Clothes lines: Energy savers or eyesores?

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


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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"Aesthetics" is the rationale used by home owners associations to limit other energy-saving options. For example, I used to live in the suburbs where the HOA mandated that house roofs be black. I was not permitted to install solar panels or light gray shingles that would have absorbed less light energy, thereby requiring less energy use by my air conditioner. No amount of argument regarding the logic of the economics swayed the enforcers of the rules. Conforming to the rules ensured a uniform look to the homes, and that, according to the HOA, would ensure stable property values. Of course, clothes lines were not permitted either.

I am mortified to live in the same state as Ceil BEll. What a horrible thing for her to say! Just because someone's lower-class, doesn't mean that they're bad. The area where she lives is very nouveau riche.

When I lived in the UK, no one that I knew, and these were some of the most posh people I'd ever met, lords and ladies, and a baroness or two, had clothes driers. They all had airing rooms or clothes lines. Even in the worst British weather, you never dried your clothes anywhere but at home.

Everyone else in the world air dries their clothes... why do we always think that the US is always right.

our solution is using a wardrobe rack(s) (ex. http://www.hangercity.com/ducogara.html) with plastic shirt and pants hangers with clips. First, all shirts, pants, underwear, sheets and towels get a double spin, then into the dryer for a short cycle before being hung onto the hangers. In the summer, we roll the rack out into the sun and breeze, in the winter into the house (for us the basement) with a window fan to circulate drying air. Same for underwear, but we use drying racks. For cotton sheets, somewhat the same process, but you'd have to see it to believe it.

Ceil Beil, you need a reality check. Using up all that energy is soooo last decade. Where can I look these up? Like george in Philly, I can't locate the company on line. Thank you!

I love being able to dry my clothes on a line. Its economically and ecologically superior to using a dryer. And since when
was hanging towels on a rail to dry "lower class?" Low income folks often have to resign themselves to using laundromat dryers-for they have no "rail" on which to hang laundry. I agree with the fellow that said clotheslines are a kind of right!

I Googled Garry Sutterlin's name and found this site: www.breezedryer.com which has info on purchasing the line driers.
Hope this helps!

I couldn't find out how to buy these in the U.S. online either. Not very likely to take over the market without a website to order from. I'm sure a large number of listeners would have bought right after hearing the story if they could have Googled the company and found a website.

You can purchase outdoor clotheslines at http://store.laundrylist.org/category_s/3.htm Proceeds of the sale benefit the non-profit organization mentioned in the story, Project Laundry List. Connecticut just passed their Right to Dry law in March, thank goodness. It doesn't make any sense why residents are banned from implementing one of the simplest energy-saving measures.

This is a right we should all have. What is wrong with using a clothes line?
You could save enough money to help with your gas cost. Not everyone in the United States is wealthy, with the cost of everything we as Americans need to save anyplace we can. I agree with what an old farmer told me in the spring. "It is just plain un-American not to be able to use a clothes line.

aesthetically pleasing or environmentally responsible...hmm, tough choice.
where can we get one? we can't find a u.s. supplier online.


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