Bog Filtration Questions Answered

Duck Pond Bog Blog

We recently received two questions on a previous blog: BOG FILTRATION, THE PERFECT COMPLEMENT TO BIOLOGICAL FILTERS. The questions had similar answers so we are sharing them in a new blog. First question:

Have you had (or heard of) much success with using bog filters in small duck ponds? I like the idea of using both bio and bog (would help with the extra muck) but not sure if ducks would tear the bog filter’s plants up. Ideally I would set one up with 4-5 ducks in mind.

Location

Your choices will be determined by what grows best in your area. You will want to get an aggressive grower(s) in there to convert all that stuff into easy-to-prune leaves. You may need to cut the plant matter back hard, maybe more than once a year depending on your location. Figure on a complete removal with new plant material after 5 years. That will reinvigorate and refresh the appearance of the bog.

Because the roots of aggressive growers can sometimes penetrate liner, I’d cover the excavation with underlayment, set the liner then cover that with another layer of underlayment.

Bog Size

You will want a bog that’s at least 30% of the square footage of the water’s surface. That may sound excessive, but 30% is what you need for koi, and ducks are messier. Don’t hesitate to go bigger if you can. For easy maintenance, I keep my bogs shallow, but you’ll need some depth to resist the ducks. I’d probably use 8” of ¾” round gravel, which is the least costly where I live. Make sure water passes through the bed, whatever choice you make.

One last design detail that might help if you can implement it. To start the bog, I’ll set (or bury, if the bog is cut into a natural slope) a line of Eco-blox water matrix blocks 6-12” higher than water level at the head of the bog. The Eco-blox act as a settling chamber. Water entering the blocks from one side dumps all its heavy solids before passing out the top of the blocks through a layer of gravel. The water then works its way through the 8” deep gravel bed where roots remove nutrients every inch of the way back to the pond. A drain on the opposite side of the Eco-blox chamber can be opened to flush out the debris every year or two. See above drawing

The Aviary

Finally, the perimeter bog is keeping the pond in the Butterfly House crystal clear, even after 1 year with no additional filtration. Bbutterflies are easy. The photos of the pond in the Aviary, with the same system, has had issues with the ducks, geese and swans, that trifecta of vicious veggievores, devouring 80% of the bog plants.

The good news is, they only obliterated 8 of the 10 species planted. The other two, a dwarf variegated Schefflera-looking shrub and the native Purple Wandering Jew, Tradescantia pallida, are doing a pretty good job. See the rock 3’ down in the pale green water? Not bad considering there are 200 birds in there.

Consult the “Black List” of banned plants in your state before you decide on the plantings. I entered “blacklisted aquatic plants official NY” and Google returned the list for my state. Then compare that to a search for ‘Plants That Ducks Don’t Eat’ for your state. Good Luck with your duck pond!

Second Question

Hello Demi, thank you for your suggestion and answering back so quickly. Yes, Im certainly going to use 45ml epdm rubber liner. ( That was a typo). I think I got the concept. All though my existing pond had a high 3′ waterfall w/no stream.. Reading your instructions I will incorporate a stream leading into the pond. Would I still install a deep and wide stream bed with 3-5 inches of gravel in the stream or on top of the Eco-blox? (A little confused) My pump is plumbed with a 2″ Sch40 flex pipe.

So would I install a “T” at the pump with the same 2″ flex pipe but one leading up to the bio-falls filter and the other leading (connecting) to the eco-box? Once the 2″ flex pipe is connected to the inlet of the eco-box does water fill the box and passes through the rock, gravel and aquatic plants and then down into the stream? Does the Waterfall filter come out somewhere else into the stream? I get the drawing and the concept but not sure about the waterfall filter? I would still have spring flo media and filter-mat in the waterfall filter but no filter-mat in the skimmer. Correct?

Thought if you can be so kind is to draw another picture with the waterfall and bio-bog. Thanks for giving me such great advise. Can’t wait to get the pond rebuilt. But this time with a better out come. You really made some good points.

Perimeter Bog with Eco-Blox Settling Chamber

Hi again! This response required a sketch, which I’m bad at, so it took longer to reply than just text would have. To answer your questions in order: If you have the biofilter at the edge of the pond with the water flowing down a 3’ waterfall directly in front of it, keep it that way. Put the bog somewhere else along the perimeter, anywhere lush plantings will be appreciated and you can easily get to for pruning. The reason I included a stream is because I thought you had one.

Perimeter Bog

A perimeter bog like the one sketched can be placed anywhere, at any distance from the pond including right next to it, as pictured. It can also sit as high or low as you like, as long as water pumped into it will flow back into the pond. The sketch shows water flowing over the rock, but it could just as well flow around it. The bog works equally well whether you see the water coming back in as a little waterfall, or water seeps back in invisibly.

You won’t need the mat in the Skimmer because you will have effectively doubled your filtration and increased your ammonia and nitrate removal capacity. Don’t forget to add a valve to control the water going in to the bog. Don’t worry about a valve on the biofilter side. Because the bog is so much lower, the water will all go towards that lowest path of least resistance. Shutting the valve to the bog to about ¾ closed will direct a quarter of the volume into the bog, and shunt the rest of the water up to the filter.

AWG University

For more detailed information about bogs in general, check out Atlantic Water Gardens University, Natural Filtration 301: https://www.atlanticwatergardens.com/university/courses/natural-filtration-301

The Wobble Wedge

June 7, 2019

TOOLS THAT DON’T SUCK

As water feature installers, my sons and I are used to hard, dirty, sometimes dangerous work. We enjoy what we do, whether it’s digging ponds, plumbing pumps, rolling boulders or tweaking waterfalls. We also value anything that helps make the work easier or more fun. We’re always looking for tools, apps or gadgets that save time & effort, eliminate stress, add to our comfort on the job or are just fun to use. Often a buddy will turn us on to one. I’d like to return the favor by passing our favorite Tools That Don’t Suck along to you.

The Wobble Wedge

Sometimes the best stuff comes in the smallest packages. That’s the way I think of this next doohickey. This deceptively simple device that’s so well engineered that I now take them for granted. But that’s only because I keep a jar full of them in every truck. I’m talking about the modest, overachieving Wobble Wedge.

Photo from WobbleWedges.com

The manufacturer calls them “a modular system of securely-stackable interlocking plastic shims”. Like any good system, there are a number of models to choose from. There are flexible and rigid wedges, white, black or clear in color. Three different sizes, all interlocking and cross-nesting, accommodate all sorts of leveling, shimming, tightening and locking tasks in and out of doors. All feature tiny ribs that lock wedge-to-wedge, regardless of the size of the wedge.

Wobble Wedge, Basalt Column
Can be adjusted in tiny increments and lock where you leave them.

For our purposes, we like the rigid standard black wedges for shimming columns and overflowing vases that need small adjustments, while the Big Gap wedges handle really uneven situations. Regardless of the size, all Wobble Wedges can be adjusted in tiny increments and lock where you leave them, no slipping or shifting.

Are they worthy of the status “Tools That Don’t Suck?”

Heck yes! These guys thought of everything that I could want on the job, and they have a couple of patents to prove it. The standard black Wobble Wedges are small and easily concealed. The hard plastic is pretty much indestructible. I say that after shimming over a thousand pounds with them, driving them home with a mallet to get a granite sphere dead level. They’re even forgiving! If you push them too far under a really big fountain or stone column, they have an inset Grab Bar at the back of the wedge that lets you pull them back out with a needlenose plier.

Wobble Wedge, Basalt Column
Grab Bar at the back of the wedge that lets you pull them back out.

Did I mention that they are 100% Made in the USA? And they’re inexpensive to boot, around $20 for a bucket of 75! When I showed one to my friends at a distributorship I was visiting, they brought them in the next day, no further convincing necessary. Love at first sight. 

If you haven’t already, try Wobble Wedges. I think you’ll like them.

Also check out or blog on the Atlantic Eco-Rise System to create reservoirs of practically any size, shape and volume supporting any number of decorative items with complete adjustability.

Atlantic Cord Seal Fitting

A great new way to hide power cords!

Even the nicest water feature installation can be ruined if the cord for a pump or a light is visible, as they often are. Power cords should be removable, so that lights or pumps can be serviced or eventually replaced. They can’t just be buried away in concrete. With open reservoir water features, like ceramic vases or copper basins, a hole in the reservoir that’s big enough to pass a plug is hard to seal, and cutting the plug off voids the warranty on pumps and lights.

Wouldn’t it be great if a power cord could pass through the same bulkhead fitting that the water feeds through? Without leaking? That way, a light could be set inside the reservoir without a cord draping over the edge, or a pump cord inside a basin could pass through a plumbing fitting, virtually invisible. But, even if you ran a cord inside a pipe from inside the reservoir, how would you get it back outside of the pipe, outside of the reservoir?

Atlantic Cord Seal Fitting

Enter the CSF. The Cord Seal Fitting is a nifty gadget that addresses that particular need, to pass a cord through the wall of a reservoir inside the fitting or pipe that is the reservoir’s only perforation. It works much like a plumbing pressure test plug. A rubber gasket squeezed between two plates expands outwards and seals off a 1-1/2″ female socket. But, unlike a test plug, the rubber doughnut is slit to its center to accept a standard light or pump cord. The plates on either side of the gasket are also split, to assemble around the cord and gasket like the cookies around the creme of an Oreo. When tightened, the rubber expands tightly around the cord and into the fitting, creating a waterproof seal.

As is often the case, the Cord Seal Fitting is far easier to use than to describe. Install a tee in the 1-1/2″ waterline feeding the reservoir and pass the cord through the tee and into the reservoir. Loosen the plates on the CSF, slide the cord into the gasket, reattach the plates and tighten the CSF in the opening of the tee. The gasket will expand and seal against the cord and the inner walls of the tee.

The CSF will also allow the cord to pass in and out of a sealed section of pipe, with the addition of a second tee. This is useful where a pump may be hard piped from the inside of a reservoir, out through a bulkhead fitting and up to a spillway. The illustration to the right shows the pump cord passing out of the reservoir through tees through a tee installed on either side of the bulkhead fitting and sealed with Cord Seal Fittings inside and out.

Another great solution from the folks at Atlantic!

The Atlantic Eco-Rise System

Bubbling Basalt Columns and overflowing vases set on buried Fountain Basins are attractive, easy and profitable add-ons for the irrigator, landscaper or hardscaper. These water features are especially popular with contractors who only occasionally venture into water (so to speak) because they are simple to build, easy to maintain and rarely require call-backs. As a bonus, the successful completion of one project usually leads to another, as friends, visitors and neighbors ask about the fountain and decide to put one in for their own enjoyment. But what happens when the next job requires a boulder too big for the basin? A vase too vast? A mountain of a fountain?

The “Old” Way

In the old days, BA (Before Atlantic), installing a one-ton fountain piece, like a 36″ granite sphere, was a month-long project. The contractor would design a concrete basin large enough to catch splash and strong enough to handle the load. Waterproofing would depend on climate. In the north, the design would have to deal with freeze/thaw cycles and excavating below the frost line. After digging to the proper depth and tamping the bottom, the plumbing would need to be set, with no room for error, as it would literally be set in stone. Then the concrete trucks would arrive. After the four-week curing period (ouch!), the sphere could be carefully lifted by machine, plumbed in the air, then lowered into place, hopefully without crushing the plumbing.

The “New” Way

The Atlantic Eco-Rise System allows two men with two wheelbarrows to complete a two-thousand-pound granite sphere fountain install – in two days. Like most good systems, it’s simple, with only three structural components, plus liner, pump and plumbing. Instead of formed and poured concrete down to the frost line, the reservoir is just a rubber-lined hole a single layer of Eco-Blox deep. The Eco-Blox may look like milk crates, but the similarity ends there. Our Blox come disassembled, lock solidly together and support 7 tons of distributed load without crushing.

The Eco-Rise is a load distributor that supports the sphere, and much more. Rated at three thousand pounds, the Eco-Rise spreads the weight of the stone across the tops of the Eco-Box while protecting the plumbing. Install the pipe into the sphere, roll it onto the Eco-Rise on the Eco-Blox. With the flex pipe in place, the sphere can easily be moved and adjusted by hand, without a machine!

The third component, the PV1700 Pump Vault, houses and protects the pump. Hook the pipe to the pump in the Vault, and you can adjust the sphere, by hand, even while running. Then, cover  the Eco-Blox with two wheelbarrows of gravel and go home early.

Atlantic. We’ve got you covered.

Mining Completed Projects for New Business

One of the easiest ways to create new business is to prospect for new work in your existing customer base. For landscapers, hardscapers and poolscapers, getting a past customer to contract a new project can be very profitable, and there are other advantages. For example, this is one of the rare times the contractor gets to pick the client, instead of the other way around.

I go through my customer base and choose past clients who are easy to work with, can afford a new project, and would be interested in what I have to offer. If I choose wisely, my client benefits as well. He or she knows me and my work (and my boys and my dog) and trusts me to do the right job for the right price, no “new contractor blues”, no surprises. The key, then, is to find an attractive and desirable project that has a high perceived value and a high potential for profit, with little risk and minimal disruption to existing infrastructure.

Adding Water to the Hardscape, Landscape or Poolscape

According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, who poll their members every year to determine market trends, Water Features consistently make their ‘Top Ten’ desired enhancements list year after year, although the type of water feature may vary from year to year. Currently, Hardscape water features are very popular, and that puts all those customers squarely in our sights.

Atlantic Formal Spillways Hit the Bullseye

Many contractors already know that Atlantic’s Formal Spillways offer great visual impact, ease of installation and plenty of margin. What most do not know (yet) is that the Wall Spouts, Spillways and Colorfalls, and the Basins that complement them, were specifically designed not just for new work, but to upgrade pre-existing walls as well. Stainless Steel Spillways are exactly 4” tall by 12”, 24” or 36” long, to replace an even number of engineered wallstone. Colorfalls illuminated sheer descents drop into a simple-to-cut profile just under the cap of the wall. Solid brass Wall Spouts install from the front, threading directly onto 1-1/2” MIPT schedule 40 fittings.

Retrofitting – Easy Installation by Design

Choose the Spillway, Colorfalls or Wall Spout(s) and the appropriate Basin Kit, which contains everything needed for the installation – except the water ?. Determine where the feature will be located, and whether you want the Basin snugged up against the wall sitting at grade level or completely concealed underground. Compact the soil under the basin, then figure out how to pass the included 1-1/2” flexible PVC either under or through the vertical wall. Depending on the depth and the wall construction, a 2” hole may need to be drilled. Plumb the pipe to the Basin using the included fittings and install the pump in the Basin.

Remove the top course or cap directly above the basin, wide enough for your Spillway or Colorfalls, or drill a 2” hole for each Spout. Install the spillway or Spouts following the instructions and replace the cap, caulking rather than cementing or gluing the stones above the spillway to provide access for future maintenance. Fill up and plug in. If the Basin is set at grade in front of the wall, hide it with a 16″ high wall of the same or contrasting stone.

Get Paid

The time these features take varies by size and complexity, with the most complicated installs requiring excavation behind the wall to pass the tubing and perhaps core drilling two or three 2″ holes for Wall Spouts, but they usually take a day or less for a two man crew regardless. The outlay costs are modest. Even the large 36” Colorfalls or Spillway with the 36” Basin Kit runs less than $1800 MSRP (I assume you know your multiplier) plus 1.5-2 man days.

With the going rate at around $4000-$5000 for the completed project in most markets, electrical service not included, this is a moneymaker. If you chose wisely, there will be no question about how or when you get paid, just smiling faces all around. Not a bad day’s work, all things considered, especially off-season. And we’ve haven’t even begun to talk Lighting, the other great add-on – that’s for next time. Meanwhile, get out there and start mining!

 

How to Calculate Total Dynamic Head

Finding the right pump for a water feature can be a challenge, and the stakes are high. The right pump, delivering the right flow at the right head height, while at its Best Efficiency Range, will last and last. Specifying the wrong pump or plumbing can damage the pump, increase operating costs, shorten pump life and lead to pump failure, perhaps even a fish kill if the water feature happens to be a fish pond.

In order to properly size the pump for any water feature, you’ll need to know both components of the work it has to do, the flow and the pressure. The flow is the volume of water it can push in a given time, measured in gallons per hour (GPH). The pressure is the force required to push that flow through plumbing and up to the top of the water feature. We measure pressure in ‘feet of Head”, because it’s easy to visualize. A waterfall four feet high requires the flow be delivered at 4 feet of “Vertical Head”, plus the extra work required to push that flow through the plumbing, the “Friction Head”. The total pressure required is the “Total Dynamic Head” (TDH) of your water feature. Once you know the GPH and the TDH, you can plug them into the Comprehensive Pump Chart (Chart C) to find the right pump.

Follow the steps below to calculate TDH and find the perfect pump for your water feature.

Find the GPH needed to achieve the look you want

determine friction loss

FIND TUBING SIZE & FRICTION

Find the dark blue cell in the row that corresponds with the Recommended Flow (GPH) in the chart below. The column indicates the recommended tubing size and the number in the cell is the Friction Loss in every foot of tubing. Keep Friction Loss low for greatest flow.

To find the Friction Loss of existing systems, estimate the flow through the actual tubing size used.

Chart A


ADD FRICTION IN FITTINGS

Add the equivalent lengths of all the fittings in the system from the chart below.

CALCULATE FRICTION HEAD

Multiply the Equivalent Tubing Length in feet by the Friction Loss in the dark blue cell from CHART A to find the Friction Head of the system.

FIND THE TOTAL DYNAMIC HEAD

Add the Friction Head in Feet to the Vertical Head of the system. Vertical Head is the height in feet from the surface of the water the pump will be TDH sitting in, to the highest point the water is pumped to.

CHOOSE YOUR TIDALWAVE PUMP

Find the TDH at the top of CHART C, then find the pumps below that provide at least the Recommended Flow. Grey colored cells indicate that the TDH is outside the pump’s operating range and the pump will likely not last in this application. The light blue cells indicate the pump is operating within its operating range. Dark blue means the TDH is in the pump’s Best Efficiency Range, where the pump will run best and longest. If the chart gives you a choice of more than one pump, check for the type that best fits your application from the list below, then check for the lowest wattage, to save on operating costs.

  • For Low Head, Low Volume applications, use Magnetic Drive Pumps (MD Series)
  • For Low Head, Very High Volume applications, use Axial Pumps (L-Series) with 3″ or larger tubing
  • For Medium Head, Medium Volume, use Asynchronous Pumps (TT-Series)
  • For High Head, High Volume Applications, use Direct Drive Pumps (A-Series)
  • For Solids and Dirty Water applications, use Direct Drive Solids Handling Pumps (PAF and SH-Series)

Chart C

To learn more on how to Calculate Total Dynamic Head, watch the How-To video on our YouTube channel, AWGtv.

Tools That Don’t Suck – Wiss W10TM Scissors

As water feature installers, my sons and I are used to hard, dirty, sometimes dangerous work. We enjoy what we do, whether it’s digging ponds, plumbing pumps, rolling boulders or tweaking waterfalls, but we also value anything that helps make the work easier or more fun. We’re always looking for tools, apps or gadgets that save time & effort, eliminate stress, add to our comfort on the job or are just fun to use. Often a buddy will turn us on to one. I’d like to return the favor by passing our favorite Tools That Don’t Suck along to you.

Making the Cut

Construction Scissors – No, not the kind I use for construction paper when playing with my grandkids. These are exactly the opposite. I use razor sharp, heavy duty Wiss W10TM scissors nowadays when we’re building water features. It took some convincing to make me understand how useful they could be. Once again, I learned from my boys.

We were at a job a couple of years ago when I noticed one of my sons, Edwin or Ely, trimming liner at a job using these scissors. (I don’t remember which. They both had long hair back then, it was hard to tell the difference. ?) They told me that Koi Market’s Shawn Rosen had turned them on to them. As I’ve mentioned before, Shawn has a good eye for tools, and koi, of course. I was initially skeptical. I’m a blade guy at heart. Plus, I couldn’t help but remember how hard it was to cut liner with the old pair of tin shears I keep in my bucket for emergencies.

Wiss W10TM Scissors

These were a totally different story. With a little practice and the right amount of tension on the sheet you can just glide the partly open scissors through liner and underlayment as fast as you can move your arm. They’re way faster than a cordless cutter or even a razor knife on clean liner. And they don’t just work on liner. We’ve used these to open just about everything from cans to boxes, punch holes in ¼” thick pump vaults, cut aluminum flashing and light gauge steel, strip wire insulation, even eat with. You do what you have to when they forget to give you a fork.

One last thing – if I do happen to need scissors when I’m playing with my grandkids, my old pair still works great on construction paper….

 

Tools That Don’t Suck – The Ryobi ES1500

As water feature installers, my sons and I are used to hard, dirty, sometimes dangerous work. We enjoy what we do, whether it’s digging ponds, plumbing pumps, rolling boulders or tweaking waterfalls, but we also value anything that helps make the work easier or more fun. We’re always looking for tools, apps or gadgets that save time & effort, eliminate stress, add to our comfort on the job or are just fun to use. Often a buddy will turn us on to one. I’d like to return the favor by passing our favorite Tools That Don’t Suck along to you.

Handy Phone Tool

So, as you might expect, I often get asked to recommend a particular pump for a contractor’s project. The steps are simple and easy (not the same thing.) There are four simple steps to finding the right pump:

  • determine the required flow
  • choose the right size pipe
  • add friction head to vertical head height
  • go to the charts to find a pump that delivers the right flow at the right head

The steps are easy. Multiply the flow per foot by the width of the waterfall, in feet. Pick the right size pipe by finding the flow on a chart. Add up plumbing length. Multiply the length by a decimal. Add that result to the actual vertical height of the waterfall to find the Total Dynamic Head (TDH) – and there’s the problem.

It turns out that most people overestimate the actual height of the water feature they’re planning on building. By a considerable amount. It’s particularly hard for anyone to estimate true vertical height on a slope, where many of our potential projects are situated.

Why does that matter? Well, you need to know the true vertical height of the water feature to find the actual load the pump will be under. Knowing the true workload not only lets you pick a pump that will thrive under those conditions, you can also cut costs by using very efficient low head pumps…IF you correctly estimate the vertical head height.

The Ryobi ES1500

Photo credit: www.ryobitools.com

I have come to appreciate the Ryobi ES1500, a little gadget that takes the guesswork out of measuring height. It fits on any phone with a headphone jack. (Sorry, you need to have the jack.) I found mine at a tool store under a banner advertising Ryobi Phoneworks. For $15, I figured I didn’t have much to lose. I paid willingly, if a little dubiously, and downloaded the free app.

The “Laser Pointer/Transfer Level” plugs into the standard headphone jack on my Android phone and shoots a bright red laser beam on command. The app has a couple of level functions, including a bubble level. The easiest to use is a red dotted line with the numeric value of degrees the unit is tilted displayed right next to the line. Once the phone is level, at 0 degrees, the beam coming out is pretty level too. The accuracy of the unit isn’t stellar, but it’s close enough. It’s just bright enough to be seen in the shade during the day. I do most of my estimates after work, and it’s really visible as the light falls.

I’ve gotten pretty adept at holding the phone level, at head height, while standing where the pond will go. I note of where the roughly five-foot-high laser beam hits on a tree or a slope near the waterfall-to-be. For larger distances, I’ll repeat the process, moving to where the beam struck the ground, until I’ve worked my way upslope, five vertical feet at a time.

I will admit it’s a bit crude, but it works well enough to get a pretty accurate vertical height for the Total Dynamic Head calculations.

The Ryobi ES1600

So, as I’m finishing up writing this, I look up the Ryobi ES1500 to find there’s a new version, the ES1600, that sounds like it has my shaky eye level zapping method beat all hollow. The newer version clamps onto the phone and lets you snap a shot of the site with the camera and get a picture with the level marked directly on it. Sounds a whole lot easier to have the pic right there to refer to. I still see the ES1500 out there for $15-20 and I’d still call it a Tool That Doesn’t Suck.  The newer version is double that, but might be worth the $40 if if gives you a permanent record right on a photograph. I’m gonna pick one up and let you know next month. In the meantime, I’ll continue using my TTDS, the Ryobi Phoneworks ES1500. Might work for you too.

Tools That Don’t Suck – Tirolessa Sprayer

As water feature installers, my sons and I are used to hard, dirty, sometimes dangerous work. We enjoy what we do, whether it’s digging ponds, plumbing pumps, rolling boulders or tweaking waterfalls, but we also value anything that helps make the work easier or more fun. We’re always looking for tools, apps or gadgets that save time & effort, eliminate stress, add to our comfort on the job or are just fun to use. Often a buddy will turn us on to one. I’d like to return the favor by passing our favorite Tools That Don’t Suck along to you.

Tirolessa Sprayer

Every now and then a tool comes along that does a job simply and inexpensively, that otherwise would have required a major investment in time, energy and equipment. Typically, these tools are born of necessity, because someone, somewhere doesn’t have access to the technology – or the money – to get the job done any other way. Today’s entry in the TTDS category is that kind of tool.

I ran across the Tirolessa sprayer online a dozen years ago when I was investigating building a dome home. I had this idea about an ecotourism bed-and-breakfast in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico, where the Monarch butterflies go on their amazing winter migration. I figured I could create really cool, inexpensive and energy-efficient housing modules by covering an inflatable mold with multiple thin layers of fiber-reinforced concrete, building up the layers successively until the structure was strong enough to resist not only weather, but earthquakes too. The trick is to get a thin, strong first layer of concrete without deforming or collapsing the plastic balloon form. After the layers are self-supporting, the form is deflated and the rest of the concrete dome built up by troweling. The Tirolessa sprayer was recommended as the ideal tool to apply those first thin layers.

 

Well, just about the same time as I was pipe dreaming, I was asked to build caves and huge artificial boulders around a 200-foot-wide pond cover an interior wall with waterfalls. I had just finished plumbing and tweaking a Hawaiian-themed “black lava” waterfall in a restaurant. A Gunite crew had been called in to form the structure out of rebar covered with wire lathe and shot the whole wall with very wet black cement. I bought the Tirolessa thinking it might replace the Gunite crew – and it did. I wasn’t very good at texturing the final product, but there was no doubt about it. This little gadget could really blow some mud.

Yes, blow. The Tirolessa is basically a stainless steel bucket with air holes at the bottom. The handle is a hollow steel tube to which an airhose is attached, with a trigger. Pull the trigger and air blows inside the bucket across the bottom and out the front-facing air holes, carrying a spray of very loose concrete slurry with it. We make a mix of two parts fine sand to one part Portland cement, with enough water to give it a consistency between pea soup and oatmeal. Scoop a bucket of slurry from the wheelbarrow, hold the bucket two feet from the vertical surface to be covered, pull the trigger and spray the slurry. And repeat.

We’ve found the Tirolessa invaluable for getting that first critical layer on difficult vertical surfaces, and that has opened a whole new range of possibilities for us. Now we can easily protect the inside of any EPDM pond without building inner walls. The Tirolessa still can’t make concrete stick to rubber, but it CAN make cement stick to vertical geotextile, no problem at all. We cover our vertical liner walls with a layer of geotextile, well-anchored at the top so it will support the weight of the cement we spray on it until the first layer dries. If needed, we spray another layer on that until the curtain of concrete-covered fabric is stiff enough, then we switch to troweling on additional layers, this time with chopped polypropylene fibers mixed in.

By the time we have 4 to 5 thin layers, around an inch and a half thick, the skin will withstand a blow from a sledge hammer. We often add powdered black dye to the last coat so the finished pond appears bottomless; it also enhances the colors of koi. And it all starts with one of my favorite Tools That Don’t Suck, the Tirolessa sprayer.

Quick Tips – Waterfall Construction

In the world of water features, there are many different tactics that contractors and homeowners use to approach building a water feature. Over the years I have encountered a variety of construction methods water features are built and through my experience have put together a list of tips that I think will help you create a natural looking water feature.

Use different sized rocks to achieve a more natural looking waterfall. But let’s be honest, when building these features moving heavy rocks can be quite the challenge.

Tip #1.

Try cutting a piece of underlayment (commonly known as geotextile fabric) large enough to hold the rock you are trying place and use it as a sling. The corners will act as handles for you to hold on to. Because the fabric is very strong it can handle the weight of heavier rocks.

 Another option to move heavy rocks by hand is to use tow straps or tie down straps. This method can be used with heavier rocks and will require more than two people to move the size rock you are working with.

If you are using large boulder and neither of the two options prove useful, you may need the help of larger equipment.

**You do not want to hurt yourself trying to move these rocks, equipment can be rented on a day to day basis at your local rental yard.

While you are placing your rocks keep in mind that you are also creating a place for water to flow. When creating your waterfall or streambed you will notice gaps forming around and behind the rocks that you have placed. Once you turn on your pump water will flow into these gaps instead of flowing down your streambed causing you to lose some of the visual effects of your stream or waterfall.  In order to avoid this, these gaps should be filled.

Tip #2.

When filling the gaps, a mortar or cement type mix can be used but this method is highly susceptible to cracking and movement. Another option is to use expandable foam, the foam will not crack or move and can fill large or small gaps in the rock placement. Typically foam is grey in color so that it will blend with most rock colors. Waterfall foam cans from Atlantic are available in two sizes – a 12 ounce can with a straw applicator or a 29 ounce can, which requires using a professional foam gun.

I highly recommend the professional foam gun if you build multiple water features during the season.

For the average one or two builds a year, the DIY 12 ounce can works great. To save on the use of foam you will only need to apply the foam in the locations that water is flowing over.

Please be sure to wear gloves and protective eyewear when handling the foam as it is very difficult to remove.

Tip #3.

A great technique to disguise the foam that you used to fill in the gaps is by covering it with smaller stones and/or gravel. You can also add a small amount of sand over the foam before it is completely dry to disguise the foam to look more like a rock.

Make sure you give the foam time to cure before you turn your waterfall on. Once the waterfall has been turned on you can add more foam to push the water in the direction you prefer at any time.

Remember this is a foam product and is not glue or a patch product for leaks. It is only used to direct the flow of water.

 

Hopefully, these tips will help save you some time and frustration (as well as your back!) and keep your water flowing in the right direction! If you have any tips of your own, please feel free to comment below.

 

About the Author:
Jim is the National Sales Manager for Atlantic Water Gardens.
JIM CHUBB

Jim has 26+ years of sales experience and 16+ years in the water garden industry.