If they could afford it, most people would love a vacation in the Hawaiian Islands or the Caribbean. Those who have been fortunate enough to do so wished they could stay. More homeowners are now spending money on home improvement that they may have saved towards expensive vacations or purchasing a second vacation home. The high cost of living and plummeting property values have made investing in their primary residence much more attractive and economical. This means that they plan to stay in their home for some years to come and make improvements to the inside as well as the outside.
A tropical resort-style atmosphere can be attained for as little as $30,000 if you are able to do it yourself. Labor costs are sometimes twice the cost of materials in such a project.
I wish I could teach you how to design, lay out, excavate, engineer and build a permanent pond, waterfall, gazebo, bridge, decks, landscaping, lighting, pondscaping, irrigation, and much more - not to mention building codes, covenants and restrictions associated with your community, city, county and state.
I have spent the past 26 years designing and building well over 1900 water features in San Diego, California, and I am going to attempt to give you as many do's and don'ts as I can. Let's start with a true story to illustrate the importance of having a good plan and conducting adequate research.
The wrong choices and decisions can turn your home into a "money pit." The worst-case scenario I have seen was in Rancho Santa Fe, California. A former client called to say they were purchasing a 15,000 square foot house that had a 50' high waterfall spilling into a pond in their front yard. The previous owners had it built and paid a liner pond contractor $276,000. In less than four months it was leaking like a sieve. The contractor refused to correct the problem, explaining the cause was from gnawing gophers, and the liner warranty only covered factory defects.
They paid a second liner pond contractor $75,000 to fix the problem. Rather than employing a crane to remove the boulders and rocks in order to find and patch the gopher damage, they simply tried to paint concrete sealer around the base of every rock in the falls.
Two weeks later the leaking resumed at the same rate. The second contractor was nowhere to be found and they had to rip out the entire feature and do it right, using rebar and 3500 psi concrete, for an additional $235,000. Now it will last for decades.
In the past 15 years I have witnessed this scenario countless of times. Leaky liners caused by rats, rice, ground squirrels, gophers, chipmunks, tree roots, sharp objects, or from heavy boulders stretching the liner. Other issues are the result of a simple lack of planning or inferior materials or workmanship. A few examples are: cracked patios due to improper compaction; high water bills from poorly designed irrigation; property damage or standing water from improperly installed drains; algae-ridden ponds that are murky, smelly eyesores. Or maybe your Tropical Paradise is overrun with bamboo or papyrus or other fast-growing, spreading plants or bushes. Another mistake is not researching the types of trees of plants to ensure that your choices are suitable for the area in which they are planted. It is costly to relandscape due to overgrown plants or to replace trees because their roots are lifting a sidewalk or patio, or breaking irrigation lines and structures built with inferior lumber, risking termite damage.
A tropical paradise is incomplete without a pond or water feature. The most significant element contributing to a tropical atmosphere is moving water. Why? - you may ask. Water moving over rocks and passing through the air releases negative ions to the surrounding oxygen. Breathing this charged air has been proven to be healthy; it relieves stress, tension and anxiety. Have you ever noticed the wonderfully clean and refreshing smell in the air just prior to a rainstorm? You are breathing negatively charged air. You find the same effect at the beach from the waves crashing on the shore.
If you are going to have a pond and waterfall, you need to add fish, frogs, a turtle, aquatic plants, and for a special finishing touch you should add a bridge somewhere. A common mistake that most people make is inadequate planning and research. Regardless of your hopes, dreams or expectations, you can find a source of information to help you plan by researching the internet.
The following are my 18 do's and don'ts related to the construction of a tropical water garden paradise:
1. Take your time.
2. Plan it out.
3. Research the subject thoroughly.
4. Seek out an expert in the field. A few years of experience are important.
5. Make sure the expert is licensed and bonded.
6. Accept only concrete and steel rebar construction. If you desire a permanent, maintenance-free structure, never use a pond liner.
7. Do not use submersible pumps; they are inefficient and expensive to operate, and are difficult to maintain.
8. Use a biological filter to help eliminate nitrates and nitrites from the water. (I recommend a pressurized back-flushable filter, not a gravity flow.)
9. Install a skimmer for removal of surface leaves and debris.
10. Use two anti-vortex drains on the bottom of the pond for suction line to prevent whirlpools and fish or turtles from being sucked into the drain.
11. Make sure your pond is a minimum of three feet deep to regulate water temperature in the summer months and to discourage herons and raccoons from dining out.
12. Build caves and ledges for turtles and fish to hide in.
13. Install an ultraviolet light to kill bacteria that cause smells and pathogens which will kill fish and algae spores that create green water.
14. Do not use mechanical auto-fill valves; only use an electronic one like the AquaFill System. It does not stick or malfunction - thus preventing pond overflow and dead fish from chlorine poisoning.
15. Use plenty of water plants in the falls and pond. They provide extra oxygen and food for the fish and act as natural filters, utilizing the nitrate nitrogen in the water.
16. Use a high-efficiency, out-of-pond pump that conserves energy.
17. Make sure you have proper drainage around the pond and waterfall so run-off from the rain storms does not enter the pond, contaminating it with silt, fertilizer, pesticides, etc.
18. Learn basic pond maintenance - "an ounce of prevention is worth a (pond) cure."
When I say "everyone should have a tropical paradise," I'm not simply promoting my life's passion. Considering how much enjoyment a tropical water garden and waterfall can give you, dollar for dollar, cubic foot for cubic foot, hour for hour, it can now become your own premiere personal tropical vacation resort.

Author's Bio: 

Douglas C. Hoover; CEO of Aquamedia Corp, Master Waterfall Builder, architect, engineer, author, designer & builder of over 1,900 waterfall and ponds(29 years). Author of "Waterfall and Pond Construction Manual." Learn more at http://www.aquafill.com.