What’s the hang-up? Clotheslines save energy and money

…but they are considered unsightly by some and banned in many areas.

By Mary Lynne Vellinga
Source: Sacramento Bee
(Published May 21, 2001)


Rising electricity rates have prompted Stacey Swett to seriously consider taking a step she finds somewhat distasteful: hanging a clothesline in her back yard.

“I don’t really like the looks of them, but you have to get past that; we have a huge issue here with our SMUD bill,” Swett said.

The California Energy Commission touts clotheslines as a nearly cost-free way to conserve electricity. Statewide, clothes dryers burn about 1,000 megawatts of electricity on a hot summer day, which could be enough to avert a blackout on days when state power supplies are tight. An electric dryer costs about $130 a year to run. A retractable clothesline will set you
back about $14.99.

[ photo: Leo Rainer hangs laundry in the back yard of his Davis home. An employee of Davis Energy Group, which designs energy-efficient systems for homes and businesses. Rainer is a firm believer in the simple, venerable – and in many neighborhoods – banned clothesline.]

People appear to be getting the message. Hardware stores report a sharp rise in clothesline sales since the energy crisis hit. People are “going back to the old way of doing things,” said Dave Haskin, owner of Broadway Hardware in Sacramento.

But the old way of doing things doesn’t sit so well in some newer neighborhoods. Where Swett lives, in midtown, she can decide for herself whether to take the plunge and pin up the bloomers. But in many newer neighborhoods — those governed by homeowners ssociations — the practice is not allowed.

Swett works for the management company that runs the homeowners association for the gated, Pocket-area subdivision of Riverlake. In Riverlake, it is against the rules to hang your laundry where your neighbors can glimpse it.

The same is true in Gold River, Rancho Murieta, Laguna West and Los Lagos, the mansion-studded Granite Bay enclave where Sacramento Kings stars Chris Webber and Jason Williams live.

“People think (clotheslines) are unsightly,” said Dan Kocal, owner of the Folsom-based Kocal Management Group. His company manages the homeowners associations for 70 communities in the Sacramento region. Not one of them allows clotheslines unless they are shielded from neighbors’ views below the fence line or behind a special enclosure.

When people buy into planned communities such as Gold River, Los Lagos or Sun City, they agree to certain rules designed to keep the neighborhood looking neat and uniform, Kocal said.

“You agree that you’re only going to park in the garage, that you’re not going to hang out
clothes and that you’re not going to paint your house purple,” Kocal said.

Clotheslines that can be seen from neighboring yards are banned by virtually all the 35,000 California subdivisions and condominium complexes governed by homeowners associations, said Richard Monson, president of the Pasadena-based California Association of Homeowners Associations.

“We choose to live in neighborhoods that don’t hang these things out,” Monson said.

A few weeks ago, Monson was quoted as saying that the sight of hanging laundry is “akin to graffiti in your neighborhood.” Cartoonist Garry Trudeau since has devoted an entire week of his Doonesbury strip to lampooning neighborhoods that don’t allow clothes to be hung out to dry.

Now, Monson chooses his words more carefully. “When we talk about areas of communities
that are less desirable, we often associate those with undesirable items that are in proximity to the buildings,” he said.
He stands by his assertion that the sight of clothes flapping in the breeze could knock 15 percent off property values.

Brian Rosebrock, a supervisor at the new Home Depot in Elk Grove, doesn’t understand the stigma. When he was
growing up in a rural area outside New York City, his mother always dried the family’s clothes on the line.

Rosebrock, 40, still likes the smell of sun-dried clothes. He hangs his jeans, socks, sheets and other cotton items in the back yard of his Rosemont house.

“It’s just laundry. Everybody is a little uptight here,” he said of Californians.

He may have a point. Bruce Hackett, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Davis, said
Californians harbor more negative attitudes toward clotheslines than do people in the Midwest, where line drying is more
of a tradition.

About 10 years ago, Hackett did a survey of 45 UC Davis students and 35 single-family households in Green Bay, Wis. At the time, some students living in married housing on the UC Davis campus were upset that they had to walk to an isolated, screened area next to the trash bins to hang their laundry.

“The housing office said clotheslines make the place look like a tenement,” Hackett said.

The attitude in Wisconsin was markedly different.

“On wash day, there were just clotheslines everywhere, which is something you don’t find here,” Hackett said. “One woman told me that when you move into a new home it’s not really your home until your clothesline is up and your
clothes are on it.”

In the wake of student complaints, the university eventually changed the policy to allow the use of retractable clothes lines in the housing area, Hackett said.

Leaders of several Sacramento-area homeowners associations said they couldn’t think of any instance in which a homeowner has asked permission to hang a clothesline or has gotten in trouble for using one.

“I don’t know of anyone who has a clothesline,” said David Brickell, president of the Los Lagos Estates Homeowners
Association. He said the Los Lagos neighborhood is very concerned about the energy crisis and thus “would certainly
consider” allowing clotheslines.

To save energy, the subdivision has started turning off its entrance fountain at night and is considering buying a smaller
fountain pump.

Monson, head of the statewide association, argued that there are many ways to conserve energy without resorting to
the public airing of laundry. Wet clothes can, for instance, be hung in the garage or the utility room, he said.

“The issue is not clotheslines, the issue is conservation, and homeowners don’t have to hang their clothes out of
doors,” he said.

But some energy-conscious citizens think discouraging the use of outdoor laundry lines is ridiculous, given the state’s
energy situation.

Jennifer Putnam, 41, recently purchased a large umbrella-style apparatus to dry clothes in her Jackson back yard.

“We were standing outside by the (electric) meter at one point, two or three months ago. My husband said, ‘Look at how
fast that thing is going around.’ I said, ‘The only thing on is the dryer.’ ”

“During World War II, we had to do certain things,” Putnam continued. “Now, we’re looking at a power crunch, we’re
looking at saving an economy in California. That’s critical. That’s important. … I really don’t think Granite Bay is going to
turn into a slum because people put up things to dry their clothes on.”

The Bee’s Mary Lynne Vellinga can be reached at (916) 321-1094 or mlvellinga@sacbee.com.

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