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GreenSpace: Save some energy, smell the sunshine

Once a backyard staple, clotheslines are in style again.

Steve Oliver and his daughter Maddie Oliver, 10, hang out their laundry to dry in their yard. (April Saul/Inquirer)
Steve Oliver and his daughter Maddie Oliver, 10, hang out their laundry to dry in their yard. (April Saul/Inquirer)Read more

Most Saturday mornings, Steve Oliver picks up a laundry basket and heads for the backyard, taking action for his planet and his wardrobe.

No renegade, he's nevertheless flying in the face of convention and convenience.

He's hanging out the laundry.

Yes, Oliver has a dryer in his Berwyn home, "but I hate to use the damn thing," he says. "If you have a full sun, it's the most wonderful thing to take advantage of."

Viewed by some as a remnant that went the way of Leave It to Beaver, the clothesline may nevertheless be poised for a resurgence. Earlier this year, AOL's money page listed clotheslines - along with silicone breast implants and Paula Abdul - as one of the 20 "comebacks" to watch for in 2008.

It's not surprising that as people nibble away at their carbon footprints, they would focus on an appliance that consumes 3 percent of household energy.

About 81 percent of U.S. homes have one, says the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. That's roughly nine million dryers, and about four in five are electric.

Using an average dryer half an hour a day (or 21/2 hours on a Saturday), will consume 981 kilowatt hours, costing you $142.26 a year, according to a PECO energy calculator.

The laundry room may have grown more efficient in recent years, but that's mostly due to the washer, which uses less water. And let's not forget detergents that now work in cold water.

But dryers? Those who "hang out" speak of them as if they had evil intent.

Dianne Boldt of Upper Gwynedd thinks many knits come to her church's thrift shop after the dryer shrank them.

The guru of the free laundry movement, Alexander Lee, runs a Web site,, which posts a humorous misrepresentation of a Ben Franklin quote: "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."

Lee also is running an online art competition to disprove the assertion that clotheslines are ugly.

Nearly 60 million people live in one of the country's 300,800 "association-governed" communities, and many have prohibitions against clotheslines.

In this region, Wentworth Property Management manages more than 500 communities, says vice president of operations Steve Brumfield, and about 80 percent prohibit clotheslines.

Developers initially formulate the covenants to help them sell the homes, and Brumfield has seen no desire from residents to change this.

Lee mocks the standard objections, saying they amount to prudery (underwear in public?!) and snobbery (isn't that what poor people do?).

Lee also tracks state legislation guaranteeing the American right to dry. So far, bills have succeeded in Hawaii, Colorado, Utah and Florida.

Maybe neighbors could be swayed by some of the high-end equipment out there.

Gayle and Gary Sutterlin of Buckingham became so enthusiastic about hanging their four children's laundry, they started an online clothesline dealership,, offering setups from Australia starting at $89.

But what's most surprising about laundry land was the rhapsodic zeal among a dozen committed hangers from Society Hill's Dawn Burke Sena, who runs a pulley system in her backyard, to Barb Grimes of New Britain, who calls her clothesline "my passion."

Oliver notes another benefit. Most Saturdays, his 10-year-old daughter, Maddie, comes out with him. "You're hanging stuff up," he says, almost wistfully. "And you talk about things."