Exterior Addition:

A water feature gives a rural home the wow factor.

May 31, 2003


Maintaining the style and integrity of a waterfall of this size, and with such significant power requirements (the two pumps are 1/2 and 1 horsepower, respectively), requires skill and creativity when situating the mechanical equipment. Hill hid the pumps within two large boxes: a biofilter box at the top of the fountain that contains bags of lava rock to clean the water at the beginning of the cycle and a skimmer box that removes debris at the end of the cycle. The biofilter box is sunken into the ground and hidden by rocks and vegetation, and the skimmer box is underneath the stairs at the far end of the pond (away from the falls to avoid water thrusting). Vegetation hides the piping and built-in overflow drain on the waterfall's right side, and the drain dumps extra water into a creek. The waterfall also has a detector that determines when water flow is too low. "There will always be water loss given evaporation and the sheer height of the fountain, so when it gets low, an area within the skimmer box is automatically refilled from a water source within the home," Hill says.

When remodeling his 36-year-old home in Allison Park, Penn., owner R.W. Wobb wanted to make it more conducive for entertaining and, in the process, add a feature that was truly spectacular. Frank Pashel Construction remodeled the home's great room, while Cardillo Design Associates designed a massive water feature in the backyard.

"We wanted to make it appear as if the house had been built around a waterfall," says James Cardillo, architect and owner of Cardillo Design Associates.

The result is a 10-foot-high, 30-foot-long waterfall with three ponds and seven falls, operated by two pumps (one that runs daily). A new patio rests on a stone column that sits in the middle of the bottom pool, which runs to the home's edge. A stone staircase leads down to the pond and to a walkway around the home. Half an inch below the water's surface lies a flat stone that gives the illusion of walking on water when one journeys into the pool. When in use, the waterfall runs 18,000 gallons of water an hour.

Achieving such a dramatic transformation depended on three key factors: topography, mechanics and stone choice. The 2 acres of land included a natural hillside, which made excavation easier when Louis Jakovac, owner of Allstone in Butler, Penn., rotated the hill's angle approximately 45 degrees so the waterfall could be easily viewed from inside the home or while standing on the patio.

A concrete wall, reinforced with steel bars, is the structure's main retaining wall and foundation. Marianne Hill with Hill's Landscaping in Sarver, Penn., says the concrete was covered with pond liner and sealed with a waterproof rubber membrane to prevent seepage into the waterfall's walls, the ground or inside the home.

Jakovac used 140 tons of natural sandstone to line the fountain and 2 tons of flagstone to create the 20-foot-long half-moon patio and its accompanying stairs. Sandstone was chosen because it was easy to work with and looked old. Also, Jakovac had pieces in his quarry that were 10 to 12 feet long, which helped the structure appear seamless and aged. Some pieces of the unblemished sandstone — free from handling marks because he used struts rather than chains to transport and set the stone — even had moss on them, "making it look like the stone was there forever."

"It took a good natural eye to make this waterfall look realistic, not something that someone stuck inside a hill," says Hill. "The waterfall gives a nice thundering effect, but it's very natural, not at all overpowering."

The waterfall also has proven to be a multifunctioning aesthetic and seasonal attribute for the home. During the colder months, the owner continues to run the waterfall (the moving water does not freeze), and it creates the effect of an ice sculpture when the water moves through the iced-over ponds. Jakovac also noted that, given the home's proximity to a somewhat busy highway, the sound of the moving water covers up the noise of nearby truck traffic.

The project cost around $150,000, not including landscaping.

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