The humble backyard clothesline is about to a get second chance in energy-obsessed California, amid shifting sensibilities about neighborly decorum and how to cope with climate change.
A bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature would override any restrictions by homeowner associations and apartment-building owners that make it impossible to put up a clothesline or drying rack.
Assembly Bill 1448 seeks to ease pressure on the state’s power supplies and help reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by giving all households the right to dry clothes in the sun. Separately, the governor is likely to sign sweeping mandates for renewable energy and energy efficiency on buildings.
Switching to a clothesline from an electric dryer can save the average U.S. household about $96 per year — and eliminate 1,500 pounds of carbon emissions, by state and federal government estimates.
Time-pressed Californians still may cling to the convenience of dryers, but it is the freedom to dry as you please that counts, according to proponents of the bill.
“This bill will allow people other options,” Nicole Capretz, executive director of San Diego nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, said. “It’s not that people will stop using the dryer. It’s that people have a choice to stop using the dryer and reduce their carbon footprint and save money.”
California environmentalists have been pushing to ensure access to clotheslines since at least the turn of the century, without overcoming the enduring stigma of outdoor laundry and its impact on property values.
Doonesbury notoriously parodied California’s competing obsessions with property values and energy conservation in a series of comic strips during the state’s 2000-2001 energy crisis. It depicted police enforcing clothesline restrictions against well-intentioned conservationists — and their underpants.
The real-world standoff appears to be giving way to subtler concerns about exactly when and where people can hang out their laundry.
Major apartment-owner and homeowner associations have dropped their opposition to AB 1448 after amendments were added that limit the location of clotheslines to unshared backyards and other private outdoor areas.
“Restrictions (on clotheslines) are designed to help preserve property value in the community,” explained Ken Dillingham, an attorney who tracks state legislation for the Community Associations Institute, representing some 100 homeowners associations. “Even though this interferes with an association’s ability to self-govern, there were reasonable measures put in.”
Under the proposed new rules, renters are advised to seek the landlord’s consent before affixing a clothesline to a building, and to receive approval “of the clothesline or drying rack, or the type of clothesline or drying rack.”
“A balcony, railing, awning or other part of a structure or building shall not qualify as a drying rack,” under the new legal provisions.
At the same time, the legislation strikes any landlord or association restrictions that go too far and effectively prohibit racks and clotheslines.
Capretz, the environmentalist, said those compromises are a sign the people are accepting the new realities of a changing climate.
“I do believe there is more awareness, there is more consciousness,” she said. “We have to fundamentally rethink the way we lead our lives.”
California would join six states with statutes that override or strike down clothesline bans, according to The Utility Reform Network. They are Florida, Maine, Utah, Vermont, Colorado and Hawaii.
The consumer group continued to collect online signatures this week urging Gov. Brown to “ban the ban” on clotheslines.
Dozens of lawmakers voted against the bill, written by San Fernando Valley Democrat Patty Lopez. It was approved 53-27 in the State Assembly, 35-5 by the Senate. San Diego-area delegates all voted in favor.
In recent decades, dryers have become more and more prevalent in American homes.
In 1980, fewer than half of U.S. households had one. By 2009, dryers were found in nearly 80 percent of households, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Among common household appliances, the clothes dryer typically consumes more energy than all except the water heater — though not including central air conditioning.
A single load adds as much as 41 cents to a household energy bill for an electric dryer, or 33 cents for models heated by natural gas, according to the California Energy Commission.
Energy efficiency varies only slightly among current makes and models. The agency tells Californians to save energy by cleaning — even scrubbing — the lint filter between loads.
The agency’s “ultimate money saving tip” is to let the sun dry your clothes.
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