Eileen Finan
September 13, 2010 12:00 PM

After years of using an electric dryer, Deb Brensinger decided to go low-tech. With a clothesline, says the Mechanicsburg, Pa., nurse, “I get fresh air, I can talk to my neighbor, it reduces our carbon footprint-and it’s free!”

Some neighbors, however, were less enthused. Last May her homeowners’ association threatened legal action for breaking an HOA rule. Brensinger’s husband, Terry, a minister, says they weren’t aware of a no-clothesline rule. “There was a sense of bewilderment,” he says, adding that they now hang their wet clothes on racks indoors.

Even as more people look for ways to go green or save money, one of the easiest-hanging out the wash the way Grandma used to do-is coming under fire. “You hear, ‘I don’t want to look at your underwear’ a lot, but dryers use a tremendous amount of energy,” says Alex Lee, founder of Project Laundry List, which supported the recent passage of right-to-dry laws in five states.

But those didn’t include Oregon, where Susan Taylor of Bend used to hang her laundry in her wooded yard. Twice, she says, her lines were snipped in the night and she was fined $1,000 by her HOA. “I didn’t have a clue it would be offensive,” she says. Members of both Taylor’s and the Brensingers’ HOAs declined comment, but Frank Rathbun, of the Community Association Institute that represents such groups nationwide, says, “Many boards hold the view that clotheslines could affect curb appeal and property values.” Indeed, he adds that a “large percentage” of the more than 300,000 such communities in the U.S. restrict or ban their use. Taylor says she isn’t giving up on changing that: “Hanging a clothesline doesn’t hurt anyone, and it benefits our existence.”

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