Choosing an Outdoor Drinking Fountain

A brief overview of the various outdoor drinking fountain options available

In this age of designer bottled water, "enhanced" water, and the ubiquitous soda machine, it can be difficult to get excited about drinking fountains: other people use them, for one, and they only shoot out plain old water! The convenience and addictive nature of sugary drinks has been a major contributor to the United States' obesity epidemic, particularly with young children. While bottled water has been pushed as a healthy alternative, it can be expensive, and creates a great deal of waste. And in some settings, providing bottled water is simply not feasible.

Among all the refreshment alternatives, could it be that one of the oldest and simplest is still the best? Drinking fountains can provide safe, filtered, cool water to any and all, free of charge, at any time. They're efficient, using very little water and featuring automatic shut-offs. And for outdoor applications – schools, parks, playgrounds, beaches – there really is no better way to provide hydration quickly and easily. The following information is meant to help you hone in on the right fountain for your outdoor needs. So where to start?


Water Quality Concerns

If you haven't done so already, it's a good idea to have your water tested for contaminants. Lead from aging plumbing has been a concern in many school water supplies, and in some areas has led to distrust and even disuse of drinking fountains in schools. Even if your water supply does have elevated levels of lead or another contaminant, most can be successfully filtered out. Point of use filters are a cost-effective alternative to large-scale filtration systems or replacing the plumbing. Many of the fountains we offer also include a screen filter, usually with a rating between 100-140 microns, capable of filtering out most sediment and sand. If you do filter the water to the fountain, make a point of it! Put up stickers or signs letting the thirsty know your fountain is just as good as (if not better than) bottled – and free!

ADA Compliance

One of the most important considerations with a new fountain purchase is ADA compliance. The Americans with Disabilities Act indicates a number of standards for drinking fountains to ensure they are accessible to all. Most state building codes require ADA-compliant fountains somewhere, though the specifics can vary, especially with regards to outdoor applications. Manufacturers have incorporated ADA standards into many of their designs, which we note in each product description. Different criteria exist for ADA compliance between adults and children, and some of our fountains (like the bi-level style shown on the right) can satisfy both.

Location Considerations

Whether you require an ADA unit or not, there are other practical concerns that will help narrow down your choices. Must the unit be installed in a specific location? If so, what are the dimensions of the available space? Will it require a unit mounted in the ground, or to a wall? Are there any potential obstructions or hazards - like a door that could swing open a little too far - that should be considered? What kind of drainage system will you need to use: a plumbed waste line, or a gravel bed?

With floor-mounted – or "pedestal" - fountains, you'll have two installation options: direct bury or surface mount. Your location's plumbing will likely dictate which of these is required. Direct bury units are buried in the ground to meet up with subterranean plumbing, while surface mounts are connected to plumbing near the surface, and are anchored to a concrete slab. Most manufacturers recommend a steel surface carrier with these installations to further stabilize the fountain, as it does not have the benefit of being fixed in the ground. We include these surface carriers with all surface mount fountains we sell.

In cold winter climates, winterizing may be necessary to prevent damage. Frost-resistant and "freezeless" model are available, that keep water flowing even in freezing temperatures. Wall-mounted units rely upon warmth from the building they're mounted to. Frost-resistant pedestal models push and keep water below the frost line to keep it from freezing, so it's important to know where the frost line is. Maps are available online that show general frost line depths around the country, and your local building inspection office should be able to provide highly accurate information.

Materials & Fountain Design

The fountain material is largely a matter of aesthetics with outdoor fountains, as each material is designed to withstand the elements. Those purchasing for a beach, however, would be well-served by a stainless steel fountain. Salt water puts corrosion in overdrive, so having a material like stainless steel that's tough to corrode is a huge plus. "Stone aggregate" is essentially concrete, and offers a more natural look that blends in with the surrounding environment, or compliments your building's rock facade. Cast iron is a highly durable material that withstands harsh weather and can last for many years, even with little maintenance. Outside of a beach setting, rusting should not be a concern with the high-quality finishes of these units.

Once the dirty details are worked out, let taste and preference guide you! Your installation location has already likely determined whether you need a pedestal fountain or a wall-mounted one. If it hasn't, there's very little difference between the two types beyond appearance and installation potential. Either way you go, the features and options that are available guarantee you'll find the perfect fountain to meet both your needs and desires.

If you want to maximize efficiency and minimize installation costs, multi-station fountains are absolutely the way to go. Available with up to three bowls or three spouts/bubblers in a trough-style, these units will quench multiple thirsts and may even give off some flair and style (especially if you choose the right color). Many are available with a bowl for pets, ensuring everyone is properly hydrated.

Bubblers & Other Spouts

Manufacturers have incorporated all manner of features in their fountain designs, from the basic to the unexpected. Halsey Taylor fountains use their exclusive Double Bubbler: two converging streams that offer a fuller flow, and allow the user a greater distance from the bubbler. Most Dependable Fountains (MDF) offer their own Safe Stream Bubbler, a unique design featuring a self-sealing O-ring which helps prevent contamination. MDF takes customization to the next level by offering other options like hose bibbs, jug fillers, personalized plaques, and stations to wash hands or feet (many of which have automatic shut-offs to help conserve water). Dedicated hose bibb and jug-filling units are also available - excellent options for beaches and lakeside campgrounds.

Chilled Fountains

Hot climates demand an extra degree of refreshment, which is why MDF also offers chilled outdoor fountains, which feature built-in chillers. These units require a 115VAC power supply which may limit your installation locations, but wherever these fountains are, the parched will be pleased. As with any MDF model, the options mentioned above are available to add on.

For those that require chilled water, but have no way of hooking up a power supply, Halsey Taylor offers an ice-chilled model. Holding up to 30 lbs of ice, it provides 4 cups of 50°F water per 8 minutes, with incoming water at 80°F and ambient temperature at 90°F – not too shabby for this throwback.

Unique Fountain Styles

If your interest piqued at "throwback", prepare yourself - MDF offers a vintage drinking fountain, modeled after the fountains of yesteryear. ADA-compliant, this two-bowl unit can only be surface-mounted, and is available with a pet fountain (and speaking of pet fountains, we offer plenty of dedicated units for our furry friends).

Those purchasing for a beach or pool will be happy to know that our offerings are not limited to traditional drinking fountains. We have several models (many ADA-compliant) that combine an outdoor shower with a drinking fountain, providing a most convenient option for taking care of your visitors. Or, install one in your backyard or by your pool to give the kids a fun place to play and get clean!

Bottle Fillers

There are situations and settings where drinking fountains may not be desired or appropriate, or sometimes not even trusted because of contamination and hygienic concerns. Add to this the growing popularity of reusable water bottles, and the argument for a bottle-filling station becomes pretty convincing. Available as dedicated filling stations, or bottle-filler/fountain combos, these units are becoming increasingly popular in every setting. Like fountains, they come in pedestal and wall-mount designs, can be easily winterized, and many are ADA-compliant.


Providing fresh, clean drinking water is a meaningful obligation. The information in this guide will put you on the path to fulfilling it with an attractive, high-quality drinking fountain that you'll be proud to have on your grounds. Whether you're purchasing for a school, a park, a beach, or your own home, we're certain to have the perfect outdoor fountain for you!


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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. "Where else can outdoor drinking fountains be installed besides schools and parks?"
A. You can install outdoor drinking fountains for your office complex, hospital or medical facility campuses, elementary schools, secondary schools, universities, stores and downtown shopping areas, gymnasiums or recreation facilities, playgrounds, campsites, beaches and other public recreation areas, and more!

Q. "You say many of your fountains are ADA compliant. What does 'ADA Compliant' mean?"
A. 'ADA Compliant' means the product complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a comprehensive civil rights act for people with disabilities. On July 26, 1990, the President signed the ADA into law as wide-ranging legislation intended to make American society more accessible to people with disabilities and to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA was built primarily due to the desire of individuals with disabilities to work toward their goal of full participation in American society, and effects the ADA may have on businesses include restructuring or altering the layout of a building, modifying equipment, and removing barriers.



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