig a pond or sump hole as a reservoir to hold the cascading water
  • Build a wall for cascade with dirt, rocks or manufactured materials
  • Place a pump in the reservoir, ideally on the side opposite the waterfall to recirculate as much water as possible
  • Place solar panels in a location close to the pump that receives the best sunlight

Equipment and Performance of Your Solar-powered Waterfall

Solar pumps range widely in size and power. A single watt pump will be plenty to power a trickle, but larger pumps are capable of 250 gallons or more. 

When it comes to pump sizing, this water garden calculator will give you an answer of what kind of pump you will need in GPH (gallons per hour).

Keep in mind that a waterfall requiring a 12V or 24V pump will need more than one large solar panel to power it. This will likely require to be creative in adding the solar panel(s) as a design feature within your solar-powered water feature rather than trying to hide it behind a rock.

Converting Existing Water Features To Solar Power

Can you convert an existing water feature to be solar-powered? The answer is yes with a little extra work, as is described here. Among other steps you will need to:

  • First install the solar pump inside the fountain’ basin since this fountain will not have come with a solar pump pre-installed
  • Find a way to run the cord from the solar pump to the solar panel in a way that is aesthetically-pleasing and doesn’t cause a safety hazard
  • Install the solar panel. Most directions recommend placing the panel approximately two feet away from the fountain
    • Farther distances will be achievable with longer cords like those that come with solar fountain sets
  • You can look at the materials included in a solar fountain set to determine what you will need to do for this project

With the do-it-yourself solar fountain, you will have a little bit more freedom over your fountain design. The main challenge will be ensuring that you have the right materials for the job, including a solar panel that produces enough power to get the pump working.

Equipment Maintenance 

Clogged Filter

The fountain may stop working even if there is ample sunlight. One possible explanation for this is that the filter has become clogged. This is a common occurrence in pumps whether they are solar-powered or not. 

If the filter of the solar-powered pump has become clogged you may consult instructions on how to clean it, such as the ones found here.

Issues with Power

If the filter is not the issue, you will want to perform a pump to panel test to see that enough power is being generated by the solar panel to run the pump for your needs.

Here is how to do a pump to panel test:

  • Disconnect the battery completely from the panel and pump
  • Connect the lead from the pump directly to the panel making sure that the pump is submersed close to the surface of the water
  • The pump should work upon being exposed to sunlight

When users complain about their solar-powered water feature not running to its full capacity, it can often be because the flow of the pump needs to be adjusted.

  • Bringing a pump as close to the surface of the water as you can will allow you to store more power in your battery system 

Solar Panel Maintenance

One of your concerns might be regarding the lifespan of the solar panel on your solar-powered water feature. This is an added wrinkle to the process of owning a solar system.

Here is a helpful guide for extending the life of your solar panel, based off of guidelines found here and also here.

  • Panels may become clouded by dust or pollen during summer months.
    • Rainstorms alone will typically be more than enough to keep solar panels clean.
    • If the season is dry or you are in a climate that is generally more arid, you may rinse dust off using a garden hose.
    • Wipe solar panels down occasionally using a clean, damp microfiber cloth.
    • Ideally you are using water that you know has been demineralized as to prevent scaling or corrosion of the solar panel. 
  • Perform routine inspections (at least annually) to ensure that no damage has occurred. Discrepancies in performance may be covered by warranties and are worth looking into. 
    • Check to make sure that any wiring is not loose
    • Check to make sure that animal infestation is not occurring
    • Check to make sure that there aren’t any burn marks or discolorations on the surface of the panels.
  • Make sure that the area surrounding the panel is not becoming overgrown with vegetation
    • Large shrubs, plants or trees may block sunlight from reaching the solar panel.

As you can see the maintenance of solar panels isn’t too involved. Routine check-ups and light cleaning will prevent headaches down the road, but solar-powered water features are not necessarily more burdensome to maintain for this reason. 

Fountain/Water Feature Maintenance

Maintaining the water features themselves is much the same with solar-powered water features as it is with traditional electrically-powered water features. 

Solar-powered water features are are made of the same types of materials that traditional water features are, so the tips for maintaining them will carry over. Here we will provide a short summary of guidelines for caring for water features.

More specific instructions can be found on sites such as this one

  • Standalone fountains should be stored in warm, protected locations like a garage or shed if you are located in a climate that often reaches below freezing temperatures during winter months
  • You may want to cover fountains with blankets to provide extra protection
  • Routinely empty and scrub the fountain with a soft brush to keep it clean, this will particularly be the case with bird baths
  • You may want to add small concentrations of bleach or other algae removing solution to the fountain regularly  to keep water clear, as is recommended here
    • Do not do this if the fountain is accessible to pets or other animals

Is a Solar-powered Water Feature Is Right For You?

If you are looking for an efficient addition to your water garden, you should definitely take a look at solar-powered water features. There are some common concerns regarding the quality of solar-powered water features versus electrically-powered water features.

Common Concerns Include:

  • Is the solar power source adequate to keep the pump running?
  • How much space do solar water features take up versus other features?
  • How much more difficult and involved is the maintenance of solar fountains?

Usually, solar-powered water features will only be able to run water as long as there is sunlight. There are ways that you can keep solar fountains running during times of low sunlight, such as at night or during cloudy weather.

Many solar-powered water features come with battery back-up systems included. Battery back-up systems allow the solar panels to power the water feature during times of sunlight and the battery system to power the water features when there is no sunlight. 

Proper placement of solar panels will also help you overcome issues related to power sources.

Solar water features don’t take up much more space than a traditional fountain. Solar-powered water features are typically the same size as other water features. The solar panels themselves are often under 100 square inches in area.

Many solar-powered water features come with cords as long as 15 feet so that the solar panel can be put in a location where sunlight exposure is optimized and where the solar panel is unobtrusive. And, bonus: you don’t have to find an electrical outlet nearby or use an extension cord!

Also, solar-powered water features do not require too much more upkeep than traditional fountains. The major difference between solar-powered water features is the solar panel itself. The solar panel may need to be cleaned if it is located in an arid and dusty environment, but generally the rain alone will be enough to keep the solar panel clean.

Solar-powered water features generally don’t weigh more than water features since they are made of the same types of materials as other water features. Since these types of fountains are also made of the same types of materials as other fountains, they are also able to retain the stylish characteristics of the other water features.


Title Image Jim Hammer

spgenie

Hi I'm Harris the spgenie! As an engineer, I found myself doing tons of research about solar power, the types of panels, how to store the energy and the best way to finance the project. I thought I'd start this blog to share my findings. I hope you find this useful.

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