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Child safety, low maintenance among benefits
By Paul Bianchina
There’s nothing quite like the sound of water bubbling in your backyard. A water feature can become an eye-catching landscaping feature, or a cool and tranquil backdrop that also helps block unwanted traffic or neighborhood noise.
A water feature can also be a great do-it-yourself project that just about anyone can tackle.
The term “water feature” can mean different things to different people. But if you want a stunning, low-maintenance option that’s customized to your yard and your style, consider going “pondless.”
Also known as a “disappearing pond,” pondless water features eliminate the open pond that requires periodic maintenance to prevent algae and other problems, along with potential safety issues for small children. Instead, they use a water reservoir, a recirculating pump, and some type of rock or other feature that the water flows out of. The water filters down through a rock base over the reservoir and disappears, to be recycled endlessly.
The basic components
Pondless water features can be large or small, simple or elaborate. Their design is pretty much limited only by your imagination, ambition and budget. But they all share the same four basic design elements:
1. The reservoir: This is simply a big, relatively shallow round or square box made of a tough, high-impact resin. The box is solid on the bottom and sides to retain the water, and is perforated or slotted on the top to hold the rock while allowing the water to drain through. The top also has a removable plate to access the pump. Reservoirs come in a few different sizes, depending on how much water you want the system to process.
2. The pump: This is a submersible, 110-volt electric pump specifically designed for these applications. It sits inside the reservoir, with a filter on the inlet side to filter out impurities, and a hose on the outlet side that’s routed to wherever you want the water to come out. There are several different sizes available, depending on the amount of flow desired.
3. The water outlet: The water coming from the pump exits through some type of visible outlet, and this is where your creativity can have free reign. Many water features utilize a natural piece of basalt as the center piece of the design, which is drilled to receive the hose coming from the pump. You can find basalt in many sizes and shapes, and you can use one piece alone or a grouping of several pieces with the water tumbling over all of them. Other options include decorative jugs, vases of any size or shape, actual water fountains, cherubs and other garden statues, pieces of discarded masonry, and many other objects.
4. Base rock: Finally, you’ll want to cover the reservoir with a layer of rock that the water flows over and disappears into. There are many different types, sizes and colors of rock to choose from, depending on your personal preferences. You can mix and match sizes and colors, as well as incorporating pieces of natural wood, metal sculptures and other objects you might like.
Putting it all together
Select an area for the water feature, and lay out the general size and shape you want. Remember that the overall size of the rock base can be the same size as the reservoir, or it can be substantially larger.
Next, you’ll need to excavate a hole for the reservoir itself. The hole should be a little wider and a littler deeper than the reservoir, to allow for leveling and backfilling. Place a layer of sand in the bottom of the hole, which will make it easier to level the unit, and also protects it from rocks. Check the level in all directions; pack some additional sand into the hole around the base to stabilize it; and then backfill up to the level of the top lip.
If you’re installing a heavy water feature such as a piece of basalt, it’s typically installed next, directly on top of the reservoir for stability. Be sure you have adequate help for lifting this into place; some larger pieces will even require a forklift or other machinery. Route the hose through the hole in the rock, and seal it with an approved sealant.
Install the pump in the reservoir and connect the hose. Route the wire from the pump to an exterior-approved, GFCI-protected electrical outlet, but don’t plug the pump yet. Make sure the inside of the reservoir is clean, then fill it with clean water. Activate the pump and test all the connections and the flow rate. If everything looks good, install the access door on the top of the reservoir, then cover the top of the reservoir with the base rock.
You can sometimes find small water feature kits, with a reservoir, pump and all the other components, at home centers, warehouse stores and other retailers. For larger pump and reservoir equipment, check with any local retailer that handles landscaping supplies, including nurseries or sprinkler dealers. They’ll either have the materials you need in stock or they can easily order them for you. They can also work with you on the proper sizing of the pump. You can also find what you need online; start with a search for “disappearing water features,” and go from there.
For basalt and other rock, check with any local retailer of rock supplies. They can also drill rock for you if you find a specific piece that you like, and can assist you with delivery and placement. As far as the electrical wiring’s concerned, consult with a licensed electrician to have the proper GFCI outlet installed near the water feature’s location.
By Tom Kelly
The Internet has made finding vacation properties faster, easier and cheaper. But not everyone is looking to relax at a charming seaside cottage or a rustic mountain cabin.
Some scam artists have been copying and pasting photos and details of popular destination properties on rental sites, charging unknowing customers large down payments (sometimes half of the entire rental period) and then running off with the cash.
Several recent cases of international rental properties not being available — or booked to more than one customer for the same period — have owners and longtime operators warning consumers to be wary of deals that look too good to be true.
“There are many wonderful rental properties out there that are completely legitimate and only a few scammers,” said Christine Karpinski, author of “How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner.”
“To reject the whole concept of renting a great home instead of a hotel room because someone else had a bad experience is like deciding not to have children because you saw the movie ‘The Bad Seed,’ ” Karpinski said.
One owner, “Barbara,” who specializes in international properties, said four clients were scammed earlier this year when they booked waterfront Caribbean properties. Barbara found out later that crooks based in Nigeria hacked into her email system and diverted the reservation to another location.
“Most of the time, people can spot when something is wrong if they pay attention to the communication they are receiving,” Barbara said. “The bad guys mostly have been tracked to foreign countries and their use of the English language has not been good. Also, call the phone number provided. It’s not uncommon that it’s disconnected or goes unanswered.”
Scammers often use the fastest available method to post a bogus listing, which means they usually never build websites that appear legitimate.
“Craigslist is terrific, especially for long-term rentals,” Barbara said. “But unfortunately it’s one of the first places scammers go because they can get in and get out. Of course, the Craigslist people are doing all they can to prevent this, but stuff gets through. It’s just another reminder to do all you can to speak with the owner.”
Karpinski said the benefits of staying in a vacation rental home far outweigh the minimal risks. These properties are more spacious and often less expensive than hotel rooms. They’re appointed with all the comforts of your home. They’re private. They tend to be kid-friendly. Often, they’re pet-friendly as well.
Her top tips to safely book your vacation home:
1. Beware of super-cheap rates. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The most common way scammers work is by enticing a large number of travelers in a short period of time. They do this by lowballing the rental rates.
“If one listing is, say, half the price of all other comparable ones for the same amount of time, beware,” Karpinski said. “Put yourself in the owner’s shoes: Why would he or she voluntarily forgo that much income? Five, 10, or maybe even 15 percent off, perhaps, but 50 percent? No way.”
2. Cyberstalk the owner. Do some cross-referencing across various websites: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so forth. Make sure the place of residence (where the owner lives — not where the vacation home is located) is the same as the information the owner provided. Google the phone number listed on the advertisement. Many property owners and managers list their homes on many different websites. Check to see if they are the same.
3. Look for clues in the reviews. When you are reading the reviews of the property (either on the vacation rental website or on other sites such as TripAdvisor.com), there are sometimes references to the owners’ names. A review might say something like: “Thanks, Tom and Christine, for allowing us to rent your lovely home. …” If the names in the reviews do not match the name of the person renting the home to you, it could be a sign that something is not right.
4. Speak with the owner via phone. Sure, it’s possible to be scammed over the phone. However, it’s usually easier to fool someone when you’re communicating online. Ask specific questions and listen carefully to the answers.
5. Pay only by credit card. Never, ever pay by wire transfer.
Most importantly, listen to your gut because it’s usually right.
“There was a couple on a national TV show that said they went ahead with the rental even though it didn’t feel right,” Karpinski said. “What’s up with that? Scammers usually count on people not paying attention,” or heeding their intuition.
“Renting a vacation home is like anything else. It’s not risk-free, but when you take steps to mitigate the risk, you can feel 99.9 percent confident that you’re not getting scammed.”
Tom Kelly’s new e-book, “Bargains Beyond the Border: Get Past the Blood and Drugs: Mexico’s Lower Cost of Living Can Avert a Tearful Retirement,” is available online at Apple’s iBookstore, Amazon.com, Sony’s Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel eBook Store, and Google Editions.
If your clients are fixing up their homes to put on the market, these webistes may help them save money:
- www.DiggersList.com is a home improvement classified site that offers heavily discounted items from other remodeling projects
- www.TheStoneBroker.com provides granite remnants for smaller projects that don’t require full slabs
- www.Rejuvination.com sells high-end lighting fixtures from top manufacturers at 20-30% off specialty store prices
From Money Magazine