As an Energy-Saver, the Clothesline Makes a Comeback

Article excerpt

It started out innocently enough. Concerned about global warming and her family's energy consumption, Michelle Baker wanted to hang her wash outside. She scoured stores for a clothesline durable enough to withstand Vermont winters and classy enough for her Waterbury backyard. She came back empty-handed every time.

So Ms. Baker and her husband made their own: a few lines of pristine white rope hung between two Vermont cedar poles. Soon, friends and neighbors were enviously asking where they got it. Born of enterprise, enthusiasm, and wet shirts flapping in the breeze, the Vermont Clothesline Co. debuted in April.

And just in time, as a national clothesline - or "Right to Dry" - movement escalates. In fact, Vermont is the latest state to introduce a bill that would override clothesline bans, which are often instituted by community associations loath to air laundry even when it's clean. Now, clothesline restrictions may be headed the way of bans on parking pickup trucks in front of homes, or growing grass too long - all vestiges of trim and tidy hopes that may not fit with the renewed emphasis on going green.

"This trend ... is about people making a little change to help the environment as opposed to something like solar panels which is much more of an investment," Baker says.

Baker's orders have steadily risen. While most initial buyers were fellow Vermonters, the company now receives orders from across the United States, including such places as Tennessee, Texas, and Arkansas.

Over in New Hampshire, clothesline activists have asked for legislative advice from Project Laundry List - the first US clothesline activist group - according to the group's founder, Alexander Lee. And North Carolina recently passed a law invalidating city or county limitations on "energy devices based on the use of renewable resources." In addition, the clothesline movement there is hoping to find a "test case" to legally establish clothesline rights in North Carolina, Mr. Lee says.

"We get e-mails and calls every day from people wanting to know where they can get the materials to hang out their clothes or how to deal with homeowners' association rules," says Bryan Wentzell, the group's chairman of the board. "[The Right to Dry movement] could take off all across the country," he says, noting that independent states like Vermont will be the first to jump on the bandwagon."

Maybe. In June, Vermont's Gov. Jim Douglas (R) vetoed an energy bill with Right to Dry language - though not because of the clothesline clause, according to state Sen. Dick McCormack (D). Proponents are now revising a bill to be introduced in January, one similar to legislation in Florida and Utah that prohibits "state or local laws or regulations or private contracts from limiting the ability of dwellers to erect and use clotheslines for the drying of clothes. …