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The fight against clothes line bans

For decades, the clothes line has had an image problem in the US but, ahead of a rally to highlight the benefits of natural drying, is it about to be reclaimed?There is a new protest movement sweeping the US and at its heart are two sticks and a piece of string.


Upon the humble clothes line, a battle line has been drawn that embodies a uniquely American clash of ideas about class, liberty and the environment. Rules imposed by community associations and landlords forbid tens of millions of home owners to dry their washing outside because, they say, it's unsightly and even lowers property prices.


But a number of clothes line rebels have risked legal action by disobeying these rules, saying it is the duty of Americans to reduce their carbon footprint and leave their energy-hungry tumble dryers idle.


This Sunday their supporters will make their feelings known by holding a rally in Concord, New Hampshire to promote line drying.


These unlikely dissenters come in all ages and from all backgrounds. After moving to Witney Ridge in Pennsylvania nearly three years ago, Deborah Brensinger, a 55-year-old nurse, immediately began hanging her clothes in her back yard.


"Our government is trying to encourage working with the environment and doing things to cut down electricity, yet here's something totally free.


"I get to see my neighbours, it's clean and it smells good. It's a contemplative practice. I don't rush it, I enjoy it. It relieves stress. You can do it leisurely at your own pace, in a world that's so fast-paced."



'I must fight back'

_49413110_wei_wang.jpg Wei Wang (above) a 49-year-old mother-of-three in Maryland, is continuing to hang out her washing, despite the threat of legal action.


"Energy savings and reducing pollution is more important, so I think I should stand up and fight back. I grew up in China and I was taught by my mother to use this method all the time.


"I've lived in Europe too, and it's only Americans that don't like clothes lines."


She says she checked her neighbours had no objections, and the line can't be seen from the street. But after the threat of legal action from her association, the mother-of-three now dries her five loads of washing a week on drying racks around her home, much to her annoyance.


"Everyone thinks people do whatever they want in their back yards. If I went out there in a bikini, it wouldn't matter but hanging my clothes out does. It doesn't make sense."


Mrs Brensinger is one of 60 million Americans living in about 300,000 communities governed by home-owning associations, where living in a flat, mobile home or even detached house, means accepting regulations on the appearance of homes and gardens.


The majority of these associations ban or restrict the use of clothes lines but, with a mindful eye on energy consumption, six states have fought back.


Florida, Utah, Maine, Vermont, Colorado and Hawaii have passed laws restricting the rights of housing authorities to stop residents from using clotheslines, and several other states including Pennsylvania are considering similar bills.



'Prudery plays a part'

_49280879_caldicott.jpg Australian anti-nuclear advocate Helen Caldicott spent 18 years living in the US.


"Tumble drying is absolutely unnecessary. They can hang their clothes out in summer and by the furnace in the basement in winter. But they are being brainwashed that they need to machine dry.


"Part of it is also that they don't want to be looking at Mrs Brown's underwear. I suppose that prudery comes from the Puritans."


The pro-clothesline movement's champion is Alexander Lee, the 36-year-old founder of Project Laundry List, an organisation based in Vermont that campaigns for the so-called right to dry. He says its supporters are drawn from all social groups and backgrounds, uniting "libertarians and environmentalists, Christian mothers and radical homeowners".


When a college student in 1995, one statement uttered by a visiting anti-nuclear lecturer, Helen Caldicott, inspired him: "If we all did things like hang out our clothes, we could shut down the nuclear industry."


This energy-saving message forms the central plank of his campaign. Official figures say that tumble dryers guzzle 6% of household electricity, second only to fridges, but Lee estimates the actual figure to be three times higher. He says that if one in three Americans started line drying for five months of the year, 2.2m tonnes of CO2 would have been prevented from entering the atmosphere by 2020.


"The movement is increasing because we have these three problems that are converging - the energy crisis, the climate crisis and the personal finance crisis. We believe that it's a patriotic duty to conserve energy. There should be a victory clothes line at the White House."


_49285285_italy_think.jpg In Italy, washing lines are a common sight His campaign outlines other reasons to support line drying - good exercise, nice-smelling clothes, saving $25 (£16) a month in electricity bills, avoiding fire hazards and even mood-improving. And then there's also his aesthetic admiration for the clothes line, "its Gestalt, its organic beauty, its simple functionality, the colourful panorama dancing on the line".


British film maker Stephen Lake has travelled around the US, speaking to people affected by these regulations. The 24-year-old, who writes and directs a film on the subject, called Drying For Freedom, out early next year, says: "If a buyer goes down a neighbourhood and they see clothes hanging on a line, they would question the lifestyle that they would be buying into, because it might suggest that person can't afford a dryer.


/**/_49416243_mary2.gifClick to play


Click to play


Mary Lou Sayer's trouble drying clothes - a clip from Drying For Freedom


"These communities are based around setting a neutral aesthetic, so that every house in the street does not suggest anything about the person inside. The English middle class would probably not understand that."


A few associations in the UK also restrict line drying, and many British people would endorse the view that clothes flapping in the wind can look unsightly. But it doesn't have the same stigma in the UK, where only 45% of households own a tumble dryer, compared with 79% in the US.


For many Americans, clothes lines are an unwanted reminder of a more frugal age, says Dave Rapaport, senior director of corporate consciousness at Seventh Generation, a firm that sells eco-friendly household products.


"Hanging clothes was the norm prior to the advent of the suburban ideal of modern living in the 1950s. Partly driven by the need to get women back out in the workforce after World War II, partly the need to sell electricity and the appliances being invented to use it, and partly by a idealised notion of progress, clotheslines became a symbol of the life people were leaving behind."



Tumble dryers

  • 79% of American households have a tumble dryer, compared to 45% in the UK and 4% in Italy
  • 20% of Americans live in homes subject to clothes line bans
  • It usually costs at least $100 to run a dryer for one year
  • Some people have reported a 50% drop in electricity bills when they go 'cold turkey' on tumble drying
Sources: Project Laundry List, Energy Information Administration, Defra


He can sense that belief now being slowly eroded, not just because of energy concerns, but by a desire for simplicity, the aesthetic appeal of line drying and a nostalgic return to traditional family chores.


And in the same way that many Americans have embraced the reusable shopping bag, he believes they could learn to love line drying again.


But there are many who say they shouldn't.


Frank Rathbun is spokesman for the Community Associations Institute, which represents tens of thousands of associations nationwide. Most of them do restrict the use of clothes lines, he says, but for good reason.


"More often than not, the rules governing associations were put in place by developers and builders when the communities were being built.


"In most cases, the decision is based largely on community aesthetics. Developers and builders are trying to sell homes, and I think most would tell you that clotheslines could detract from the overall appearance and kerb appeal of the community, and therefore sales.



Do clothes lines lower property prices?

One home-owning association claimed the sight of washing lines could reduce neighbouring property values by up to 15%. But the National Association of Realtors says it's not possible to put a value on this effect. A spokeswoman said that clothes lines were among the biggest sources of complaints among homeowners, in a recent survey, but the impact depended on neighbourhood norms. An area with a high number might leave a less negative impression than just one in a different area, depending on the buyer's expectations and values. She said: "The issue just underscores the fact that many things affect a property value - the home's condition, amenities in relation to other homes in the area, and the neighbourhood itself."


"Regardless of the issue, appearance and kerb appeal have a direct impact on property values and the sale of properties. I think it's safe to say that most associations have kept these rules in place for those very reasons."


Many people are attracted by the these communities because of the rules governing how they look, he says, and in the same way that many residents don't want to open their curtains - front or back - to see rubbish or an abandoned car, they might not want to see a bunch of laundry hanging on a clothesline either. The same rules prohibit statues, fountains and motor boats.


A national survey in 2007 indicated overwhelming opposition among residents to state laws preempting association rules on clotheslines, he says, suggesting that the way some state lawmakers have overturned these restrictions on line drying highlights a more fundamental issue about the collective right of homeowners in private communities to establish the rules for their own neighbourhoods.


"The bottom line is that as a private entity, each association is in the best position to make these determinations. Remember, association boards are elected by their neighbours to serve the best interests of the community as a whole.



A tragic dispute

In 2008, a man was shot dead in Verona, Massachusetts, during a dispute apparently over a clothes line. Police said the neighbours were arguing after one told the other to stop hanging his laundry outside.


"It's also important to remember that homeowners in associations have a contractual obligation to abide by rules that have been put in place to preserve the character of the community, protect property values and meet the established expectations of residents in that community.


"If a large percentage of owners really want to change a particular rule, they can probably make that happen."

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Wei Wang (above) a 49-year-old mother-of-three in Maryland, is continuing to hang out her washing, despite the threat of legal action.


"Energy savings and reducing pollution is more important, so I think I should stand up and fight back. I grew up in China and I was taught by my mother to use this method all the time.

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After i'd stopped laughing about this whole absurd debate, as I was ignorant it even existed, did a little google and found this.


Debate Follows Bills to Remove Clotheslines Bans


It’s already hard enough to sell a house in this economy,” said Frank Rathbun, a spokesman for the national Community Associations Institute, an advocacy and education organization in Alexandria, Va., for community associations. “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.”


Ah real crux of the matter then :rolleyes:




Aside from the climate and monetary aspects, my wife swears blind it does more for the texture of the clothing hanging them out, add natural freshness from drying outdoors, less pollutants(unless you are next door to some chemical plant) and speed of drying on a windy day, even more so out in the sticks - all seems a no brainer to me.

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That's madness, complete snobbery. I'd always thought regulations regarding sign written work's vehicles in some locations in the UK were ridiculous but that takes the biscuit. Next they'll be outlawing bonfires :ph34r: . Can imagine the headline in the European zone "Only in America ..............". :blink:


The images of washing lines in some countries could even by viewed as iconic.



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That's madness, complete snobbery. I'd always thought regulations regarding sign written work's vehicles in some locations in the UK were ridiculous but that takes the biscuit. Next they'll be outlawing bonfires :ph34r: . Can imagine the headline in the European zone "Only in America ..............". :blink:


The images of washing lines in some countries could even by viewed as iconic.


Yes interesting free speech but lack of rights re one's own property. A matter of different tastes in different countries.


I think also the US is more stringent when it comes to being allowed to cut down trees in certain areas.


But these days bonfires in london if not illegal are certainly frowned on by neighbours and the authorities. I saw a local council leaflet the other day on the matter, suggested you could be done for causing annoyance.

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............... let bonfire season begin.


" Remember, remember the Fifth of November,

The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent

To blow up the King and Parli'ment.

Three-score barrels of powder below

To prove old England's overthrow;

By God's providence he was catch'd (or by God's mercy*)

With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

And what should we do with him? Burn him!


A traitor to the Crown by his action,

No Parli'ment mercy from any faction,

His just end should'st be grim,

What should we do? Burn him!

Holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring,

Holler boys, holler boys, God save the King!




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