How to Save Water & Landscape in a Way That Won't Upset Your HOA

Texas isn’t a stranger to drought, and droughts tend to affect homeowners. For instance, the City of Dallas limits homeowners to watering only twice per week on specific days and during certain hours from April to October. Restrictions like this have prompted some homeowners to look for creative ways to collect rainwater or make their home gardens drought-friendly, but for some Texas residents this has come with a fight.

Some homeowners’ associations have landscaping rules meant to maintain a neighborhood aesthetic, which would make it difficult for homeowners to save water and create sustainable landscapes. That is until 2011, when Texas experienced what was estimated to be one of the top five worst droughts in the state’s history.

To help homeowners implement sustainable gardening practices, the state passed two laws: in 2011, H.B. 3391, and in 2013, S.B. 198. These laws state that HOA’s cannot prohibit a Texas homeowner from composting, installing drought-resistant landscaping or water-conserving natural turf, using rain barrels for rain harvesting, or implementing irrigation systems.

Aerial view over a neighborhood in Dallas-Fort Worth area

"The primary goal of S.B. 198 was to enable residents in deed-restricted HOA neighborhoods to save water (and money) by installing drought-tolerant landscapes," David Foster, director of Clean Water Action and one of the authors of S.B. 198, told the Dallas Morning News.

Despite these new laws, there are clauses that allow HOAs to regulate the water-saving practices of homeowners, such as “the size, type, and shielding of, and the materials used in the construction of, a rain barrel, rainwater harvesting device, or other appurtenance that is located on the side of a house,” or the implementation of rocks, gravel, and cacti, to name a few. 

Furthermore, the HOAs can require a homeowner to submit a detailed plan for water-saving techniques in their yards. While most HOAs require permission for homeowners to make landscaping changes, know that they can’t unreasonably deny a homeowner the ability to save water—though “unreasonably deny” is murky wording.

Horticulturist Patrick Dickinson of Texas A&M AgriLife’s Water University has seen a mixed response to the new codes. "The response has been 50-50," he told the Dallas Morning News. "Some HOAs are very responsive and want to provide correct information to their residents,” while “others would rather their residents not know about the bill.”

Implementing Water Saving Practices

So how can you save water and landscape in a way that doesn’t upset your HOA? First, speak to your HOA and see if they have already implemented guidelines for water-saving practices. Some HOAs may require that you use a certain color for your water saving barrel or request that it be placed in some hidden location of your yard. Others may want you to provide a detailed written description of your plans. It’s best to go through your HOA first, as you wouldn’t want to buy water conserving items only to discover that you can’t use them—or worse, receive a letter from your HOA and a threat of a fine.

If your HOA wants a detailed description, here are some things you could include in your landscaping outline that are more likely to make your HOA agree to your conservation plans.

Rainwater barrel

Rainwater Barrels and Harvesting Tanks

If your home has gutters, rainwater barrels allow for homeowners to catch rainfall and use that water for their plants or yard—all for the one-time cost of purchasing the barrel. There’s also rainwater harvesting tanks, which are larger and usually fitted to the side of the house. Some HOAs will require that your rainwater barrel or tank is the same color of your home or be a certain style. Others may be less strict and suggest it be placed in a hidden location.

Whether you go for a tank or a barrel, you’ll want one that comes with a lid to protect from insects; also, a a lid of a darker color will keep light out and prevents algae growth. Trendy rain barrels include plastic ones that look like ceramic or stone urns or oak barrels. Harvesting tanks are basic and uniform in style, though metal cisterns might be an attractive option to consider.

Drip Irrigation Systems

Drip irrigation systems are made of rubber tubes with holes that are placed within gardens. According to Texas A&M AgriLife, “drip irrigation reduces water loss by up to 60 percent or more as compared to traditional watering methods” as it “allows water to soak in immediately.” 

These might be best used in the backyard for optimal aesthetic. Some drip irrigation systems can be hidden under mulch or concealed by plants, which is especially helpful in front-yard gardens that are far removed from sidewalks and less easy to see by pedestrians or those driving by.

Mulch

Mulching is a water conserving practice that “conserves moisture by reducing evaporation of water vapor from the soil surface,” thus allowing you to water less often. Grass clippings and leaves can be used as mulch, though often people will need to buy mulch. The coloring of mulch is usually consistent with soil, so it shouldn’t be a problem to use in your front yard. Mulching practices you’ll want to stay away from include using newspaper or black plastic as this is most likely to upset your HOA. 

Compost bin

Composting Bins

Composting adds nutrients to your plants, trees, and lawn—during droughts, they’ll need it. When it comes to composting bins, you’ll want to buy or create something that’s not an eyesore. Try for a cedar wood composter, as they’re bug and rot resistant, and offer the natural wooden look of a garden. Your HOA may be more receptive to plastic or metal composters if you can assure them that they’ll be well hidden. 

Drought Resistant Landscaping

Drought resistant landscaping may be the toughest of all to get approval from your HOA, because it involves changing the plants, layout, and aesthetic of your landscape. Cactus, agave, rocks, and gravel aren’t the only options for drought-resistant landscaping—and those probably wouldn’t please your HOA anyway.

You can have an attractive, green landscape by introducing plants native to North Texas. These plants are used to the hot, drought-like weather of Texas and can look attractive without dying or needing as much water. According to Native Land Design, Texas Sage, Black-eyed Susans, and Texas Lantana are such local plants with lovely blooms, while Frogfruit is a plant that will help with erosion and maintenance and has charming white flowers.

Do your research and remember that your yard can be aesthetically pleasing to your HOA while helping you save water and money in the process.

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