There was a day when almost every back yard featured a revolving clothesline, a kind of carousel made for drying laundry. These simple devices (100no electronic parts) were practical and mildly charming. They have gone nearly extinct now, replaced by the electric (100or gas) clothes dryer, which offers no charm but great convenience, especially on rainy days.
Nonetheless, like a sock that was missed on the first revolution, the clothesline may be coming back around. It’s coming in a small way, but one big enough to cause some trouble.
That’s why last Sunday’s New York Times carried a long story about Jill Saylor’s fight with the owner of her Canton, Ohio, mobile home park over her right to line-dry laundry. When many of her neighbors joined her in applying old-fashioned public pressure, the owner relented and removed the park’s rule against clotheslines.
Similar disputes have cropped up in many other places, not just mobile home parks. Many single family dwellings in perfectly ordinary subdivisions carry deed or “CC&R” restrictions prohibiting the use of outdoor clotheslines.
It appears to be an aesthetic issue, tinged with social aversion: A clothesline used to imply that its owners were too poor to afford a dryer. That sort of message doesn’t help the neighbors’ property values, or at least their own impressions of them.
The resurgence of interest in line drying clothes stems from environmental consciousness, which incorporates a strong desire to conserve energy. Clothes dryers use electric power. The U.S. Department of Energy reported in 2001 that clothes dryers accounted for 5.8 percent of residential electric consumption.
Because most of the rules restricting clotheslines are local, those interested in overturning them have appealed to legislatures for help. Last year, four states approved laws overriding the strictures . Colorado, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont. Florida and Utah already had such laws and bills are under consideration in North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia.
The issue arose in the 2009 session of the Oregon Legislature. House Bill 3090, co-sponsored by two Portland Democrats, Rep Ben Cannon and Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, would have prohibited rules or property conveyances “prohibiting or limiting” the use of “renewable energy devices.” What does that mean? Section 4(100a) explained: ‘Renewable energy device’ means a device that utilizes and relies upon a renewable source of energy, including, but not limited to, solar collectors and clotheslines.”
So it was a bit broader than clotheslines, but they were in there explicitly. The bill passed the House 43 to 17 in early May, but failed to make it out of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources before the session adjourned on June 29.
It will probably pass on a second try. Virginia Sen. Linda Puller’s comment to the Times reporter explained part of the reason: “The issue has brought together younger folks who are more pro-environment and very older folks who remember a time before clotheslines became synonymous with being too poor to afford a dryer.”
The stigma factor should be minimal today. Most people who see a clothesline in your backyard won’t assume that you’re too poor to afford a dryer. They’ll just assume that you’re too smart to run up the power bill when you don’t have to.