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Clothes lines: Energy savers or eyesores?

Do it like the Amish do. Traditional Amish clothes hang from a clothes line in Lancaster County.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Good for you if you're trying to keep your energy use down by hanging your laundry out to dry instead of throwing it in the dryer. Every kilowatt hour you save is a kilowatt hour you don't have to pay for.

Australians have been on to that trick for decades now. Almost every house down under has these things called Hills Hoists -- rotating laundry racks, basically.

The company that makes them is trying to crack the U.S. market, but it turns out a lot of us aren't allowed to dry our clothes in the backyard.

Joel Rose has the story.


Joel Rose: The classic Hills Hoist looks like a big, square patio umbrella minus the fabric. It's hard for Americans to grasp just how ubiquitous they are in backyards across Australia, so I asked an Australian.

Kate O'Toole: Every suburban home is built with enough space to put up your Hills Hoist. I just couldn't really imagine how Australian people would dry their laundry otherwise.

That's my friend Kate O'Toole. She grew up a few hours from Melbourne.

O'Toole: People don't use dryers very much in Australia. Even though we had a dryer growing up, we weren't allowed to use it because I was always told it took up too much energy, too much electricity.

Hills Industries has sold over 5 million hoists in Australia and New Zealand since 1946 and the company reports it's worth almost a billion dollars. Still, as beloved as it is down under, the Hills Hoist has considerably less name recognition in the United States.

Gary Sutterlin: We're looking to change that as well.

Gary Sutterlin is the North American rep for Hills Hoist. He's demonstrating the collapsible model for me near his house outside Philadelphia.

Sutterlin: It opens up like a standard umbrella...

Sutterlin says the Hills Hoist pretty much sells itself once people realize how much it can lower their energy bills.

Sutterlin: A clothesline will save the average consumer 6 to 10 percent of your utility costs. That's significant.

But for millions of Americans, it's not that simple. There are about 300,000 homeowners' associations in this country and about half of them prohibit outdoor drying. That's according to Alex Lee, director of Project Laundry List, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the so-called "right to dry."

Alex Lee: There's this self-perpetuating myth of the real estate agents who say that property values will drop, but I think it's time for us to get over this fear.

Lee says lots of people find out the hard way that their homeowners' associations doesn't allow outdoor drying. Take Susanna Tregobov. She recently moved into a house in Timonium, a suburb of Baltimore, and tried drying her family's laundry on the back deck.

Susanna Tregobov: And then we just started getting complaints that it wasn't aesthetically pleasing. What's the harm of hanging clothes where really no one sees it except for the people who live here and happen to be walking their dogs?

Ceil Bell: Clothes drying is just unsightly.

The Tregobov's neighbor, Ceil Bell, is on the board of the local homeowners' association.

Bell: You get people hanging towels over the railings, you get clotheslines in the backyard. We just don't like the look of it. It looks like a lower-class neighborhood.

Those objections may have something to do with why Hills waited so long to tap the North American market. Rep Gary Sutterlin started selling the clotheslines just last March and has moved fewer than 500 so far. But he's optimistic about the long-term prospects.

Sutterlin: We estimate the U.S. market to be in excess of $400 million and just from what we've seen in the last four months, I think it's close.

With energy prices on the rise, Sutterlin predicts that homeowners' associations will eventually hang their objections out to dry.

In Philadelphia, I'm Joel Rose for Marketplace.

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Well, I think this depends on your attitude, if you live in a good sunshine city, you should think about buying it. Saving energy, not only for someone, but it is for whole human beings.

I think this project is very useful to save energy/electricity and to save money. But, I Wonder whether this project is still possible in the winter. This means there is no sunshine in the winter; the weather is so cold; Can we dry our clothes during the winter?

I could not get why HOAs reject clothes line so much just because it looks "sucks". Using a dryer machine or just hanging on your backyard should be both optional according to one's need, not to some other excuses.

When I moved to America, I really wanted to dry my clothes outdoor. I like my clothes have the smell of the sunshine. Also I read a article about how much electricity the dryers cost in America. This is a huge number. We have many difficult, complex and expensive ways to protect the evironment and be environmentally friendly, but we forbid this simply easy action to save our money and protect the Earth.

I use dryer all the time because no time for outdoor drying and ironing as well. But I'm not mean that outdoor drying is eyesore or something. Some people pay too much attention to how they look! snobby

I had a cothesline for 14 years before my neighbor decided to take his trees down..Then he complained to the HOA! I fought with them for 5 months. They threatened me with a court date and a $900 fine and I caved and took the ropes down.I called my county sups and they don't get involved with HOA's. Surprise!I have a 6 foot privacy fence. C'mon, the laws need to be changed. We look at all the huge playsets and trampolines in the neighboods, listen to air conditioners and hot tubs. What kind of nusiance does a clothesline pose? I now have a clothesline in the garage and was told that isn't allowed either. O well... oh yeah, I have a nice plant hanger in the back yard, kinda looks like a wooden tee!There are 2 of them. Just waiting for the laws to change!! Thanks for letting me vent...

I cannot find a newspaper article from a few years back stating there is a Federal law allowing airing laundry ourdoors.
Has anyone else seen it?
It stated that it was illegal for HOAs to ban air drying!

I live in central Texas where the sunshine is abundant, to say the least. We almost never use our dryer. I enjoy hanging out clothes and watching clouds roll by. I hear birds singing and to top it off the clothes smell fresh and clean. The sun dries my clothes faster than the dryer and I'm not generating carbon dioxide. How good is that?

I think the idea of hanging laundry out to dry as being "low rent", "lower class" or unsightly came from the Beverly Hillbillies TV show. I find above ground pools, basketball poles, dog houses, garden sheds more unsightly than a clothesline. I live in the suburbs of St Louis and hang my laundry out when I can. I found T-Posts at a farm supply store in the country. LOVE "EM. I have had neighbors question why I do it and my answer always is. First, get's me outside, it only takes a minute or two, love the smell, saves me money, saves my clothes. I tell them ya know all that lint in the dryer that is your clothes falling apart. Also, try this experiment. Buy new underwear. Dry half of them in the dryer and half line dry and then after 6 months you tell me which ones are still like new.

Out door drying is good for hygiene as well as saving energy because sun light can sterilize clothes and fabrics within a few hours without washing. So I used to hang out my blanket when it was sunny. It's a real ecofriendly life style.

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