Laundry wars: The clothesline debate
Residents are battling with property owners, neighbors for the right to hang their laundry outdoors.
Mon, Oct 12 2009 at 8:12 PM
In the latest twist of consumers going retro to help green their lives, residents are hanging their delicates out to dry, a move that’s making some neighbors and property owners angry.
Who knew grandpa’s underwear could spark a national debate about property rights?
But that’s exactly what’s happening in small towns and big cities across the country, according to a recent New York Times article.
Eco-minded residents from Ohio to Oregon are fighting local rules set by private communities that restrict people from drying their laundry outside.
Take Jill Saylor, who decided to cut her energy usage by drying her clothes outside her mobile home after taking a class that covered global warming. The property owner later rebuked her for doing so because others could view it as an eyesore, which would lower property values.
“I figured trailer parks were the one place left where hanging your laundry was actually still allowed,” she said.
Saylor quickly fought back by sending around a petition that called on the owner to reverse the rule on line drying laundry.
The owner agreed, but others haven’t been so lucky.
For example, fellow neighbors told Mary Lou Sayer that she could not hang her laundry outdoors at her condominium in Concord, N.H.
“I think sheets dangling in the wind are beautiful if they’re helping the environment,” said Sayer, who now hangs her wet clothes indoors.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are throwing their hands into the debate.
Currently, Florida and Utah have laws that override the local rules. And last year, state lawmakers in Colorado, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont also introduced legislation concerning the issue, according to the Times. Similar bills are being considered in a handful of other states.
Those in favor of line drying say that their neighbors or local communities shouldn’t be able to keep them from saving energy and money.
Frank Rathbun, a spokesman for the national Community Associations Institute, disagrees.
“It’s already hard enough to sell a house in this economy,” he said. “And when it comes to clotheslines, it should be up to each community association, not state lawmakers, to set rules, much like it is with rules involving parking, architectural guidelines or pets.”
The debate has become so heated that British filmmaker Steven Lake decided to make a documentary about the subject called Drying for Freedom. The documentary chronicles a shocking case where one man actually shot and killed his neighbor because he kept hanging his laundry outside. According to the documentary’s Web site, 50 million clotheslines are banned in the U.S. alone.
The debate comes amidst a national conversation about climate change and what measures, if any, Americans should take to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
Some estimates claim that dryers use at least 6 percent of all household electricity consumption, but Alexander Lee, who runs the Web site Project Laundry List, claims that dryers probably consume three times as much energy because the federal estimates don’t consider actual use at laundromats and in multifamily homes.
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