Water-saving ideas for Sectional Title schemes

The current heatwave, increased water tariffs, “water-shedding” and looming water restrictions are all reminders of the scarcity of this resource in SA and the need to use it wisely.

“And this applies to the residents of Sectional Title complexes just as much as to the owners of freehold homes,” says Andrew Schaefer, MD of leading national property management company Trafalgar.

“Water tariffs risen by between 8 and 14% a year since 2008 and, since most units in Sectional Title buildings do not have individual water meters, such increases are passed on to all owners, usually according to the participation quota (PQ) of their unit. Careful water usage, especially on the common property, is thus already a matter of concern for every member of the body corporate.

“In addition, pretty gardens and green spaces enhance home values, even in apartment and townhouse complexes, so it is also in the interests of owners and trustees to try to avert water-shedding or the imposition of restrictions that usually result in gardens becoming desiccated.”

For a start, he says, the trustees should evaluate current water usage practices on the common property and make immediate changes where necessary. “For instance, they might need to change the time at which gardens are watered. To cut water loss through evaporation, it is best to water in the cool of early morning or evening and not when it is windy or hot.

“Gardening experts also advise that rather than water for a short period every day, garden beds should be given a good soak two or three times a week to encourage plant roots to grow down into the soil to improve drought tolerance.”

If the body corporate employs a garden service, the trustees should also request that it makes use of indigenous species whenever any flowers, shrubs or trees need to be planted or replaced. These have evolved to withstand dry local conditions, are hardier than exotic plants, and generally evergreen.

Other cost-free or inexpensive practices, Schaefer says, are to make sure that driveways and paved areas are swept clean rather than being hosed down, and to attend to any dripping taps immediately, as a tap leaking at the rate of just one drop per second will waste around 10 000L of water per year.

Then if owners want to try to cut water usage and costs even more, they should consider empowering their trustees to install “improvements” such as an automated irrigation system that waters as efficiently as possible and has rain sensors to override its settings and ensure that the garden is not watered just after rain.

“They should also seriously think about installing rainwater tanks to harvest as much storm runoff as possible from the roofs of the complex,” he says. “With the aid of a small pump, this ‘free’ water can then be used for all outdoor needs. Alternatively, if the tanks are set on platforms there is usually enough pressure to run a hose or an irrigation system.

“In some parts of the US and Australia that are particularly dry, such tanks are actually compulsory now to supplement municipal supplies, while in other parts of the world, households with tanks are given water credits on their municipal accounts – and although SA has not reached that stage yet, rainwater tanks can still mean big savings.”

What is more, Schaefer says, owners that are concerned about aesthetics don’t need to worry that a rainwater tank installation will be unsightly. Tanks come in many shapes, sizes and colours these days and there are even flat models that fit neatly against outside walls or can be incorporated into boundary fences.

“However, owners do have to comply with certain provisions of the Sectional Titles Act when they wish to suggest or make improvements to the common property, so if they are considering any water-saving installations, they should seek advice from a professional property management company like Trafalgar to ensure that they follow the correct process.”

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