Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Letting it hang out

A Concord woman says line-drying is her right - and the right thing to do.

Every few days, even in the dead of winter with snow on the ground, Peggy Brace’s front porch on Liberty Street in Concord is awash with hanging laundry.
Neighbors have complained about the unsightly display, but it doesn’t stop Brace from drying her family’s laundry the old-fashioned way.
“It’s so silly,’’ Brace said. “I don’t know what the hang-up is.’’
Brace said using a clothes dryer is a waste of energy, and she wishes more of her neighbors would take advantage of fresh air and the wind to handle the job.
But Brace said there is a stigma associated with clotheslines, so not everyone in this well-to-do community is tolerant of the eco-friendly practice: “It indicates poverty if you hang out your wash.’’

Brace has filed an article for the April Town Meeting warrant that has two goals. As a broad movement develops throughout the country for more environment-friendly laundering, she said, she is encouraging Concord residents to give up their dryers, and also trying to make sure everyone has the right to hang out their laundry. There are no town bylaws in Concord prohibiting clotheslines, but private homeowner associations can impose such restrictions.
Concord Green, a 220-unit condominium complex in West Concord, for example, does not allow residents to set up clotheslines on balconies or in common areas. Housing developments can also include such restrictions on property deeds, said Marcia Rasmussen, the town’s planning director.
Paul Vander-Lee, Concord Green’s property manager, said some residents have put up clotheslines but were asked to take them down after neighbors complained.
“Our buildings are very close together,’’ Vander-Lee said. “People have nice views they’d like to keep. Something like this tends to detract from their views.’’

Rasmussen said she isn’t sure how private associations that restrict clotheslines would be affected if Brace’s article is adopted.
She said it depends on how the article is written and how it’s interpreted by lawyers.
But going forward, associations would not be allowed to impose new restrictions if the article is approved, Rasmussen said.
“This is intended to take away the potential for anyone to say you can’t do it,’’ Rasmussen said.

The so-called right-to-dry movement has been growing in the United States, according to Alexander Lee, executive director of Project Laundry List, an advocacy group based in Concord, N.H., that promotes cold-water washing as well as air drying.
Vermont and Maine approved statewide legislation last spring that supports the right to use a clothes line, Lee said, while a bill recently failed in New Hampshire, but a state representative has plans to refile the proposal next year.
“What Peggy is doing is great,’’ Lee said. “The right to dry is a great tool for raising the bigger issue of why we obsessively use the dryer.’’
Lee said 2.7 million out of the 111 million households in the United States dry 15 or more loads of wash every week. He said the average is eight loads a week.
Dryers use 10 to 15 percent of the domestic energy in the country, he said, so lessening their use is an easy way to save money and energy. And there’s no major upfront investment needed to make the switch.
“It’s totally within reach and affordable,’’ he said. “It’s not a solar panel or hybrid vehicle.’’
While the movement is gaining momentum, Brace said, she realizes that her work is cut out for her.
She said dryers have become a status symbol, and some residents don’t want to give them up for fear of looking like they can’t afford one.
“The whole thing is laundry isn’t nice,’’ she said. “Peasants hang out their wash.’’
But she hopes her warrant article will convince more people to put aside their vanity and think of the greater good.
“It’s about what each of us can do to cope with the horrendous energy usage,’’ she said. “It’s a moral wake-up call.’’
Brace said people can hang clothes outside in all seasons because the wind, rather than the sun’s warmth, is largely responsible for drying them. And she said it doesn’t take as much time as people think to hang laundry. She said it takes her a minute and a half for a load of sheets, and four minutes for a load of clothes.

The Laundry List Project offers 10 reasons why residents should air dry clothes.
Supporters say it saves money, helps clothes last longer and smell better, conserves energy, and promotes physical activity. They say sunlight disinfects; indoor racks can humidify the house in dry winter weather; using a clothesline avoids dryer fires; it can be fun; and it demonstrates that small steps can make a difference.
And, Brace pointed out: “It’s therapeutic to hang out there on a nice day.’’