Having a water feature in a yard means different things to different people.
Water can get children outside and away from video games and television, allowing them to instead observe and learn about nature, including frogs, salamanders, fish, plants and more.
"They are like little sponges, taking in everything they see. Having a water feature in a yard helps children connect with nature," said Brian Helfrich, construction manager for Aquascape Designs in St. Charles and Lisle. "That is why we are seeing a spike in schools creating their own outdoor learning centers like ponds and butterfly gardens. Neither require a huge amount of space."
For stressed adults, a water feature fosters serenity. When they sit and listen to water or watch water creatures in a pond, it allows them to unwind, relax and not think about work and other stressors in their lives, Helfrich said.
Water features of all sizes and configurations -- from koi ponds, to pondless waterfalls that run over rocks and disappear into a buried reservoir, to bubbling fountains and aqua bowls -- have captured homeowners' hearts and imaginations.
"There is literally a water feature for everyone. It is just a matter of finding the right one, whether it is a pond, stream, fountain or something else. Moving water is just so relaxing and fun to watch that people want it," Helfrich said.
Some water features even work with rainwater exchange systems to help prevent flooding by collecting stormwater from downspouts in underground tanks. Homeowners can later use the collected water to water their gardens and yards during dry periods.
But an increasing number of homeowners, rather than just storing the water, are also running it through a pond, bubbling rock or other water feature in order to keep it circulating and fresh and also to "fuel" a beautiful water amenity without paying a municipality for the water, thus making the water feature "sustainable."
"Some municipalities are even offering tax credits to residents who install rain barrels and other rainwater harvesting systems because, by doing so, they are helping alleviate flooding problems for the town," Helfrich said.
"When homeowners decide to add a water feature it is seldom an impulse buy. Most have seen them somewhere and have been dreaming about adding one for some time, but they have no idea what is truly possible in their own yard," he said.
Ponds, which had decreased in popularity during the economic downturn, are making a strong comeback, he said, particularly because advances in technology have made them so much easier to maintain than they once were.
"Ponds give you so much more to look at than simple waterfalls, especially when you put fish in them and you don't have to know anything about fish to keep them alive," Helfrich said. "They hibernate all winter and don't have to be moved."
While ponds can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $300,000, depending on the wishes of the homeowner, other water features are much more economical.
Aqua bowls, for instance, are made of a resin that looks like stone and they are designed to hold water lilies, small fish, tadpoles, snails and even turtles. They are a favorite with small children and are lightweight and easy to move. They also fit in small spaces.
Free-standing fountains that move water from dish to dish to dish can be perfect for some applications, while Aquascape Designs can also take boulders or antique urns or vases found in antique shops, drill them out and transform into an interesting bubbler fountain for a yard. Pondless waterfalls, which recycle water that runs over rocks and drops into a reservoir in the ground, are also quite popular.
"When you are designing your water feature, make sure to do it from inside your house. Wherever you put it, you want it to be visible from your windows so you can enjoy it the maximum amount of time," Helfrich said. "And bring it as close as you can to the house so you can enjoy watching the birds that are drawn to it.
"If you can bring a pond right up next to your patio or partially extended under your deck, that is ideal because people usually love to sit right next to it," he added. "Keep in mind that people usually like to vacation near lakes, the ocean or even mountain streams. They like water, so adding it to your landscape at home just makes sense."
Aquascape Designs has been in business designing outdoor water features since 1991. The company opened a showroom in 2009 when owners realized past customers were having difficulty finding places to buy supplies for their ponds and other water features, Helfrich said.
It currently has two stores -- one at 901 Aqualand Way, St. Charles, (630) 659-2060), and another at 1815 Ogden Ave., Lisle, (630) 964-2060. For more information, visit www.aquascapedesigns.com.