Building Your Own Indoor Tabletop Water Fountain

Kent Kobayashi
Tropical Plant & Soil Sciences Dept.
College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources
University of Hawaii at Manoa


Indoor tabletop water fountains can play an important role in the decor of our offices and homes. Bringing bubbling, flowing water into our living and working areas helps bring a natural feeling back into our lives. Tabletop fountains are wonderful room beautifiers and stress reducers.

Many people want a water fountain in their office or home or already have one. Although companies offer fountains in a variety of styles and prices, nothing can compare to the feeling of accomplishment from creating your own fountain. By building your own fountain, you save money and can select the materials that will make the fountain special.

The basic idea of creating a fountain is visualizing how the water flows and bubbles through and around rocks, wood, and whatever else you choose in a way that sounds natural and looks pleasing. Building a water fountain can be as simple as putting some stones and a small pump into a container with water. It does not have to be expensive or fancy.


All that is needed to build a simple water fountain:

Each item can have a special meaning, thus adding to the specialness of your fountain.


The container that holds your water fountain can vary greatly. You can use ceramic bowls, plastic flower pots, glass, or wood boxes. The easiest and least expensive containers are plastic pots or ceramic bowls. Some plastic pots tend to vibrate when you put everything together. Ceramic bowls are more solid, lessening the vibration. Plastic pots and ceramic bowls must have no holes in the bottom.

Choose a container between 8-16 inches across in diameter. Depth of at least 4-6 inches. The water has to cover the pump; otherwise, the pump will burn out. Insufficient size and depth mean you'll have to fill the fountain more often.

Where to find containers? Check in garden supply stores, large home supply stores, around your house, garage sales, art fairs, and flea markets.


Fish tank pumps are fine. Select a small submersible water pump from a pet shop, hardware store, or garden supply center. The pump should ideally have suction cup feet to hold the pump securely on the bottom of the container, a quiet motor, simple maintenance, and an output of less than 100 gallons per hour. The smallest ones work well for the typical size containers.

Most pumps have a water flow adjustment so ask when purchasing a pump if it does have this feature. The taller the fountain, the more gallons per hour (gph) you'll need to get the water to the top of your water fountain.


You will need about a foot of 1/2 inch (inner dimension of the tubing) or 5/8 inch (outer dimension) clear plastic tubing from a hardware store or pet supply store. Cut the tubing length to fit your container and design. To straighten the hose, boil it in water for a while.

The smaller the tubing, the stronger the water pressure. So if you want to have a slow moving fountain that doesn't splash out all over the place, a 5/8" outer dimension hole and tubing can be used.


Go to a pet or aquarium store for bags of rocks and stones which usually come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. You may also gather your own rocks and pebbles from along ponds and streams.

For large containers (14" diameter or greater) use any kind of larger rocks and stones. Or you can substitute polyethylene spray foam for the bulk of the rocks. This is available in spray cans and is used for insulation. It works great as a padding under the upper rocks and reduces the overall amount of rocks needed for the fountain.


Most plants can be rooted in water so just take a clipping for your water fountain. Eventually, the roots will intertwine through the rocks so redo your fountain, or just leave the plant alone if it is doing fine.

You could also use a small flower pot or glass container, fill it with water, put your plant in there, and place the small pot into the fountain. When the roots get too big, replace it with another plant. Plants can also be potted with soil in any small flower pot or glass (use one without a hole in the bottom). The plant can then be placed anywhere in your fountain.


The basic steps of building a water fountain:

  1. Pump. Place the water pump in the bottom of the container, making sure the cord is draped toward the back. Be sure the electric wire is not bent too sharply. The pump can be in any spot. Use the suction cups that come with most pumps to stick it to the bottom of the container.

    Once the pump is in place, put some water into the container and make sure the pump is working. Add tap water to more than cover the intake valve (2" minimum). Plug the pump into the electrical outlet. If you are using a pump with a regulator, you may want to see what the different settings will do. Unplug the pump and adjust the water flow, if needed. You can also test out the pump and regulator in the sink or bucket prior to placing it in the container.

  2. Tubing. The most common tubing size is 1/2" inner diameter, 5/8" outer diameter. Cut the tubing length to fit your container and design. Fit the clear plastic tubing on the pump spout and get about 8" of the tubing to elevate the water.

  3. Rocks. Use larger rocks and stones for filling the bottom (generally they won't be seen) and smaller ones for accenting the visible top. Arrange the rocks and stones to anchor the water pump and to give the water flow a diverse, irregular path. Fill the container to about an inch from the top of the container with rocks and stones.

    While covering the pump with rocks is not really necessary, it does make it easier to conserve room in a small container and helps muffle any humming noise. You may also choose to place larger rocks in the container around the pump first and then fill with other small rocks.

  4. Accents. Add shells, crystals, or figurines to your water fountain. Accent your water fountain with ivy (either artificial or real), bamboo, flowers, or just leave it plain. Add moss and foliage as desired.

  5. Adjustments. Plug in the pump and adjust the water volume and stones as needed. Suction excess water from the container with a turkey baster.


Check the water level daily for the first week, adding fresh water as needed to keep the pump completely covered. Water should be added to the water fountain when needed, making sure the water level does not drop below the height of the water pump. You can add a small amount of bleach to the water to cleanse the fountain. Periodically, clean the fountain, container, pump, rocks, etc. to remove any slime and algae.


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