Modern Living | Redefined

Everything you Need to Know About Pool Water Features

As humans, there are few things as universally relaxing as water. Whether it’s the pitter-patter of rain on an old tin roof, the trickle from an indoor water fountain, or the crashing waves on the shore, moving water has a way of hypnotizing our senses like nothing else. So it makes perfect sense to add movement to the most relaxing, water-filled part of your home: your pool.

And we do this through water features. As pool designers, there’s a delicate balance that we have to strike between adding form and function to your pool. Too many water features can clutter a design, plus add too much flow for modest equipment sets to handle. Too few (or no) water features and the water can be dull, flat, boring. Not something you want for an oasis.

So what are water features? How many features can you add to one pool? What are the different types of water features? We’ll go through all these questions and more, and why I think everyone should have water features in their pool.

What are pool water features?

A pool water feature is the decorative part of your pool that is designed to add dynamic movement, sound, and functionality to the water. Essentially, they all move water in creative ways. But not all water features are created equal and each has certain characteristics and aesthetics that need to be accounted for when designing your pool.

While water features can range from a timid trickle to a rushing waterfall, they all have the same basic functions:

  1. Adding beauty to the design of the pool by creating water movement or flowing through interesting forms.

  2. Cooling the pool when the weather is warm by increasing surface area while moving through the air, giving off some of the heat it’s accumulated through evaporative cooling.

  3. Keeping hard to reach corners of your pool clean with strategically placed water flow.

Some features are better than others at cooling or cleaning dead corners, but they all have these same basic functions. You’ll need to have a conversation with your designer about how you can optimize each of these with different types or multiple water features.

How many water features can I add to my pool?

This one depends on several different factors that are project specific, but it basically boils down to four different criteria:

  • Size constraints

  • Pool design

  • Flow rate

  • Budget

Size constraints

The size of your pool footprint and even the surrounding area have a huge impact on how many and what type of water features you can have. Rain curtain grottos, boulder waterfalls and table rocks take up an immense amount of space, so as yards get smaller and smaller, these features are harder to fit.

Pool design

It goes without saying that pool design will have more to do with water feature selection than just about anything else. You shouldn’t shove a disjointed feature in just because it fits all the functionality. Boulder waterfalls would stick out like a sore thumb in a modern pool, just like a straight line sheer descent would clash in a lagoon.

Flow rate

Every plumbing fixture that pulls water from and then returns water to your pool affects your flow rate budget. With no features, the main pump has more than enough flow rate to handle all of the pumping and filtering of a standard pool. But as new water features are added, your flow rate will adjust to the new demands.

More features mean a higher flow rate, which main pumps may not keep up with. This can choke down features to a trickle, leading to low pressure, overworking the pumps, and eventually equipment failure. In a high flow rate situation like this, more pumps can be added to cover the increased flow rate, but that comes at the cost of another criterion: your budget.


With an endless budget, anything is possible. Unfortunately, we all have a limit somewhere. Water features all come at a cost, and usually, that cost is more than just the feature itself. Big fixtures require higher flow rates, which means larger plumbing, bigger (or multiple) pumps, and higher energy costs. All of this can and will come into play while you’re in the design stages.

What are the different types of water features?

While there are an almost infinite amount of different styles of water features, they generally fall into 9 different categories:

  1. Waterfalls - High flow, low-pressure water creates the perfect flowing soundscape for your oasis. These usually work best aesthetically with natural-style pools, using boulders and stones to achieve the elevation changes.

  2. Water walls - Flat walls with a constant flow of water running over the face. These walls can be veneered with anything from natural stone to glass tiles to get the desired look.

  3. Fountains - Usually fountains are contained in their own catch basin and are purely decorative, though there once was a craze of putting fountains in the middle of spas. That proved to be pretty dangerous, though, after several people were injured on the protruding underwater plumbing.

  4. Wall-mounted fixtures - For bare walls that are itching for more decorative fixtures, sconces, scuppers, and statuaries make a great choice. Available in almost any size, shape, flow rate, and material, the sky’s the limit for design.

  5. Water curtains - A thin sheet of water flows from a high point into the pool. You often see these at entrances to grottos or under bridges.

  6. Sheer descents - Similar to a curtain, a thin sheet of water (often several feet wide) flows in an arc from the top of a feature into the pool. Usually, these are mounted on walls and provide a sleek hidden feature.

  7. Bubblers - These are the vertically mounted returns that are typically in shallow ledges like tanning shelves or zero-entries. They spread water up and out and do well at keeping water moving in these shallow areas.

  8. Spa spillovers - Raised spas provide a natural opportunity for a water feature by “cutting” part of the beam to below the water line, allowing water to flow from the spa to the pool below. Spillovers can be as wide or narrow as necessary, with some modern spas having all four sides spilling over.

  9. Deck jets - These are pool returns that are flush mounted in the coping or pool deck. When on, they shoot smooth, laminar water jets in arcs from the deck to the pool.

With the sheer amount of water features available, there is guaranteed to be something to fit every design and budget. The best part of building a custom pool is being able to create an architectural escape that is unlike any other. And an added water feature or two can transform a pool from just a hole in the ground to a true oasis.