Waiting for the urban clothesline

This Labor Day weekend, Southern California is facing an extreme heat wave, with temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees. Air conditioners have to work overtime to keep indoor temperatures near 80, and California power resources are operating at near capacity. As condominiums bake in the sun (as they do most of the year around here), there is not a solar panel in sight.

While we are still waiting for renewable energy, a few simple measures could lead to big residential power savings. Enter the laundry line, one of the oldest and most practical ways to use solar energy. Electric clothes dryers not only require vast amounts of fossil fuel-derived power, they also pour heat into living spaces and strain cooling systems.

Yet hanging laundry outdoors is strictly forbidden in most Southern California apartment and condo complexes for cosmetic reasons; a beach towel over the balcony could even warrant a call from the building manager. In Europe, outdoor clotheslines are a common sight, particularly in warm Mediterranean countries. Colorful laundry lines enhance the charm of small towns and city streets, and are often photographed by tourists.

Ironically, many of the new high density residential developments in California display flamboyant Mediterranean design motifs – red tile roofs, white stucco, floral archways, and courtyard fountains. Wouldn't real clotheslines bring some authenticity to these developments, which are sometimes criticized for their theme-park style?

The clothesline issue has picked up steam in recent months. There is a nonprofit organization, Project Laundry List, that combats local housing rules that forbid line drying. Leading a national Right To Dry movement, the group recently celebrated the passage of a Florida state law granting property owners the right to use clotheslines. In April, the New York Times promoted the laundry line as a simple solution to global warming: "If all Americans line-dried for just half a year, it would save 3.3% of the country's total residential output of carbon dioxide". And just last week, the Associated Press featured a photographic journey through Portugal via the country's everpresent hanging laundry. California apartment managers should take note -- it doesn't look so bad!

Diana DeRubertis is an environmental writer focusing on the urban planning field.



Josh Stephens's picture

So True

This is yet another proposal that is too brilliant, too simple, and, indeed, too picturesque to ever catch on. For whatever reason, Americans seem to like making their lives complicated, and they believe that the perception of convenience equals real convenience.

Even more important than clotheslines, utilities should start giving customers monitors with real-time consumption information -- and then they should be charged higher rates for excessive use!

Chapped Hands

How's about if every tourist to Europe was required to wash out all their towels in the tub, wring them out by hand and then hang them out to dry on the "charming" clothes-line". That would reduce their carbon footprint. And I'll supply the pegs.

Oh and by the way, this is a year-round activity: when it rains you'll need to dry them indoors, it will take about three days; when the temperature drops below freezing your washing will go brick-hard and then take at least another two days to dry.

Not quite so charming, if you think about it.

Blue Monday

I have to agree with this comment about the miseries of doing your washing and drying by hand. Women used to spend all day Monday doing the wash with a tub and washboard and hanging it out on the line, and it was such an unpleasant job that they called it "Blue Monday."

Washers and dryers are technologies that have made our lives easier - and they can be powered by solar electricity. I think environmentalists only discredit ourselves by saying that we want people to do things that make their lives so much more difficult.

By contrast, I think that building our cities around the automobile has made our lives more difficult and our cities uglier. It is more aggravating to get around a freeway-oriented suburb than it was to get around an old-fashioned streetcar suburb where you could walk to the store. In this case, environmentalists want to make people's lives easier.

Charles Siegel

Blue Laws.

I think environmentalists only discredit ourselves by saying that we want people to do things that make their lives so much more difficult.

No. No one is trying to mandate clotheslines only - that's a marginalization tactic used by vested interests to paint virnmintulists as Luddites or anti-economy or anti-technology.

We should frame the debate such that you want people to be able to have the freedom to choose whether to hang the sheets outside on a nice spring day, rather than have some little person in the HOA office amuse themselves by enacting nanny laws banning clotheslines to preserve home value.



Clotheslines And Freedom Of Choice

I certainly agree that people should have that freedom of choice and that there should not be laws against clotheslines.

But we move beyond freedom of choice when we say:

In April, the New York Times promoted the laundry line as a simple solution to global warming: “If all Americans line-dried for just half a year, it would save 3.3% of the country’s total residential output of carbon dioxide”.

That is clearly a matter of promoting clothes lines, not just offering the choice.

Charles Siegel

Freedom to promote energy savings, um...If you want to.

That is clearly a matter of promoting clothes lines, not just offering the choice.

Sure. No one is nagging anyone to buy clothes pins here, and the NYT arty had nothing about guilt or Green Nanny Rules, just a list of pros and cons to help people choose and a mention that many places restrict choice.

But what is good promotion and what is bad? If you can't promote the public good, what next? Stop promoting everything, and you'll have to shut down Madison Ave and put thousands out of work. People have been promoting things for hundreds if not thousands of years. Why all of a sudden is promoting ways to save evergy (for the public good) undesirable?



Good Promotion And Bad

Come on, Dano. You must get what I am saying.

I am simply saying that, if we promote forms of energy conservation that involve increased drudgery, then people will start associating energy conservation with drudgery and will not be attracted to energy conservation.

Charles Siegel

Good and bad framing.

Sure Charles, I'm merely frustrated with - and objecting to - the framing.

That is: one person's drudgery is another person's...well, what the NYT article that Diana linked to said:

    I briefly gave up — the dryer was so much easier — but then tried again...I...learned that tossing the clothes in the dryer for just a few minutes after they have dried on the line makes them softer.

    Everyone now seems happy enough with the fresh smelling laundry, which is just slightly stiff. ..In the meantime, our electric bill has dropped to $576 in March from its high last summer, reflecting a series of efforts to cut energy...

Kinda says it all, and even helps with addressing wingnut AlGore electric bill marginalization rhetoric.

How we frame things matters.

We certainly don't talk about the drudgery of walking to TODs when we...erm...promote transit solutions.



Framing TOD

I think the way to frame TOD is by saying that it makes life easier and more convenient: it is easier to live closer to services, transit is the way to escape congestion and road rage, etc.

I don't think there is any way to frame the clothesline as making life easier and more convenient. When she says:

I briefly gave up — the dryer was so much easier — but then tried again...

she is saying that she had to make an extra effort to force herself to accept this drudgery. And in addition to hanging them out on the line, she still has to do the work of putting the clothes in the dryer in order to make them soft enough.

I think the average person's reaction to this would be: Maybe I should support nuclear energy, coal, or anything else that will lower electricity prices enough so that I can use the dryer. Life is hard without cheap energy.

By contrast, the average person's reaction to TOD would be: maybe this would be a more interesting, more convenient way to live. Maybe life could be better if I consume less energy.

Charles Siegel

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