To promote energy conservation, the State Senate has taken the surprising step of legally reaffirming residents’ rights to a traditional but increasingly threatened practice — the option of hanging laundry out to dry on a clothesline.
State Senator Mike Barrett, chief sponsor of the policy change, says clothesline use is often barred by condo and homeowner associations. Environmentally speaking, he says, that’s unfortunate.
Barrett points out that electric dryers, the modern alternative to clotheslines, account for six percent of household electricity consumption. “A home’s electric dryer uses roughly the same amount of energy annually as a refrigerator, clothes washer, and dishwasher combined,” said Barrett, after his bill passed the State Senate. “Electric drying comes at a price; it costs the average household more than $100 a year.”
“Given the increasing importance of saving energy, there is no reason that the old-fashioned alternative should disappear so completely,” he added.
Barrett introduced the “right to dry” bill at the initiative of environmental champion Peggy Brace, a constituent from Concord.
“The bottom line is that we’ve been using clotheslines to dry clothes for hundreds of years,” Brace said from her Concord home. “Why should we have restrictions on the ability to save energy?”
In 2010, led by Brace, Concord passed the first local “right to dry” measure in Massachusetts. The Attorney General’s office overturned the action, citing a conflict with contract law. Barrett’s statewide enabling statute, similar to what already exists in the states of Vermont and Maine, deals with the contract issue.
The bill makes clothesline use subject to local approval, Barrett says. It also respects current contracts governing condo complexes. For these existing agreements, the bill gives an individual the right to petition a homeowners association to allow clotheslines.
“In any given town, condo owners may have legitimate concerns about the potential obstruction of scenery enjoyed by all residents,” Barrett said. His bill would protect the aesthetic and safety interests of these homeowners, by allowing homeowners’ associations to impose reasonable location and use restrictions on clothesline use.