Evolution of Cape homes during the region’s driest period

With the Western Cape experiencing one of its driest periods in decades, the property sector is evolving. While some see this as a reactionary measure of temporary circumstances, others see this as a natural progression in the way we design and build our homes.

The interaction between our homes and the environment has always been a contentious point with design purists maintaining that a home should incorporate itself as much as possible into the space that it occupies while using as much of the natural terrain as well as indigenous building materials. And while there few indications that the current weather conditions are adversely affecting property prices, research shows that future buyers will be willing to pay higher prices for energy efficient homes. 

These thoughts are echoed by Greeff Christie’s International Real Estate CEO Mike Greeff, “In response to the Western Cape’s drought, homeowners and developers are encouraged to relook the way they incorporate the ‘green factor’ into their homes. By adapting home design and current home features to best suit and accompany the necessary water-saving trends, they are conscientiously changing the landscape for future developers and homeowners in a skilled and mindful manner. The inclusion of energy and water saving devices into home design ultimately changes the way we see our homes. And so, the homes of the future will have the future of the planet in mind.”

With the approach of Summer, home gardening will once again rise in popularity. However, with the drought in full force, some gardening tips from the experts are an additional aid in how to beat the drought.

Gardening experts Starke Ayres who have been in the industry since the late 1870s, shared some useful pointers on how to effectively garden your home:


By reducing the size of shrubs, their need for water is decreased and thus the rate of evaporation is too.


Mulch all planted areas with a layer of organic material such as peach kernels. Apart from feeding the soil, mulch also dramatically reduces water loss and keeps soil cool.

What to plant:

Everyone knows that succulents are a must and there are numerous options – keep in mind however, that your water-wise plant list will be more extensive. These will include: Aloes – they are low-maintenance, offer unexpected winter bloom and also attract sugarbirds and butterflies to a well-placed pot. Other options also include: crassulas, vygies and cotyledons which are all more likely to require less water than the average plant.

Boreholes and water tanks:

If you are equipped with a borehole or water tanks, you should water deeply and infrequently. Saturate an area while aiming to mimic a good rainfall area and you may get away with only having to water every few weeks. 

Small manageable areas:

Hone in on your gardening efforts by focusing on small areas such as a collection of herbs, succulents or potted plants. Be creative with decking, pebbles and stepping stones to minimise lawned areas.

Additional future design trends to note are:

Thermally efficient design through the intelligent orientation and placement of windows. Windows allow solar energy to enter a home. While this is desirable in winter it can be a curse during the summer months. In the Southern hemisphere houses should face North. North-facing windows should be larger than South-facing windows but not too large. The Sun’s position in the sky also changes seasonally and an appropriately designed overhang or awning will limit sunlight entering the home in summer months and let in more sunlight during winter. The addition of an overhang or awning to your home’s windows is a very cost-effective and sustainable method of temperature regulation.

One of the best ways to make a house more energy efficient is to reduce the flow of heat into and out of the house. Ceiling and roof insulation serve to conserve heat in winter, and maintain cooler temperatures in summer. Climatic regions can make a difference in the level of insulation necessary for a comfortable living environment within a home. In mild climates like the Western Cape, comfort can be achieved without much heating or cooling, if appropriate thermal designs are implemented.

The inclusion of water saving features appeal to the sense of responsibility that we all have, and will no doubt add to a home’s appeal. Toilets use large amounts of fresh drinking water. However, with good maintenance and simple water-saving initiatives, toilet water consumption can be significantly reduced. Older toilet cisterns with a syphon flushing system hold 9 – 12 l of water. Modern toilet cisterns hold about 6 l of water. Converting your toilet to a multi-flush system, which flushes for as long as the handle is held down, or a dual-flush system, which offers long and short flush options, can cut water consumption by up to 20%.

Water-efficient showerheads deliver around 6–10 l of water per minute. They reduce the amount of water that flows out of a showerhead, without affecting the quality of the showering experience. This is done by adding air to the flow of water, increasing the size of water droplets much like a high-pressure hose. A water-efficient showerhead saves up to 50% of water, and also reduces water-heating electricity consumption.

Making smart choices when buying a new household appliance can have a significant impact on your water and energy use. Look for water and energy-efficient products. Dishwashers use an average of 40–75 l of water per wash, although very efficient machines can use as little as 13 l. More efficient machines will also use less electricity. Machines with economy or half-load washing cycles will reduce water consumption by 37% and energy use by 29%. Large washing machines use an average of 150 l per wash – as much water as a bath. High-efficiency washing machines use about 30% less water and 40–50% less electricity. Look for machines that consume 37–45 l of water per wash.

Boreholes and well-points draw underground water for irrigation purposes. A well-point is normally an installation with a pump mounted at ground level that draws up water via a suction pipe from a maximum depth of 8–10 m. Boreholes, in turn, can be shallow at a depth of about 30 m, or deeper at 100 m or more. Installing well-points and boreholes is expensive and should be fully researched beforehand. Also, all groundwater is not necessarily ideal for irrigating plants. Although they are generally not considered a sustainable solution to water conservation, boreholes can help reduce our dependence on fresh drinking water for garden maintenance. Groundwater plays an important role in the environment. During dry periods, groundwater replenishes low-flowing rivers. During wet periods, the opposite occurs: The rivers and surface drainage replenish the groundwater. To ensure that borehole water is not polluted or overexploited, the amount of groundwater that is extracted needs to be monitored, and all boreholes must be registered with the municipality.

Greeff adds, “In recent months we have seen a significant increase in the sale and appeal of homes with boreholes and automated irrigation systems. Potential homeowners and investors are on the lookout for homes with suitable green features as it not only makes their home living experience hassle-free in dealing with the current climate, but also adds value to the home in the event of a future resale. While our current drought status may not be an everlasting issue, energy-efficient homes certainly will be.” Greeff concludes.

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