In June 2021, Backyard Getaway was asked to renovate an existing water feature at the entry of a high-end condominium on Siesta Key Beach in Florida. Working for a condo association or corporation is a bit different than working for a homeowner; instead of having one or two people approve a design, making changes and asking questions, a dozen people can be part of the process.
We were lucky with this project because the association loved the design from the beginning and didn’t ask for any changes. They were very organized as well and before finalizing the contract, they held a meeting to discuss the project and came up with a list of questions together. It was a surprising change for us.
The existing feature sat within a 25 ft. circle at the entrance in front of the valet area and directly under the condo sign. This made for a challenging installation. First, we had to find a location close to the site to contain all the rock and soil we removed until the build was completed. We chose to hire a local load-off dumpster company who parked a load off dumpster on site for us to store the rock in.
Second, we had to be very aware of the residents and vehicles that were constantly driving around the circle on a daily basis and through the parking area where we were working. Halfway through the build, we had to even contend with a crane moving glass doors directly over the feature to an 8th floor unit. The guys decided it was a good time to take a break when they were in the process of moving a two-man boulder, looked up and saw the glass doors swaying above them.
The old feature had been installed many years ago, outdated and no longer working. The pump had quit and wouldn’t hold water. The condo association, as well as the residents, felt it was an eyesore, blocking too much of the view and the landscape was high maintenance.
However, they did want the existing rock and boulders in the new feature. The main requirements were that the feature needed to fit within their landscape theme and have sound so it could be heard when you walked out the front door. Lastly, they wanted some height to the feature, but not too high that you couldn’t see over it. The idea was to create an inviting space, as well as a pleasing view from inside the lobby as you looked out at the village shops across the way.
We came up with several, water feature designs to present to the board and they unanimously chose the design that included several drops with a couple of shallow pooled areas.
Water Feature Transformation
The old feature had a mote of sorts wrapped around the waterfall within the outer edge of the circle and the pump system consisted of a sewage pump sitting in a mound of gravel on top of the liner inside the mote.
Overall, the feature had an interesting design with water flowing over the front and the back but it was too steep almost like a pyramid.
We started by tearing down the existing feature and setting aside the boulders, fieldstone, and gravel; and carefully ripping out the overgrown landscaping. We found a treasure of broken blocks, pots and crates under the mound of dirt and roots. The liner itself had many tears, which we thought might be the case and had already planned to replace it. Not to mention we had to deal with electrical wiring, and irrigation within the space.
We removed the larger boulders and the raised mound of dirt using a backhoe and removed everything else by hand so as not to tear up any electrical wiring. Finally, we leveled the area creating a new blank slate.
We began laying out the shape of the waterfall, stream and basin area using concrete blocks as a framework. If you have ever dug a pond in Florida, you probably ran into a bed of limestone that you need a jack hammer to remove or sugar sand which doesn’t shape well when creating a raised area. We dug out a basin area approximately 6’ x 7 ’x 2’ deep.
The plan was to use as much of the space for the water feature itself with space enough to add landscape elements on all sides. Once the layout was completed, new underlayment and a 45-mil EPDM liner was installed. The new pump system consisted of a ½ HP performance pro self-priming inline pump that sits behind the waterfall and pulls from a pipe situated inside a pump vault in the basin area. The basin area was filled out with AWG ecoblox as well to maximize the amount of water in the basin area. Gravel was used to cover the basin, in the shallow “pools” at the top and bottom levels and scattered between the larger boulders to the sides of the feature.
We used their existing flagstone/boulders to create the falls and brought in about 1,000 lbs. of additional rock. No float mulch was used in the landscape area to break up the look of the rock and add more color and texture to the design.
The landscaping consists of Florida friendly plants, including grasses and groundcovers that can stand up to the salt air of the beach and are drought tolerant too. An auto-fill valve was added because the area can get very windy due to being on the ocean and an overflow pipe was added to help when the summer rain floods the area.
One other issue was the gutter downspout dropped directly into the landscape to the right side of the water feature. We extended the downspout and created a gully filled with gravel that ran to the curb.
The total cost to the customer for this renovation, including materials and labor was $12,700; if building from scratch the cost would have been close to double that. We reused rocks and boulders that helped keep the cost down. The entire project took about ten days to complete with three guys.
Everyone was very pleased with the results. The association manager would come down daily to chat with the guys as they worked and even bought them lunch on occasion. Every day one of the residents would stop by and compliment them as they worked. Many were excited to see the change and we received an email a few weeks after the completion and again as the snowbirds started to arrive sharing that the residents were still commenting to the manager how much they enjoy the new look.