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2013 Top 50 Pool Builder, Cipriano Landscape Design shares top trade secrets & tips to avoid ugly looking swimming pool waterfalls. Bergen County, Northern NJ

Waterfalls are one of the most beautiful natural occurrences in nature; think about any images of a tropical paradise with the waterfall as a piece of a larger picturesque scene. Recreating this picture is the key to making a residential swimming pool waterfall look natural and it is a painstaking process. Let’s examine what goes into creating this natural outdoor image. If you want to add the beautiful sights and sounds of a waterfall into your backyard, here are some design tips and common mistakes to avoid.

The most important factor is the location of the waterfall. In nature, waterfalls are created by gravity moving water downhill and eventually over a rock ledge. In a created waterfall we use pumps to recirculate the water, but if you want it to look natural, the water needs to appear like it is moving from an uphill location. Creating this illusion is a lot easier if you have a slope on the property and the waterfall can be built into the uphill side of the slope. If you don’t have a slope, you can still enjoy a waterfall. To make it appear natural we suggest mounding the earth up on one side of the pool to create the necessary height needed for the waterfall. The mound should then gradually transition back down to the surrounding landscape. Along with the elevation change, extending the natural boulders of the waterfall outwards into the slope or mound of earth helps to blend the waterfall into its surroundings. If this is ignored and a pile of rocks is simply placed on the side of the pool the waterfall will look like, well, a pile of rocks. Waterfalls also work much better with freeform pools as opposed to rectangular ones. Free form pools can be designed to fit the organic shape of the waterfall better than the straight edge of a rectangle.

Controlled randomness of the rocks is very important as well. Residential waterfalls are large constructed masonry structures, but they shouldn’t appear that way. In order to make it look natural, the rocks need to be related to each other but in an unorganized manner. The ability to pull this off comes from a keen eye and experience building waterfalls over many years. Another related but often overlooked technique is making sure the mortar joints between all of the rocks don’t show. Visible mortar joints will remind everyone that the structure is held together with cement and will ruin the natural appearance.

Lighting is one of the most crucial elements in a waterfall design but is also the one most contractors forget. Considering the majority of time we spend in the pool during the week is after work, proper lighting is very important. Fiber optic lighting is our preferred method of illuminating waterfalls and is designed to extend the tropical feeling of the waterfall well into the night.

The last important element is the planting design. We can expand on the natural look by adding masses of plants, similar to what you would find in nature. Plants work wonderfully in helping retain and absorb the slope that is necessary to build the waterfall. They also are vital for softening the view of the waterfall structure. Introducing different colors, textures and heights with the plants helps your mind to take in the whole scene as opposed to focusing in on just the waterfall.

Most common mistakes to watch out for and avoid:

  1. Putting a waterfall on a rectangular swimming pool – No matter how perfectly the waterfall is created, if it sits on a formal rectangular pool it will look out of place. If you see this type of design on a perspective pool contractors website you may want to consider someone else for your pool design.
  2. No lighting on the waterfall structure – Lighting is one of the most important factors for residential waterfalls., it allows you to enjoy and experience the waterfall for long into the night. Visit your prospective contractors websites and see if the have waterfalls with proper lighting designs.
  3. Not blending the waterfall into elevated earth – If the waterfall isn’t blended back into the earth behind it, it’s going to look like an unnatural stack of rocks on the side of your pool. Online portfolios are the best way to determine a pool builder’s experience.
  4. Always using flat stones as a waterfall spillway – Often you will see contractors always using perfectly flat stones to build their waterfalls which can get monotonous. It’s easy to move water this way, but out in nature stones aren’t always perfectly flat.
  5. Large prevalent cement joints – Visible cement joints will reinforce the idea that the waterfall is a built structure taking away from the natural feel. Examine, in detail, a pool builder’s online portfolio and visit some projects to make a final determination.
  6. Not enough plants blended into the waterfall structure – Plants are a huge component of the overall image and without a sufficient amount the waterfall will look overwhelming or like a pile of rocks.
  7. Always doing the same type of waterfall over and over again! – Look at your contractors website. First do they have multiple images of waterfalls showing their experience? Secondly do they look like the same thing over and over or is there some variety to them?
  8. Not enough water flowing over the waterfall – A wonderful waterfall can be constructed, but if there isn’t enough water moving over the rocks it will leave something left to be desired. This requires proper plumbing and pump sizing which takes knowledge and experience. Site visits are the best way to judge the waterflow.
  9. Building waterfalls that look like masonry walls – Masonry walls are a very constructed-looking feature because they need to be stable. When waterfalls are built this way they don’t look natural at all and can turn out to be an eyesore on the side of your pool. Online portfolios should be a good indicator.
  10. Building a waterfall structure that’s out of scale with the setting – The waterfall should be appropriately sized when compared to the swimming pool, and surrounding landscape. Too small or too big and it will look awkward. A quick glance at a pool builder’s portfolio should give you all the information you need.

When you look at the whole landscape as one image, the waterfall simply appears to be a part of it, and thus feels more natural. Installing fiber optic or LED lighting, in areas that are hidden from view, will help you extend the time and enjoyment you can get out of your beautiful waterfall into the summer nights. Waterfalls take a lot of experience to build without them looking out of place or forced. If you are interested in adding one to your property, inspect the waterfalls your contractor has completed in the past and see which ones you like.