Design Philosophy

Almost any water feature built with the minimum essential components will have a nice look on the day of its commissioning. Yet, if poorly constructed without attention to possible maintenance concerns, it will quickly decline in appearance and functionality.

Our designs are always based on trusted and tried design principles and components that are necessary to maintain the feature with enough ease to keep it working properly and looking good for years after the commissioning of the feature.

The human attraction to water has been noted since the beginning of time. Some say that the time we spent from an embryo to birth, swimming in an amniotic sea, is the reason. Others believe the fact that our bodies are made up of over 70 percent water explains the attraction. It could be that we must have water to survive. Extensive studies reinforce what we believe: there are healing effects in the sight, sound, and presence of water. Whatever the reasons, humans are naturally attracted to water.

As the pace of our lives makes it harder to spend time in nature, one of the best ways to allow people to interact with water is through fountains and water features. Nothing changes the ambiance of a space like the splashes and gurgles of water. Spaces which include water features can be calm and serene for reflection or meditation; dynamic and bursting with power and wonder; inviting interaction, fun and laughter; or awe inspiring musical extravaganzas. All create multi-sensory realms.

When we, at the Fountain Division of W. P. Law, are entrusted to design or construct a water feature, we take it seriously and passionately. Our goal is to exceed your expectations for water show, utilizing efficient and dependable equipment, factoring in ease of maintenance for the long term.

Achieving these goals takes careful, well thought out applications and product selection.

We adhere to a few design principles which guide us in building successful projects. Some principles are common sense, others are based on what we have experienced and learned through the many years we have been in the business.


Design and Component Principles:

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1. The 45 degree rule

Water will fall as far away from its source as the height it reaches when propelled into the air. This means the diameter of a fountain pool must be two times the height of the feature. This is done to contain the water in the pool. Smaller diameters will allow wind to propel the feature water outside the pool and onto visitors or hardscape.

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A simple explanation is that if your pool is 20 feet in diameter, the height of your water display or structure should not exceed 10 feet. This would create a 45 degree angle from the peak of your display to the pool walls. Having a diameter smaller than 20 feet will generally result in the water falling outside of its containment area with even minimal windage. If the feature is in a high wind location or has a water display that is easily blown by wind, it is suggested to stay below 45 degrees. This rule can be cheated somewhat with an anemometer which monitors the wind speed (velocity) and adjusts the water display accordingly. However, locating the anemometer is often troublesome as it can be unsightly to the setting or so removed from the troublesome wind gusts that it is not accurate. Occasionally, surprise wetting of patrons can evoke delight and joy. Other patrons may become upset. We prefer that our features stay confined to their pools.

2. Water splashes as far as it falls

This means that the splash zone of falling water should be equal to how far it is allowed to fall. Not all of the falling water will splash this far, but overtime, areas outside the splash zone become saturated.

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A simple explanation is that if you have a waterfall or fountain structure that allows water to fall 6 feet, for example, the splash zone for this water should also allow 6 feet from where it lands to the confinement wall edge. This rule can be cheated somewhat on water walls by sloping them so that free falling water falls back on the wall, by selecting smooth surface materials that will not encourage the water on the surface to turn loose and free fall, or by extending the containment wall to a high enough elevation to capture splash on the inside of the wall. Careful consideration to finishes and construction can greatly affect the success of these types of features.

3. Nozzles for spray rings and spray bars

These nozzles must be the non-adjustable type to avoid a never ending task of re-adjusting required by adjustable type nozzles. The adjustable type nozzles change trajectory because of visitors touching the nozzles and/or weather conditions, etc.

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Adjustable nozzles in rings and bars are the more common choice. However, it has been our experience that if adjustable nozzles are within reach of patrons, they often get adjusted to spray friends or to spray out of the pool. The locking nut is typically not strong enough to resist the force of a shoe or some other available object. Once some corrosion of the metal takes place, which eventually occurs, the occasional cleaning of the adjustable nozzle can be tricky to reset to the original adjustment. Removal, cleaning and re-installation of a fixed nozzle puts it right back in adjustment. While using fixed nozzles does require much more planning and engineering to achieve desired results, it is an integral part of the long term success of a project when utilizing a spray ring or bar.

4. Intake screens

It is best to have a generously sized stainless steel intake screen located in the pool in lieu of a basket strainer on the intake of the pump. With screens located at the pump, maintenance must be done in a small space and usually the debris ends up in the equipment area and builds up over time. With a larger screen in the pool, maintenance from debris occurs less frequently, and is easier to remove.

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Another common practice in the industry is to have the fountain intakes be a sump with an anti-vortex cover on it in the pool and a basket strainer on the pump in the vault. Pool debris that is not drawn to skimmers (if that is a part of the construction) typically ends up around the anti-vortex. If not attended to at this point, the debris is drawn into the piping system and supposedly flows to the strainer basket on the front of the pump. The opportunity for debris to get lodged within the piping system and restrict water flow to the system is quite high. Removal of debris once it is trapped in the system is extremely difficult and can be costly.

We prefer that the intake screen be integral to the sump area and sized to allow some blockage to occur without becoming restrictive to the required flow between service visits. The openings in this screen should be sized to not allow anything through that is large enough to block/clog the smallest opening in the system. Keeping the debris out of the piping system altogether, with removal of the debris on the pool surface rather than in the confined space of an equipment room or vault where basket strainers would be located (with minimal space for removal and disposal), just makes too much sense. When removal happens in the vault, we find that most of the debris ends up piled up inside the vault causing problems with sump pumps and other equipment. If flow rates are not too large, we suggest an intake screen with lift out baskets for easiest addressment of debris.

5. Electronic water level controller

The electronic type, with no moving parts that can become clogged with debris, is more accurate and reliable than the mechanical type. Low or high water will make water level sensitive nozzles fail to perform and low water may result in the pump being damaged from running dry. High water levels would also cause water to overflow the feature basin and be wasted to a drain resulting in higher water costs.

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Automatic water level control is a must on water features. Having a system to monitor water loss and add it back, keeping the pool full without human intervention each time it happens, is a great thing. We are adamant that sensors with no moving parts are preferred: the corrosive environment of a water feature tends to cause problems with moving components, such as is found in commode type fill valves which are frequently used by others in the industry. Electronic water level controls can also provide the option of low water shutdown to protect pumps and piping systems should the water go away for any reason. No system is fail safe, but we have tried every option available and returned to the electronic water level as the most dependable.

6. Sand media filtration with automatic backwash

To keep the features water looking good requires sand media filtration not just a side stream filter, which only filters a portion of the water. All the water should be filtered at least 4 times per day, by volume, to keep it looking good. Cartridge filter or bag filters can clog quickly and reduce water turnover, which in turn reduces the water quality. The big advantage of the sand media filter is that the media filter will remove debris for years without needing to be replaced.

Without automatic filter cleaning the maintenance of a water feature becomes very expensive, time consuming and tedious. Additionally, exactly when a manual type filter needs to be serviced is difficult to determine and cleaning schedules slip due to other more pressing matters. The automatic backwashing Sand Media Filter removes many worries and headaches. A clogged filter can cause a water feature to become an embarrassment instead of a delight for the public to view. Automatic backwash can be set up to activate because of a dirty filter, based on filter running time, or manually, with a press of a button.

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Pump and piping systems is what our company was built on. Since 1970, W.P. Law, Inc. has engineered countless solutions to the harshest pumping and filtration conditions. Keeping a water feature clean and clear is our forté.

Algae is by far the most common cause of pool and fountain cloudiness (and worse). There are three things required for algae, the unwanted tenant for both swimming pools and water features: water, sunlight, and nutrients. While many are familiar with swimming pool treatment and filtration for algae, and it appears that a pool and a water feature use similar equipment and construction, there are major differences requiring specialized expertise for effective filtration, excellent water quality and lower maintenance over the long term life of the feature.

Swimming pools are typically three feet deep on the shallow end and six feet deep on the deep end. The sloping allows any sediment to move to the intake screens. Cool water is drawn from the deepest section and returns to the upper section and breaks up the warm/cool strata. Fountain pools are a constant 16 inches of water depth with a flat bottom. This depth allows sunlight to penetrate the entire body of water. (This depth of water is a safety feature based on the height of a small child, large enough to possibly be alone by a fountain, being able to keep their head above water level should they fall in.) The flat bottom also makes sediment movement much more difficult. Fountains typically require higher wattage light fixtures for night time illumination of the water display, which adds additional heat in the evening hours, unlike pools which typically cool down at night: algae loves the continuous heat.

Pool circulation systems are closed. This means that water is both taken out and returned below the water level surface. A properly designed filtration system for a fountain is also a closed system. The main water display is very open as water sprays in the air or cascades down a wall or fall. This exposure to atmosphere quickly dissipates any chemical treatment. The result is the need for heavier and more frequent doses of chemicals. Because pool pump and piping systems are typically all plastic construction, heavy use of chemicals does not cause problems. However, for fountains to achieve the higher flow rates required for most water shows, plastic impeller pumps are not an option. The manipulation of water for such shows requires the use of bronze, copper, and brass components. The high use of chemicals can have an adverse effect on these components.

There are not a lot of wishes made in pools, but there certainly are in fountains. Besides coins, fountains are often receptacles for cigarette butts, chewing gum, leftover popcorn, rocks and mulch, or anything that will make a great splash. All of this provides additional nutrients for algae.

Chemical treatment is required in pools to protect bathers and works well with all the plastic components, sloped to the deep end construction, and closed recirculation system. In fountain systems, chemical treatment kills the algae it comes in contact with, but the algae dies and instead of moving to the intake sumps on to the filter system, it falls to the floor of the pool. If the dead algae is not removed, the next algae bloom will feed upon the dead algae, becoming more resistant to the chemicals, requiring higher concentrations to kill it. High concentration of chlorine can cause odd color changes when mixed with cast stone structures or copings.

Fountain pools do not generally contain as high of a volume of water as swimming pools. Nevertheless, we are adamant that we must be good stewards of our water resources. Currently, we are only charged for the delivery of water, the actual water has no $ value, but this will surely change in the future. Our bottom line: when the diameter of the pool is less than 12 feet, it is hard to justify the cost of a filtration system. The water savings that a filtration system offers would take several years of operation to recover the up-front costs. The filter system will not totally eliminate the need for draining the fountain periodically, but should reduce the frequency of doing so. On this size fountain we would suggest draining, cleaning and refilling with fresh water to maintain water quality.

When the fountain is larger than 12 feet in diameter we have to look closely at the viability of a filter system. Having a filtration system usually shifts the system from self-contained to a remote pit location. This set-up also removes the pumping system to a location where it is more easily monitored and maintained.

It is our recommendation, as proven through our maintenance and repair services, as well as long-term observation of various systems, that the most effective components for water quality are sand media filtration with automatic backwash and ozone injection. Other companies use a cartridge filter, which offers exceptional filtration, but the labor cost of cleaning a cartridge, or the cost of replacement, often results in the cartridge being removed from its canister to temporarily reduce costs. Sand media offers similar filtration and with an Automatic Backwash Controller it will monitor when the filter is dirty, initiate a backwash, and when complete, return to filtering. It takes care of the system with only occasional checking. Another available form of treatment, Ozone, does not kill algae but it kills everything that algae feeds upon and offers some disinfectant, greatly reducing the amount of bromine/chlorine required.

We do not recommend the use of erosion feed chlorine injection, a standard practice in the industry. The few times when a little treatment is needed can best be handled on an as needed basis, hand delivered while monitoring results. Automatic injection systems are unable to monitor rainfall, summer heat, winter cold, or patron activity, over treating or under treating as conditions change dramatically. “Eyes on the feature” to monitor changes and the need for treatment makes more sense and avoids the over dumping of chemicals which end up in municipal systems.

The most frequent request we get is for a maintenance free water feature. As of yet, they do not exist! Fountains and water features are living, breathing bodies of water and will require routine attention to remain healthy and looking good. Since 1970 we have been designing and building pump and piping systems. This experience guides us to provide the best complete package we can. We strive to provide the most reasonably maintained water features in the industry.

7. Equipment pits vs. vaults

Through experience, and for the safety of our service people and the owner’s service people, we have concluded that equipment pits are preferred over equipment vaults. A pit has a hinged top located slightly above ground level which allows a service man to stand up with his head above the rim of the pit having access to fresh air while working. The pit is NOT considered a confined space and is not subject to the additional safety requirements of vaults. Equipment pits are typically of fiberglass construction with integral ribbing on the outside to withstand forces of earth loads for the backfilling operation.

The vault is an enclosure located completely below ground level, typically with a small entrance hatch. The vault comes with a number of safety issues including the confined space requirement for maintenance or service. Equipment vaults are more prone to flooding than equipment pits because of their lower elevation relative to the water level in the feature pool.

The vault’s confined space can have additional hazards including exposure to noxious gases, flooding and/or electrical shock, etc. Additionally, sending others into a vault to rescue a serviceman in trouble can result in two men in trouble compounding the situation. Because of the small entrance hatch and the serviceman’s size and weight, it may be difficult or impossible to extract a disabled/unconscious serviceman from the vault without the OSHA required safety harness, tripod and winch equipment being in place at the time of service.

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This debate is something we are passionate about. While vaults can provide a smaller surface footprint and a perceived larger work space, they are downright dangerous. Vaults are underground rooms, accessed by a ladder. They do have forced air ventilation to keep fresh air moving through them, but if there is a chemical feed system, as is common throughout the industry, though not our preference, the chance of being overcome from chemical vapors is still high. Then, in order to get the individual to fresh air, a second person must enter the same conditions that overcame the first. If someone must be relocated to a fresh air space, or for access to medical staff, he/she would need to be carried up the ladder and out of a 3 ft. by 3 ft. opening. Vaults are technically confined spaces. The rules for the proper way to enter a confined space would be: 1) two people must be on site, 2) the air quality within the vault should be tested to make sure it is OK, 3) the person entering the vault should be fitted with harnesses and attached to a winch retrieval system, and 4) the second person should monitor the first person at all times. Quite a process for entering a vault to clean a basket strainer or refill a chemical feeder! You have probably never witnessed these safety activities because most maintenance workers just risk it. It is doubtful that their insurance companies are aware this situation even exists.

While we have utilized vaults for equipment housing on numerous past projects, being a part of the discussion with the insurance provider for one of our customers about these types of situations really brought to light how dangerous this practice is.

Alternatively, an equipment pit is only 4 ft. deep. The head of any technician standing upright within it would be above ground level and in fresh air. If he were to need attention for any reason, he could easily be lifted and placed above ground level to receive medical assistance. Many of our installations have been accommodated by using a tile set hatch, which allows us to locate the pit in hardscape areas. The hatch cover accepts whatever hardscape material is being used. This also reduces the surface footprint and frees up more area for landscaping.

We see no reason to risk the health of anyone when there is such a sensible option. An added plus is that the pit construction and installation of the pit is much less costly than a vault construction and installation.

8. If you build it to hold water, it will leak. If you build it to drain water, it will clog

Both of these conditions are mysteries of construction. No matter how much engineering, care, skill, and attention you put into the design and/or construction of a project, occasionally a fountain will leak or a drain will clog, oftentimes in amazing and unbelievable locations which would be impossible to create if you deliberately attempted to do so. Nevertheless, our ultimate goal is the perpetuation of future fountain construction. A leaking water feature, or one that splashes out of its containment pool, one that just doesn’t work as well as intended or is hard to keep clean and looking beautiful, will not assist us in our quest. Therefore, we strive on each and every project to provide those components and attention to detail which will result in a beautiful, successful water feature.