Let us dry clothes outside without fear of an HOA
Early on humid Houston mornings, my East Texas-born grandmother would haul a load of wet wash down her back steps and out to her laundry line. There, she would methodically hang it on a double clothesline that was far too high for me to reach. Most days, we’d bring the laundry in when it was perfectly damp for ironing dry. Other days, she’d be forced to snatch it away from the raindrops in that semi-tropical city.
On the days when water fell out of the sky, my grandmother would bring the laundry back into the house, and sadly stuff it into her tumble dryer. When my grandfather would return from his shift at Shell, she’d sadly shake her head at the need for the noisy contraption. She was not a fan.
Living in a tiny house in Central Austin, I keep my washer in the house, but the dryer is in our garage. Most of the year, the clothing never even makes it to the dryer, as I prefer to hang it on the line. Using my grandmother’s sturdy vintage clothespins, I hang out my wash nearly every day. It usually dries in a matter of hours.
I’ve casually mentioned my devotion to hanging out my wash to a number of my girlfriends. Their usual reaction: telling me how much they’d love to be able to hang out their own laundry, but that their homeowner’s association prevents it. (Often, HOAs will fine residents for rule infractions.)
As my former college roommate, freshman year laundry guru and (now) busy local Realtor Lisa Tyrrell points out, most HOAs don’t allow line drying.
Prohibiting line drying is a really bad thing, especially as estimates indicate that tumble dryers consume 6 percent of an average home’s electricity—about the same as a refrigerator. In contrast, lighting uses around 8 percent of the average home’s energy.
We’re in the middle of a major public discussion about the possibility of Austin Energy raising the cost of our electricity, as well as perhaps setting a minimum fee for residential customers.
It’s ludicrous that we’re having a discussion about raising electric rates while non-governmental organizations have the power to regulate something as simple and harmless as line drying.
Why on Earth should people in the City of Austin — and in the State of Texas — be prevented from doing something that’s beneficial to the planet, harms no one, and provides a tiny dollop of exercise and fresh air?
This is especially problematic in the summer. During those months, even some people who might like to do otherwise are forced to dry their clothing by putting it in a heated metal box. In turn, this heated metal box is often located inside of the larger box that you are trying to cool: your house.
Tumble dryers first became prevalent after World War II when they became part of the postwar vision of “better living through electricity.” My mother recalled that in the late 1940s, when the first homemaker in her Pasadena neighborhood got a tumble dryer, the neighborhood kids were invited over to see the newfangled marvel of the wash tumbling dry behind a glass window.
It’s time for us to step away from the magic of post-war appliances. We need to stop seeing baby blankets billowing in the breeze as a mark of not being able to afford a tumble dryer, and start seeing it as a way to ease the burden on our natural resources.
Money is an issue, too. While reports vary on the specific savings of a laundry line, nearly everyone agrees it’s cheaper than using a mechanical dryer.
I thought my devotion to line drying was a personal issue, so I was surprised to find there’s an international “Right to Dry” movement, fighting for the right of people to be able to legally line dry their clothing. A documentary on this issue called “Drying For Freedom” will premiere at the Eco Focus Film Festival in Athens, Ga., at the end of March.
Given the probability of this Austin Energy rate hike, we need to guarantee that everyone in Austin has the option of choosing solar drying on a nice sunny day. Preventing legal line drying only benefits the makers of tumble dryers and chemical dryer sheets.
Texas needs to join Florida, Utah, Maine, Vermont, Colorado and Hawaii in not letting housing groups prevent people from using clotheslines.
Since I’ve become passionate about this issue, I’ve started seeing clotheslines everywhere. On the South By Southwest trade show floor, Sounds Australia has set up their booth to resemble a typical Australian backyard, complete with a mock-up of that country’s iconic “Hills Hoist” solar dryer. They’re distributing the music of showcasing Australian bands on a USB stick that doubles as a giant clothespin.
I’ll be adding that giant clothespin to my basket after SXSW, then whistling a few bars of, “I comes from a land down under … ” when I pull my sheets off the line.
I just hope that someday more of my girlfriends can do the same thing without fear of being fined by their HOA.
The SXSW trade show ends today.