Homeowners fight to dry laundry outside

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GAITHERSBURG, Md. (AP) - "Jill" is not her real name. She wants to remain anonymous.

For years, Jill has been violating the rules of the Montgomery Village Association.

She hangs laundry to dry on a clothesline in her backyard. The yard's tall fence helps in her scofflaw laundry activity.

"Some of the other neighborhoods are allowed to hang out their laundry at certain times of the day, but where I live it's not allowed at all," she said. It's important, "Jill" emphasized, "for environmental reasons and because of the soaring cost of energy."

"I'm not the only one, either," she adds. "I see others doing it, too."

Wei Wang also lives in Montgomery County and prefers to dry her laundry outside. She worries, too, about the consequences.

"My homeowners association threatened me to stop it; otherwise they were going to take legal action," Wang said in an e-mail. "I wrote a letter and explained to them that hanging laundry outside is a good way to save energy. They wrote me back: 'Please be aware that the covenants and bylaws of your community expressly forbid hanging laundry outside. We appreciate your concern to conserve energy and suggest that you hang your laundry indoors.

Wang has written the Environmental Protection Agency about addressing the potential benefits to the planet from hanging laundry outside.

"If I say people in China hang laundry outside, some people will laugh at me," Wang said. She has lived in Germany, Britain and Denmark and "that people from these countries are hanging laundry outside."

Wang sought advice from a New England-based nonprofit called Project Laundry List, which has been advocating the use of clotheslines for nearly a decade. In April, Wang took part in Project Laundry List's National Hang Out Day.

Colorado has a law prohibiting any ban of outdoors clothesline for single-family homes, according to Project Laundry List founder Alexander Lee. Hawaii lawmakers approved a measure guaranteeing a right to dry this year, but Gov. Linda Lingle has said she may veto it.

And several others, including Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire, have proposed similar legislation. There's been no action in Maryland, Lee said, but he's hopeful with interest in a state chapter of Project Laundry List, that will change.

"I would like to see the state of Maryland pass a law that forbids HOAs from preventing people from hanging laundry outside as soon as possible," Wang said. "It is long overdue. It's time that the state recognized something that should be a matter of common sense."

After the refrigerator, the dryer is often the second largest electricity user in a household. And, Lee pointed out, with newer, energy-efficient refrigerators coming out, in some households, clothes dryers will become the largest electricity user.

"It varies from region to region, but electric dryer use amounts to 5.8 percent of residential electricity use overall," Lee said. "For homes that don't have electric heat, it's obviously a much higher percentage."

A barrier to a right-to-dry movement is that some 60 million Americans live in homeowner and condo associations, many of which, including a half-dozen associations in Frederick County contacted by The Frederick News-Post, prohibit hanging clothes to dry outside.

Patricia Wigginton is on the board of directors of the Maryland Homeowners' Association, an all-volunteer, nonprofit that advocates for good government in condo and HOAs. She'd like legislation passed that would prevent the banning of clotheslines in Maryland and planned to bring the issue up with board at the next meeting.

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"The mission, in general, of the constitution of the United States is to guarantee rights for all citizens, that's really the foundation of our government system," Wigginton said. "Homeowner association covenants and bylaws do the opposite, they all restrict rights. And what happens is kids grow up in these neighborhoods and get wrong ideas - like that it's OK to tell someone they can't hang their laundry outside."

Several local homeowners believe there are aesthetic and traditional reasons for hanging laundry outside.

"Growing up, my mother did it and I guess that's why I do it," said Evelyn Boylan of Monrovia. "They do smell better and it does save money."

Her neighbor Katie Glenmor acknowledged that it's "old-fashioned," but agrees with Boylan that clothes smell better and it saves.

Mount Airy's Diane Santarella added that it gets people outdoors and the process saves energy and money. Her mother also took the family's laundry outside to dry.

"It's kind of a no-brainer," said Santarella. "It's really simple, utility bills are going up. It's like throwing money away not too and it saves energy."

Santarella is not a homeowner association member, but she hates the idea that such organizations are able to prohibit the practice of hanging laundry outside.

"It's ridiculous, I think it must be unconstitutional that you basically require people use an unnecessary electric appliance," Santarella said. "I'd like to see the laws changed to do something about it. I don't get it. If I was moving somewhere new and I saw people hanging there laundry outside, I'd think, 'Great, I've got neighbors who don't want to waste energy."'

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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