After countless vain attempts to locate a solar-powered fountain similar to the one I stumbled upon at my local Home Depot, I’ve decided the better way is to find the components and assemble one myself.
The elements are shown above: fountain + pump/solar panel = solar-powered fountain.
Fountain: The fountains come from places like OSH, where I snapped a photo of this one. In the past, I thought it tacky that most of the fountains I’ve seen say "pump not included" on the price tag. But now I think that’s perfect because I don’t want a pump that plugs into the power grid, but one that plugs into the sun, via a solar panel.
This faux-stone fountain (see larger view), which is about 3 feet high, costs about $150. The pump fits inside the bottom basin and the water is pumped via a tube behind the fountain and up to the top. See that here. I found fountains at OSH and other stores for $50 and up. The key for me is to find a fountain with shallow places where birds can bathe and frolic. One deep well or bowl, for instance, will not work. This fountain has two shallow lips where water gathers and then spills over. The bottom bowl is a bit deeper and I might put rocks in there to create more places to perch. I realize that inviting birds to a fountain cause problems with droppings and feathers that can clog the pump. But that’s a price I will pay.
Pump and solar panel: I’ve located two pump/panel combinations. The one pictured here is from a company called Improvements. I’ve never done business with them, but they do have a brick-and-mortar retail store in Ohio, and that always makes me feel more secure. This pump/solar panel costs $99 and has some neat features, including a battery that charges up to run the fountain when the sun goes down, and an AC plug to run it from the grid. The same item without the battery backup is $69. This setup pumps 43 gallons per hour, with a maximum lift of 27 1/2 inches. If the distance between where the pump sits and where you want the water to come out is more than that, you have to get a larger pump. My fountain is unique in that the pump sits up high underneath the second tier and the water gets lifted only about 8 inches to the top tier, where it can spill over. See it here.
Another pump/panel I’ve located is from a company called Gaiam, which I have done business with and like very much. The pump/solar panel offered by Gaiam is only $59, but it has a few drawbacks. First, there is no battery backup available, so the pump will only run when the sun directly hits the panel. And second, the Gaiam pump uses a motor with brushes inside, and the company says you can expect two years of use from the pump. The pump from Improvements uses a brushless motor, and those tend to last longer, though the website doesn’t mention an expected life span.
If you do buy a fountain, and add your own solar-powered pump, please e-mail me a digital photo of it when you’ve got it up and running.