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The Green Life: Why Ban Clotheslines?

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November 02, 2011

Why Ban Clotheslines?

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

I’m in a subdivision where hanging laundry is against the bylaws. I just got busted. In Colorado, where I moved from, I heard there's a state law that overrides subdivision rules if there's an environmental benefit (like saving energy by hanging laundry). Is there any law like that in California or other states for people who are trying to do what's right?

—Kristen, in Truckee, California

These hang-ups about hanging out laundry are so widespread that a “Right to Dry" movement has arisen to defend the ancient, common-sense use of a clothesline. Restrictions on this efficient solar-energy device prevent millions of households from drying clothes outdoors, according to Project Laundry List, which keeps track of these strange rules (and provides a lot of useful tips for cutting energy and water use in the laundry process.)

Only a few states have passed laws that override such restrictions, Florida’s being the toughest. Colorado does have a law that overrides the ban on outdoor drying, but it's rather weak, as it only applies to retractable clotheslines. Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Utah, Vermont, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia also have laws that override outdoor drying bans to varying degrees. For example, some allow clotheslines but forbid you to drape clothes on a balcony. California has no protection of your Right to Dry.

The big quibble with clotheslines is that they supposedly cause a drop in property values, though it'd seem that the criminals and plutocrats in banks and on Wall Street  have had a considerably greater effect on the real estate crash than T-shirts and panties flapping in the breeze. This property-value argument itself is based on the notion that clotheslines and clothes flapping on them are aesthetically offensive, which seems a rather strange position in view of the fact that Americans spend billions visiting aesthetically appealing cities all over the world that tolerate clotheslines. So we’re dealing here with one of the many silly taboos that beset our culture.

Clothes-drying requires the equivalent of around 60 million kilowatts of power per year, roughly the equivalent of the electrical energy consumed by 5 million typical U.S. households — which are, of course, consuming far more than they really need to in the first place.

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