PERKASIE, Pennsylvania – Carin Froehlich pegs her laundry to three clotheslines strung between trees outside her 18th-century farmhouse, knowing that her actions annoy local officials who have asked her to stop.
Froehlich is among the growing number of people across America fighting for the right to dry their laundry outside against a rising tide of housing associations who oppose the practice despite its energy-saving green appeal.
Although there are no formal laws in this southeast Pennsylvania town against drying laundry outside, a town official called Froehlich to ask her to stop drying clothes in the sun. And she received two anonymous notes from neighbors saying they did not want to see her underwear flapping about.
"They said it made the place look like trailer trash," she said, in her yard across the street from a row of neat, suburban houses. "They said they didn't want to look at my 'unmentionables.'"
Froehlich says she hangs her underwear inside. The effervescent 54-year-old is one of a growing number of Americans demanding the right to dry laundry on clotheslines despite local rules and a culture that frowns on it.
Their interests are represented by Project Laundry List, a group that argues people can save money and reduce carbon emissions by not using their electric or gas dryers, according to the group's executive director, Alexander Lee.
Widespread adoption of clotheslines could significantly reduce U.S. energy consumption, argued Lee, who said dryer use accounts for about 6 percent of U.S. residential electricity use.
Florida, Utah, Maine, Vermont, Colorado, and Hawaii have passed laws restricting the rights of local authorities to stop residents using clotheslines. Another five states are considering similar measures, said Lee, 35, a former lawyer who quit to run the non-profit group.
His principal opponents are the housing associations such as condominiums and townhouse communities that are home to an estimated 60 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the population. About half of those organizations have 'no hanging' rules, Lee said, and enforce them with fines.
Carl Weiner, a lawyer for about 50 homeowners associations in suburban Philadelphia, said the no-hanging rules are usually included by the communities' developers along with regulations such as a ban on sheds or commercial vehicles.
The no-hanging rules are an aesthetic issue, Weiner said.
"The consensus in most communities is that people don't want to see everybody else's laundry."
He said opposition to clotheslines may ease as more people understand it can save energy and reduce greenhouse gases.
"There is more awareness of impact on the environment," he said. "I would not be surprised to see people questioning these restrictions."
For Froehlich, the "right to hang" is the embodiment of the American tradition of freedom.
"If my husband has a right to have guns in the house, I have a right to hang laundry," said Froehlich, who is writing a book on the subject.
Besides, it saves money. Line-drying laundry for a family of five saves $83 a month in electric bills, she said.
Kevin Firth, who owns a two-bedroom condominium in a Dublin, Pennsylvania housing association, said he was fined $100 by the association for putting up a clothesline in a common area.
"It made me angry and upset," said Firth, a 27-year-old carpenter. "I like having the laundry drying in the sun. It's something I have always done since I was a little kid."