Five Good Reasons to Put Your Water Feature on a Timer

Water features, such as waterfalls, fountains and fake rivers, are great at creating pleasant white noise to drown out unwanted sounds, such as traffic, neighbors and so forth. However, there are also good reasons why you might want to put your electric water feature pump on pause with an automatic timer. You might want to turn it off to:

  1. Save Electricity. If you don’t need to run your pump 24/7, you can pause it perhaps at night or while you are at work. Not only will this save you some money but it will save on the resources used to generate electricity in your area.
  2. Enjoy the Quiet While You Have It. Our place has predictable quiet times — namely at night — so having the fountains off means I get to enjoy peaceful nights. An automatic timer turns the pumps off at dusk and on at dawn.
  3. Give Wildlife a Break. Some aquatic wildlife prefer still waters. Pacific Tree frogs (Pseudacris regilla) and Northern Red-legged frogs (Rana aurora) live in our pond and both prefer still waters, especially during their busy mating period at night. The Northern Red-legged frogs mostly communicate underwater so they will especially appreciate the quiet.
  4. Extend Your Pump Lifespan: Depending on what kind of pump you have, it may benefit from running shorter periods of time. If your pump is a sump pump meant to run intermittently, giving it a break is a good idea. Check the duty cycle.
  5. Save water. Evaporation from your pond increases when you are running splashy features. You won’t have to top off your pond as often if you can find times to turn off the pump.
Pacific Tree frog AKA Pacific Chorus frog

You may want to keep your pond running for all sorts of reasons — to run the water through a filter or prevent mosquito larvae or to have continual white noise. Intermittent pump use has still kept away mosquito larvae in our ponds although I imagine the frogs also help with that.

We use simple mechanical timers on our water features but you can also purchase programmable landscape timers that allow you to set different schedules for different days of the week. Slick!

Building a Solid, Sound-Dampening Gate

Our front fence and gate collapsing in a storm presented a fabulous opportunity to erect a new sound-abating one. The old set-up — just wire rabbit fencing — had none of those qualities.

Dampening traffic noise was the goal so I knew a tall, solid fence was required. To block noise, you want a barrier that is tall, dense in mass and completely without holes or gaps. If I had the means, I would have built a rammed earth or stone wall, but I was more in the solid cedar price-range. We tinkered with the pattern of the fence so it was both solid and attractive, but we also put windows in the fence to make it look less like a medieval fortress and created interesting microclimates.

I wanted to create that particular feeling of leaving behind the road and its noise and dust and entering a new world — the garden with the soundscape of birds, leaves and water. As soon as the solid, heavy gate closed and latched behind me, I wanted a marked change in acoustics. The traffic noise inside the tall fence isn’t exactly silenced. NIOSH Sound Level meter apps told us that inside the fence was 10 decibels lower than outside, which, we experience as half as loud. But, that difference in sound level, plus the tactile experience of closing a heavy door, is still quite effective. I experience this every time the gate thuds and the latch snaps shut behind me.

These illusions are important. Our perception of sound is highly subjective. I encourage you to think of fences and gates not just as sound mufflers but as devices that allow you tinker with the illusions of quiet.

A bit more about this gate: it’s constructed with two layers of cedar fence boards and is almost 7 tall. That’s the height I needed to block traffic noise. General rule-of-thumb is that if you can see the source of noise, you can hear it. Our garden is on top of a slight incline so the fence needed to be extra tall.

Choosing excellent gate hardware is more important than you can imagine, especially if you want a gate to feel solid. This Boerboel gate hinge plus matching gate stop and latch by the same company worked perfectly; it’s sturdy, strong, smooth and three-point adjustable, which you really need to keep your gate operating well over time, as the gate and supports shift and sag.

Tempting was the idea of including sound-dampening insulation to the fence, but my budget didn’t allow it. These are rubber and vinyl panels sold in sheets and rolls that you attach to your fencing. But, that will be a project for later!

The Better White Noise…Nature

Water features, such as fountains and artificial streams, are excellent white noise generators. I have three of them and right now they are obscuring the sound of my neighbor’s AM radio talk shows that he must play at full volume. But, water features have drawbacks; they are usually made of plastic or concrete, and require electricity and maintenance.

Here’s another way, perhaps better, to create white noise: bring in the sounds of nature! In my garden, I hear birds, frogs, chipmunks and squirrels and, best of all, bees and droning insects. The benefits to you and to your fellow creatures on earth are obvious. Building and providing habitat is immensely satisfying and not only provides pleasing sounds but watching nature is fascinating and will help you forget the drone of traffic noise.

I challenge you to find a more relaxing habit than watching bees going about their daily foraging scrabbling in flowers and filling their pollen baskets.

A bird feeder will attract some cheepers but a more complete approach that creates habitat will bring in the greatest number and variety of creatures. Some will say invertebrates are the backbone of the food chain, but I will say it’s your soil. Feed your soil with mulch and organic matter, and don’t use herbicides or pesticides. Your creature-rich habitat will grow from there. More ideas to get you started:

  • The best habitat is messy. Develop an appreciation for a casual gardening style and leave many areas minimally groomed. Here’s your excuse to put away the lawn mower.
  • Provide water. Nothing brings in creatures like water, especially moving water. Bees, birds and mammals will visit the water you provide. Design it with their needs in mind.
  • Provide shelter. Brush piles and log piles all provide excellent, necessary hiding spaces and perches.
  • Provide food. Bird feeders help but even better are plants that grow berries, fruit and nuts. Native plants are especially helpful.
  • Plant your garden thickly with pollinator plants, and bring in the bees!

Creatures make great nature sounds, but so do plants so populate your garden with pleasingly noisy ones. Bamboo, apsen, birches, pines with long needles, ornamental grasses, plants with noisy seed pods or rustling large strap leaves can all create a perfectly wonderful soundscape. Take particular care to locate them near places you sit, or near doors and windows you like to keep open.

Creating a relaxing soundscape involves layering sounds. Think of the sounds of nature as one very important layer. It won’t solve all of your noise abatement problems, but it can be a critical element that, combined with others, brings about your quieter garden. Plus, building soil and habitat takes time. Best to get started right away.

Use a decibel reader…cautiously.

I downloaded a free NIOSH Sound Level Reader app, but with great reluctance. For this blog, I wanted to objectively assess whether certain noise mitigation efforts, such as our tall fence, were successful. But, I also know that our perception of noise is deeply rooted in psychology. I didn’t want objective reality — such as unwelcome data from the decibel reader — to destroy any illusion that my noise mitigation efforts were successful, when they weren’t.

This is an important lesson: the definition of noise and perception of sound level is very subjective. An 90 decibel car alarm will be less desirable than a 90 decibel waterfall but equally as loud. If your garden feels quieter even though the decibel reader says otherwise, who cares, right? So in seeking a quieter garden, your time will mostly be wasted seeking decibel data when in the end, it is the perception that matters.

This lovely walk through the woods is NOT
the quietest spot in my garden.

But, here is one useful way, and I hope harmless way, to use the decibel reader: to find the quantifiably quietest spots on your garden to build an escape from noise. Without subjective data, your brain might lead you astray as it did for me and have you working in the wrong location. I was surprised to learn that one of the quietest spots in my yard was not the lovely woodsy spot in the far corner but the ugly place behind the house near the propane tanks.

Traffic noise easily blasted through the trees, although it felt quieter in the woods, while the house blocked traffic noise, even though this space felt quite exposed. Armed with data, I set out to take advantage of this new information and create a peaceful oasis in my quietest spot, with the propane tanks. I’ll leave the woodsy spot for the wildlife.

This is my quietest spot. Surprise!

So, download a decibel reader, but use it wisely. Remember, that when it comes to creating a peaceful quieter garden, perception is everything. It doesn’t much matter in the end what the decibel reader says!

The Quieter Garden

How many of us can say the places we live in are getting quieter, and that we are hearing more of nature, and more moments of silence? Not many, I suppose. More likely, the opposite it true: we have more neighbors with louder toys, and we experience increasing traffic on the ground and in the sky. We are living closer together as there are more of us. I know this is true for me.

I live on a fairly busy country road and while I would love my garden to be nearly silent with just the sounds of birds and frogs and rustling leaves, I don’t have that. Few do, right? So, four years ago, I set out to do the best I could to create a peaceful retreat even though the internet provided little information that was either helpful or hopeful. This blog documents what I have learned about the physics, the psychology and the mechanics of noise abatement in our outdoor spaces. I hope you find it helpful.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

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