How many times did you ever say to yourself, wouldn’t it be nice to have a backyard waterfall that looks real? Except for people who have unlimited budgets to hire ex-Disney Imagineers to make a rock structure in their backyard, it is possible to make this on a budget? The answer is a definite yes that is surprisingly affordable, even on a budget!
Here’s how you can put together a waterfall that won’t break the bank!
Making a backyard waterfall is not nearly as hard as you think, but to make it look realistic is taking on a whole new level. Perhaps it sounds impossible but that where we’ll give you expert tips on doing it right. The first thing you’ll need is a good design that fits your backyard. You’ll need to plot where the water is going and where it ends up. The water itself is essentially recycled from a little pond where it eventually collects.
Since water is going to fall by sheer gravity, you do need to think about how it’s going to flow down. There is also going to be a bit of splash, so every-so-often you’ll need to add more water to refill what has evaporated or splashed away. Start with a simple sketch of what you hope to achieve. You can use references from the internet that give you inspiration such as these natural waterfalls that are found commonly in nature.
You don’t have to have a very large waterfall, but keep in mind that your neighbors probably don’t want to see a recreation of Niagara Falls over the fence. Try to keep the scale under 7 feet tall, or roughly the height of your yard’s fence. Also, try to plot out where your water is flowing down to, so your return pump system can refill the reservoir at the top of the falls. Since the reservoir at the top is going to hold water, you’ll need to build a sturdy base first.
This base also will hide and store all water pumps, filters, and electrical cords. Part of this design would help if you build an access door that has a portable light inside so you can see inside. This wooden base will help support the weight of the materials you put around it. It will also help support the weight of the water when it fills with water at the top of the reservoir. You can steal some ideas from what this guy did here:
Materials you’ll need
You’ll need basic supplies that don’t cost much but keep in mind it’s a matter of detail that makes up the final look. You can’t go wrong with sticking to a low-budget plan. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Plastic pool liner material
- 2x2s and 2x4s cut to size
- Wood screws 1-inch and 1.5-inch
- Chicken wire
- Spray insulation foam
- Super 77 glue spray
- Water spray bottle
- Tin snip scissors (or sheet metal scissors)
- Industrial aluminum foil (Restaurant grade)
- Quikrete ready mix concrete
- Quikrete cement colors
- Plastic mixing tub
- Hand trowel and garden hoe
Once you have your design laid-out, you’ll need to plot where your waterfall is going. The plastic pool liner needs to be laid down from the path where your water is going. It doesn’t need to be under your waterfall but it doesn’t hurt to line the area underneath. It also needs to be one entire piece so you’ll need to have enough length and width when you start. Use the videos and website info for more detail.
After you build up a wooden structure, make sure it’s secure enough using a sturdy frame. Use the wood screws to hold it together. If you have an electric screw gun, this makes the work go faster. as long as you have access to the inside, you can attach your water tubes as you go. Keep in mind that you’re building everything to recycle water that comes down back up to the reservoir at the top of the falls.
Wrapping in Mesh Wire
The next thing you’ll do is take your chicken wire and start making the rocky shape that disguises your wooden structure. Chicken wire can scratch you if you’re not careful, so use work gloves and a shirt with thick fabric sleeves. Use a pair of tin snips to cut the chicken wire, so it cuts faster. Use screws in the wood frame as an anchor and twist the chicken wire around each screw head using pliers.
The chicken wire will be flexible enough to shape by pushing, twisting, and forming the mesh. After this, you can take a can of spray foam insulation and spray this in sections over the mesh. Now you can take your aluminum foil and apply large sheets that are crumbling onto the chicken wire. Do this so that it comes in contact with the spray foam. It’ll stick the foil to the chicken wire. You can also wrap the edges of each piece onto open-wire sections.
It doesn’t matter which side you put the foil on, it’s going to be covered with concrete anyway. Once this is done, you can further shape your rock formation. Add more detail using the aluminum foil shaped into more defined shapes you like. At this point, you’ll need to get the concrete to stick to your foil easier. This is where you use the Spray 77 all over the aluminum foil and let it tack-up.
Add Concrete Shell to Waterfall Frame
Take some cheap paper towels and a chip brush and put each towel onto a section using the chip brush to poke it into place. You could ideally spray a section at a time to conserve your glue and overlap paper towel sections evenly by one-half inch. When this is done you can then start adding Quikrete cement mix that is slightly runny and apply it with a paintbrush. It only takes a couple layers to get a nice hard shell.
After your initial layers dry, you can start with the real detailing process. This is done by mixing small batches of Quikcrete from the ground working upward to the top. To get very detailed rock you can take silicone stamps and press them into the wet putty-like concrete. You can further add cracks using a trowel, long sticks, and a stiff straw hand whiskbroom. Use a wet paintbrush and water to smooth out certain areas.
As the left-over concrete is drying, you can take the crumbles and add these towards the base where gravel and debris look more fitting. Don’t let anything go to waste.
Pumps and filters
At your local hardware store, you can find plenty of fountain water pumps. These are usually all-in-one kits but the tubing you need to buy separately. Where ever your basin is filling at the bottom, you need to return that water to the top. Place your tubes in a spot that will be easy to clean and isn’t seen so easily. The pump itself should go inside the structure and should be meant for pumping a lot of water steadily.
If you’re in doubt, ask one of the workers in the garden center how much water per hour it can circulate. If you design the top reservoir correctly, this will have a continual waterfall that is entertaining to watch and hear. You might want to install waterproof pool lights in spots to get nighttime lighting effects. These can be rigged to work using a handheld remote.
Once you’ve finished your pump and return tubing, make sure everything is working before you start installing this into your waterfall. This should be done when you get the first 2 coats over your entire waterfall structure.
Thankfully, Quikcrete has several concrete colors that can be mixed into the concrete when you first mix it. It can also be applied after you’re done using a spray bottle with the color mixed with a bit of water. It soaks into the curing concrete and colors the cement intrinsically. Using several spray bottles, you can get various coloring effects and layer colors to get a realistic rocky look.