BOSTON — Hanging out the wash used to be a regular chore, whether strung on a line across a backyard or back alley, until the advent of gas and electric dryers made it unnecessary.

Then local codes and condo rules came along and stopped anyone thinking of stringing up their shirts, pants and underwear in their tracks.

Well, airing one's laundry is fashionable again, at least among people looking to lower energy bills and reduce their carbon footprint.

On Beacon Hill, lawmakers are considering a "right to dry" measure that would lift restrictions by homeowners associations and even some communities, as part of a broader effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The move faces opposition from condo groups who say it erodes local property rights.

A proposal filed by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, which went before the Legislature's Committee Municipalities and Regional Government on Tuesday, would limit the ability of cities, towns and homeowners associations to ban or restrict the installation of "solar-drying" systems, i.e. clotheslines, allowing homeowners to hang dry their laundry outdoors.

Tarr, R-Gloucester, cites the environmental impact from dryers, which are responsible for about 6% of all household electricity consumption.

"This is just another tool to reduce carbon emissions," he said. "It probably won't make a huge reduction, but it's a change that everyone has within their grasp."

Once a backyard fixture, clotheslines gradually disappeared as dryers became more common and affordable. Many homeowners associations and even some communities banned or restricted outdoor clotheslines, citing the aesthetic impact and drain on property values.

Opponents of Tarr's proposal say lifting those rules would erode property rights and undermine the autonomy of private communities.

Matthew Gaines, an attorney with the New England chapter of the Community Associations Institute, said many condo complexes don't have the physical space to accommodate clotheslines. He said forcing them to permit outdoor drying would violate agreements among private homeowners in those communities.

"It's just not workable in many condominiums," he said. "Having the Legislature mandate that condo associations must allow clothing lines isn't the right way to do it."

Tarr's proposal, which he filed with Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, would allow local governments to regulate or restrict clotheslines, but those restrictions would have to be approved by voters through a community-wide referendum or at Town Meeting.

Homeowners’ groups could set rules about location and use, but they wouldn't be allowed to impose fees or ban clotheslines altogether, he said.

Saving money, lowering emissions

Several states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont among them — have passed similar laws overriding local laundry restrictions. In Massachusetts, the state Senate approved a "right to dry" bill last year but it wasn't taken up by the House.

In 2010, then Attorney General Martha Coakley overturned Concord’s "right-to-dry" law, which prevented landowners from banning clotheslines on their properties.

"Clotheslines save a lot of money and the clothes last longer," Peggy Brace, a Concord-based clothesline advocate, told lawmakers on Tuesday. "And they don't shrink."

Environmentalists say outdoor drying is an inexpensive, low-tech solution to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say contribute to climate change.

The average U.S. household could prevent 1,500 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year simply by turning off its dryer and hanging out the wash, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Meanwhile, the state is required to reduce its "carbon footprint" by 80% by 2050 to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act, a federal law adopted years ago.

"It's a commonsense approach," said Eric Wilkinson, general counsel and director of energy policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts. "Forcing people to use fossil fuels to dry their laundry just doesn't make sense considering the climate emergency that we're dealing with."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at

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