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What Should I Charge For a Pondless Waterfall?

Discussion in 'Water Features' started by Jarlo, Jun 26, 2009.

  1. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,872

    I am with you, Tim. I was reading all these responses and thinking, "WTF????" No details. No mention of what size. No mention of materials cost. No mention of difficulty. That's like going to the irrigation forum and saying, "Hey guys! How much should I charge for a sprinkler system?" Huh? For WHAT sprinkler system?

    That's like the most ambiguous question ever.

    But to set the record straight - from somoene who's done quite a few pondless waterfalls over the years - there is no set price for them.

    And I'll have to [respectfully] disagree with Scott too. It's not really even about what you want to make either. It's about how much the customer wants to spend and how big of a water feature they want to end up with. That's really all that dictates the price.

    I've done really small pondless water features for as little as $1750.00 and really big ones for more than $20,000. I just show people several photos and tell them, "Well, you could go with something small and affortable like this one for a little under $2K. Or you could go with one a little more substantial like this one for around $5-$7K. Or you could go with something really elaborate like this one here for more like $20K. What size were you thinking and what is your budget for the job?" Then we go from there.

    If someone says, "Well, I only have a budget of no more than $1500, then I say, "Ok. Well that really won't get you much of a waterfall but let's maybe look at a nice rock bubbler feature...."

    If they say, "Well, I was hoping to spend no more than $5,000" Then I say, "That's a pretty reasonable budget. Here. Let me show you one we did last year that was about $5,000. Would something like this suit you?"

    And so on......

    The other thing that can really affect the price is how much planting they want US to do around the water feature. Some people want to do all their own planting later and use up all their current coffer of money on just the water feature. Others want us to do all the planting to. So that always adds several hundred or even several thousand to the cost of the job. But it comes out looking a whole lot nicer in the end. So I always encourage our customers to spend a decent amount on planting and I show them the difference between one without much planting and one that was done with a lot of nice planting around it. It makes a big difference in the outcome.

    Anyway, every job is different. There's no set price on pondless waterfalls. There's no "ballpark" price on pondless waterfalls. There's no typical price. Every job is different. Every customer is different. If you're doing water features, you're in the business of selling something unique. It's not some cookie-cutter thing where you can give a set price to everyone and tell them that will get them what they want. You can't think of it like that.
  2. Leon

    Leon LawnSite Member
    Messages: 39

    I do believe one can have a price list that will cover most installations. The price for a particular size kit pondless is the same everytime, the rocks are the same price, your labor rate is the same and the installation time should be about the same.

    IF 20 pondless systems of the same size are installed in a typical flat location or slight slope they all should have virtually the identical price. If several are 45 miles away and takes 2 hours to get there, add travel time, but that does not change the price of the installation itself.

    Landscaping around them is a whole nother ball game. Those we price out as a regular landscaping job and every one IS different.

    So what's the problem with having a price sheet?


    The Natural Touch
  3. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,872

    "Hi, my name is Leon. I'm with cookie-cutter waterfalls. All our waterfalls are basically the same. Would you like us to build one the same basic size and same basic shape and same basic features that we did for your neighbor? Because we specialize in that! All our water features are essentially the same!We'll even charge the same price. Here's our cookie-cutter pre-made price sheet. Have a nice day!"


    Sure. I guess if that works for you, cool. Should probably change your title from 'The Natural Touch' to 'The Cookie Cutter Approach' though.

    You installed a lot of pondless waterfalls, have you, Leon?
  4. Leon

    Leon LawnSite Member
    Messages: 39

    Yes, as a matter of fact we have, and ponds. And every one is totally different so no cutter approach here. I've yet to see 2 loads of stone that's identical so this is where skills honed over a number of years, lots of training, working with other master pond builders across the country, and one's own inate artistry skills comes into play.

    Think of a portrait painter. He'll charge $8,000 for a portrait and yet every face is different but he uses the same paint, probably the same studio, probably takes the same amount of time for each painting,and yet every one is totally different. Same for a photographer.

    Fine with me if someone really wants to spend a lot of time pricing every identical job, I'd rather have a cold beverage of choice.


    The Natural Touch
  5. Mr. Vern

    Mr. Vern LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 632

    Jim, it seems like you are getting a bit excited here. For a guy who has done so many water features, you know they can't be "cookie cutter" you can't build the same pondless twice if you tried, not even if you tore one apart and used all of the same rocks! They are all unique.
    We build a large number of ponds and pondlesses every year and we are known for our unique and very natural looking ponds. On top of that, I job cost down to the very detailed level. Having said that, I absolutely have a starting price on my ponds and pondlesses. It's quite simple, if you have the perfect location and you want the basic 10' stream liner, I can give you a price right there on the spot. Now, once you've looked through the portfolio and you see the lights, or the plantings, bridges, XL boulders, etc... Then we need to do some estimating. If your site has challenges, we tell you how much extra when we bid it, but the pond/pondless still starts at the same price.
    At the end of the day, the margins on ponds and pondlesses are so good that you can give a flat rate and make solid and predictable profit margins.
    To the issue of what do others charge, it's very important to ask. You need to know if what you think you need to charge is a competitive price. If you're too low, then you need to raise it. If you're too high then you need to ask yourself if you want to do the job at a lower price and as such; a lower expected margin.
    When it comes right down to it, I would rather see a guy come on here and find out what the going rate is than to have him out there unintentionally lowballing because he thinks it will go faster than it does (which most of us do at first).
    Just my $.02
  6. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,872

    Not excited. Passionate. It's my personality. If I believe in something I am passionate about it. Not to be mistaken about getting overly excited. Guys want to bid stuff the wrong way, whatever. Fine. I just think it's foolish. But although I may write with passion about what I am saying, trust me, I forget all about it 5 minutes later. It's not getting me all upset or excited......


    Well, I have two problems with that. First, the original post didn't say, "What's the going rate for a pondless waterfall with a perfect location and a 10' stream liner with no lights, no plants, no large boulders, easy access, close to the shop, etc." He just said, "What should I charge for a pondless waterfall?" Well, I am sorry. But that's not NEARLY enough information. It's just like going into the irrigation forum and saying, "What should I charge for a sprinkler system?" or going into the landscaping forum and saying, "What should I charge for a new landscape install?" or going into the lawn forum and saying, "What should I charge to mow a lawn? I'm sorry, but there's no 'normal' rate for an irrigation system. It varies like crazy from one state to the next, it depends a ton on what brand you use, how many zones. There are so many factors that determine that I could type for an hour about what goes into pricing out a sprinkler system.

    Same thing with water features. If you're just out there installing your basic 10' waterfalls on every single job, I am sorry, but that's cookie-cutter stuff. I don't think I've EVER used the same size or length of liner from one water feature to the next. Each one has a different length, depth, width, overall head, etc. Some need a very large pump and 3" piping to get the sheet of water the customer wants. Others need a smaller pump and only a 1" or 2" pipe. Some need a couple sections of liner, others need just one section.

    Then there's the issue of how it's constructed. That varies a ton from one contractor to the next. Some people install a biofalls on every system they sell (like I do). But I've seen a lot of others done with no biofalls or no filtration whatsoever. Some people use a snorkel and a centipede. Some use a vault. Some use a custom made vault or just open valve boxes. Depending on which way that's done that can mean the difference of $500 - $1000 difference. And you might say it's wrong to not use a biofalls or snorkel or centipede. But I've seen several smaller pondless features without any of that that seem to do just fine and stay fairly clean. So whose to say one way is really necessary?

    So again, every one I've installed has been totally different. I've never had one single water feature that used the same size pump, same size liner, same amount of underlayment, same amount of rock, same option on the vault/snorkel in the basin, same piping, same plants, etc. In fact, I don't know if I could find two of my water features that have even two or three of the same any of these things. So I am sorry.

    To make matters more complicated, every property is different. I installed one water feature (at my house) that took us only a day and a half. But the access was ideal, it was in the front yard, we could do all the rock placement with big equipment, and we had plenty of room to have all the product delivered and staged before the job began. I installed a similar water feature (in overall length and width) at a property just 5 miles away the following year. Took us 4 days to do that one. We used a good 2x more black pond foam. Had to use a much larger pump, and had to haul everything up a hill in the front yard, and up a hill into the middle of the back yard. So if I was figuring ANYWHERE CLOSE to the same time and materials I had done on my water feature (even though they were close to the same in size) I would have lost my ARSE on that job.


    It doesn't start at the same price. Maybe the cookie-cutter 10' stream water feature with the same exact pump (I guess you have the same head on every water feature), same length of pipe, same size of pipe, same size liner, same size underlayment - jobs. Yah, maybe those have the same price. But is that really what EVERY customer you go give a bid to is asking for???? Everyone's asking for a 10' waterfall???? Come on! Anyone who says that must live in an area where every home and every yard is exactly the same size, elevation conditions, etc.

    When I said every water feature is different, I didn't mean the placement of the rocks, etc. I meant that every water feature requires a different size pump, requires a different length of pipe, different size of pipe, different quantity of rock, different length of liner and underlayment, different set-up, different size of biofalls unit, different vault set-up, and so much more! It's not the same, man. It's not anywhere close to the same from one to the next.

    Besides, are none of you asking what the CUSTOMER wants? Does every freakin' customer want a 10' long waterfall in your area?? Because they definitely don't where I live. Some people want a cascade of 7 waterfalls coming down a 10' hillside and other customers just want a little 3' waterfall with one drop - just something to make some nice sound in the corner. Some want lots of bends and changes in direction, others want a straight run of waterfalls. Some want a huge sheet of 1" thick water rushing down while others want a just a smooth trickle. Some want plants, others want to to the planting themselves. Some want lighting, others aren't even interested in lighting. Some want larger rocks, some will just take whatever rocks you feel are appropriate. Some have a $1500 budget, others have a $25,000 budget. You don't even ask about that??? You don't factor that in? You just say, "Well, your basic 10' pondless waterfall is $X,XXX.xx. That's a 10' x 4' waterfall with 3 falls and nothing else." Or do you get involved in finding out how big the customer wants the water feature to be? Do you find out what their budget is before you start spouting off prices? Do you find out what kind of extras they want before you start going into your price?

    See, to me it's all about finding out what the customer wants, where they want it, how fancy they want it, what add ons they want, how much of a rush of water they want, etc. and THEN you start to price out the water feature (or you tell them that what they want isn't reasonable based on their budget.) But if you're just out spouting off generic prices, I am sorry. But I don't think that's what most people want. That's generic.

    No. I'd rather see a guy come in and ask SPECIFIC questions as to how much a SPECIFIC water feature should cost. Then you're comparing apples to apples. If someone came in here and specified the size of the water feature, how many feet of head, how much liner was needed, how much flow the customer wanted, what sort of arrangement he was thinking for the vault and filtration, etc. THEN we'd have enough information to make a fairly close estimate and start comparing apples to apples. Without specifics, we're all just assuming as to how it would be built, how big it would be, how much flow there would be, etc. And good business doesn't make assumptions like that.

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