by Heather Rothbauer-Wanish
It seems like almost a signal to the seasons. Spring arrives, followed by the heated sun rays of summer; clothes are hung on clotheslines to soak up the air and wonderfully long daylight hours.
Not only does hanging clothes outside save the electricity that would have been used by the dryer, the clothes come back into the house smelling freshly-scented and have the ‘crispness’ of being dried outside. However, legislation is being proposed in many areas that would ban the use of clotheslines. From the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, this issue has become a popular discussion of basic rights and environmental-friendliness.
According to an article in the New York Times, clothes dryers use at least six percent of all household electricity consumption. The Wall Street Journal, citing the same percentage, stated that this ranks dryers third in energy use, only behind refrigerators and lighting. The high energy use, and high electrical costs of dryers, has led people to hang clothes outside for drying purposes. However, not everyone wants to see others’ laundry from their window; this is especially true in association-governed communities.
Drying for Freedom (dryingforfreedom.com) follows the actual case of feuding neighbors in Miss., where the police say one man shot and killed another last year because he was tired of telling the man to stop hanging his laundry outside.
The sharp growth of these types of communities brings additional regulations. Frank Rathbun, spokesman for the Community Associations Institute, stated that there are approximately 60 million people living in about 300,000 association-governed communities. Some states, including Wisconsin, limit homeowners associations’ ability to restrict the installation of solar systems; however, many times it is unclear if clotheslines fall into this category.
Chippewa Valley resident Tiffany Coggins, owner of Green Girl Inc., is passionate about the environment and has started her business as a way to share environmentally-friendly tips and ideas. Coggins feels strongly that people should have the right to hang clothes outside. “I would hope that people would work to reverse existing bans. I also hope people will fight to keep new bans from coming into existence. People should have the ability to hang clothes in their own yards to better the environment and save money,” Coggins said.
Katy Martin, originally from Altoona and now a resident of rural Chippewa Falls, shared Coggins’ thoughts. “When I was young, single, and seeking my first house, I really liked a particular house in a certain area of town. However, I did not buy for one reason: you could not have a clothesline in your own yard,” she explained.
Coggins reflected on the larger picture of the environment. “I think that we need to put the environment much higher on our priority list. Something as superficial as being offended by looking at some other person’s laundry hanging outside seems silly when you look at the environmental big picture,” she explained.
Carrie Heath, a Chippewa Falls resident, hangs all her laundry outside on every possible day that she can. She also recognizes the impact on the earth. “Not only is it free to use the sun and wind to dry your clothing, but there is no wasteful byproduct. The sun is a natural antibacterial as well; towels and sheets that are hung in the sun are so much cleaner,” Heath said.
When residents choose to hang laundry outdoors in an association-governed neighborhood that has strict guidelines, there can be legal action. One such case in Bend, Oregon has led to numerous complaints by neighbors regarding viewing others’ laundry, as well as written warning letters to the person who has chosen to violate these covenants.
According to Coggins, there are options to consider if someone does not want to view the laundry of a neighbor. “If people are disturbed by the aesthetics of looking at hanging laundry, then maybe they should put in extra plants for landscaping to block views to their neighbors’ yards,” she commented. “There would be many benefits to adding landscaping, including additional removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” Coggins added.
Emily Kuhn also enjoys the benefits of helping the earth while drying clothes outdoors. “I am excited to be able to hang my laundry from our clothesline this summer; it’s so much more energy-efficient than using the dryer,” Kuhn commented. However, Kuhn also addressed the need for discreteness. “I will admit that I’d never put a clothesline where anyone but the nearest neighbors could see it — and only the ones who can view our backyard, for that matter,” Kuhn said.
People have been using the sun and wind to dry laundry since the beginning of time. While the appearance of clotheslines has become more of an issue in recent years, people in the Chippewa Valley are struggling with reconciling appearance versus the betterment of the earth. Hanging laundry has been a time-honored tradition for many families, and Coggins hopes it will continue to be a practice well into the future. “Hanging laundry outside reminds people of their parents and grandparents. It gives them a feeling of nostalgia,” she concluded.