It's free, and there for the taking

Leslie Carlson

A few weeks ago, I asked my husband to buy a retractable clothesline to set up in our backyard. I wanted to see if 1) it would dry clothes easily and 2) if I would actually enjoy using it. Both turned out to be true. If it's hot and/or windy, clothes dry in about 30 minutes--faster than my dryer could do it. And, I enjoy the sensation of being outside, hanging clothes and being in my garden. My kids (so far) love the novelty of the clothesline and are always eager to help me hang clothes up or take them down.

Of course, there are all the other benefits: saving money, saving energy and the disinfecting effect of the sun.

My husband must have noticed how well the sunshine dried the clothes, because this week, a contractor is coming to install a solar water heating system. By the end of July, we will have a panel that collects heat on our roof from the sun and will provide us with hot water heating about 2/3 of the time. Because of generous state and federal tax credits and incentives, about 55 percent of the system will be paid for--we will only be out of pocket about $3,400. The system will pay for itself (I've been told) in about 5 years. It may even pay off faster, since we have three pre-adolescent children who have yet to go through the frequent and long-lasting shower years.

The City of Portland, the Energy Trust of Oregon and Solar Oregon have teamed up to put on the Solar Now campaign, which provides workshops, information and expert advice for businesses and homes going solar. Apparently, Oregon is a good state for solar energy, even on the rainy west side. Solar Now is an attempt to jump-start solar energy in the state at a critical time.

One solar hot water system and one clothesline aren't a big deal, I know. But many people doing small things can make a big difference. Wal-Mart's figured this out and California has too. Now, with the Solar Now campaign, maybe Oregon will too.

  • James X. (unverified)

    What would really be useful is solar panel rentals, so people can pay a bill just as they do now, rather than get a second mortgage. Unfortunately, all that I can find with Google in that direction is an apparently fraudulent company called Citizenre that uses a pyramid scheme and has yet to produce a single solar panel. Until then, I just use PGE's Green Source, which is a rather insignificant 0.8 cents per kWh.

  • DesTynNee (unverified)

    I love the idea of people going green, however they choose to do it!

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    Apparently, Oregon is a good state for solar energy, even on the rainy west side.

    Ssshhhh... don't tell anyone, but Portland gets less annual precipitation than every single major city east of the Mississippi.

  • DesTynNee (unverified)

    I lived in Texas till 2003, I am always telling ppl how we got more rain there than here. I wish I could put in solar panels, but I sadly can not. I can barely get the landlord to understand that the wiring needs to be fixed. It is original to the house, and is one of the oldest in Oregon City.

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    You dry your clothes outside on the line. Free sunshine. No electric power used. What a concept. Last Tuesday I was outside the Bend Public Library collecting signatures for Bend's Infrastructure First Initiative when a women explained to me that her local home owners committee told her that she couldn't hang her clothes on the line anymore because it was against her neighborhoods C&R's. She was flabbergasted and so was I when she told me the story. It's a sad day in America when you can't hang your laundry out in the sun to dry. What a country!

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    Your post brings back childhood memories of the clothes flapping in the summer breeze.

    Did you know that many "high end" subdivision covenants prohibit the installation of outdoor clothes drying devices? A few also prohibit, at least in theory, the installation of external solar panels on roofs.

    Given the energy situation we are facing, it would be nice to see the legislature consider a law which would retroactively invalidate and prohibit such covenants.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)

    My mom didn't own a clothes dryer until she became ill in 1981. She hung the laundry outdoors in the summertime. In the winter she hung it on lines in the basement. Hung up in the evening, dry in the morning.

  • Garlynn -- (unverified)

    I also hang clothes out to dry sometimes... but I must caution you that, after many years of being hung out to dry, some of your clothing will get bleached by the sun. And in funny ways, too -- that is, bleached in some place, not bleached in others (like underneath the clothes pins).

    So, it pays to be vigilant about taking your clothing back off the line in a timely manner, I suppose, and also be conscious about how prone to color-bleeding a particular garment might be!!

    Anyways, I can't wait to take advantage of some of these tax credits and install some solar panels of my own.

    Kari, good point about the amount of precipitation. Another point to think about is this: Your solar-powered calculator will run even on a cloudy day, right? Same with solar panels on top of your house. If there is light, they will produce electricity. They produce at 100% of their potential when the sun is shining directly on them with no interference. But even when it is actually raining, they can still produce at least at about 10% of their potential -- which is a number above zero, and still could represent your meter running backwards during the day when you're not at home!! I'm talking about photovoltaic here, I'm not sure to what degree these principles apply to solar hot water...

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    Heck, We still hang our clothes indoors during the winter on those old-fashioned wooden clothes racks. Just put above the heating vents in our house and overnight and they are dry in the morning. When its warm outside, we hang the clothes out to dry.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Actually, does anyone know much about PGE's "Green Source" provider, Green Mountain Energy? I know it's easy for anyone to create a "," but there's one for Green Mountain in the form of I don't know whether to give any credence to any of its points.

  • George Seldes (unverified)

    There's a terrific nonprofit outfit called "PAYS(R)" where the PAYS stands for "Pay As You Save" -- what they do is seek to have state public utility commissions authorize a PAYS energy tariff, so that people can get energy improvements (like your solar thermal panels, upgraded appliances, etc.) at ZERO out of pocket cost, with the cost of the improvement being paid out of the savings generated.

    They only do improvements that pay off, in other words.

    You basically sign a lien that stays with the utility meter instead of you; if you sell your house, you pay out of the proceeds. You need a tariff so that the big corporate utilities are forced to allow PAYS to work (remember, it cuts their sales, so they don't like it).

    The Legislature should require the PUC to come up with a PAYS tariff that PGE and Pacificore would have to offer.

    It's a great, great program, and it's only been slow getting implemented because of objections from the utilities who don't want more conservation.

    (And thank you for discovering clotheslines. And the salmon thank you. And the people who will be affected by global warming thank you -- and that's all of us.)

  • George Seldes (unverified)

    Your post prompted two ideas for the Lege:

    1) Require PAYS(r) tariffs 2) A law voiding any covenants restricting clotheslines.

    See for complete more (partially a repost of comment above)

  • Gordie (unverified)

    Don't worry, Kari. I won't tell anyone that Portland gets less precipitation than every single major city west of the Mississippi...because it's not true...unless you don't want to count drier places like LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, etc. as major cities.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    More on clotheslines:

    They're not just for the summer. If it's not raining, clothes will dry outside though it may take all day.

    Minimize fading by turning clothes inside out. Actually, a clothes dryer wears out clothes with high heat and constant friction.

    The sun is a great sanitizer and deodorant.

    Gotta go. The washer just finished - front-loading water and electricity saving model.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Even more:

    WE have a 60' line that will hold 2 washer loads at a time. It's dark green so is relatively unobtrusive. If you think clotheslines are trailer-trash indicators, get over it. If you think hanging out clothes in unmanly, get over that as well.

    If you smooth wrinkles out of clothes while hanging you will need to do less ironing - if you do any ironing.

    Gordie: Kari wrote "east of the Mississippi" not "west".

  • Michael VanDerwater (unverified)

    Great Article! One correction. The solaroregon link should be to not
    Feel free to go to to sign up for one of our many FREE 1hr workshops or one of our more intensive 3hr workshops. There you will learn all abut the technologies and incentives to enable you to go solar.

    -Michael VanDerwater Executive Director Solar Oregon

    "Solar Oregon is a non-profit providing education and Community Outreach to encourage Oregonians to Choose Solar Energy."

  • workingmom (unverified)

    Before we go all dreamy-eyed for the good old days, let me share my memories of my mother washing clothes on a wringer washer in a damp basement, hanging them out to dry in the yard, in the bathroom, in the hallway, or wherever she could find space. During the winter our house would be littered with damp towels, jeans and socks. Then, because everything was stiff as a board, she spent hours ironing. Let me tell you, the day the "automatic" washer and dryer arrived was a three martini celebration in our house.

    Mom is gone, but I'm confident she wouldn't go back to the good old days for an entire case of Old Crow. (And she didn't have to commute back and forth to an office building every day.) So go ahead and buy a washboard, sell the dryer, decomission the diswasher, find a carpetsweeper on ebay, use an egg beater to mix your cake batter, if it makes you feel all holy and nostalgic. But on behalf of millions of working women, let me just say KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF OF MY LABOR-SAVING DEVICES!!!!

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    You are my heroine! My wife has been asking for a clothesline and I could not find one that did not require two unsightly poles. This looks perfect!

    (Did you buy it mail order or locally?)

    Our electrical bill--WOW! Ok, I know there are six of us in one house (including two teenagers). I know we have four computers (which I've tried to get them to keep turning off). Our water heater is electric. But $140/month?!

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    The clothesline was bought at Home Depot for, if memory serves me right, about $15. I think it unspools to about 40 feet.

    Hmmm, the math...OK, I don't think we spend $140 a month, but the contractor did say 5-year payback. Maybe because we can still use it in the winter? Apparently, the contractor said that if it's over 60 degrees, it generates enough energy to heat the system via solar alone. I'll look at the numbers again and update you.

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    The solaroregon link should be to not

    Michael, sorry for the error. It's been fixed. Thanks for pointing it out.

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    Don't worry, Kari. I won't tell anyone that Portland gets less precipitation than every single major city west of the Mississippi...because it's not true...unless you don't want to count drier places like LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, etc. as major cities.

    He said east, not west..of the Mississippi

  • Mike (unverified)

    Paul, I'm Leslie's husband. The saving is estimated at about $75-80/month for 8 months of the year (not $140) for heating water (about 5 years to payoff $3400). Our contractor is Mr. Sun Solar.

    The system is a heat exchanger which pre-heats the water that goes into the water heater; if the water is heated to 110 degree the water heater doesn't have to do anything. Additionally, it takes the water up in winter from 50 to 60 degrees on sunny days, so even when it's fairly cold we get a benefit.

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    I was not clear in my posting. We spend $140/month for our total electrical bill. When we moved into this house four years ago, it was around $100. It's been climbing slowly but surely. And this most recent jump, I think, was due to the rate increase.

    I just have never paid this much in electricity!

    Is that much of our bill going to water??

    Thanks for posting the math. As on so many of these things, once the math works out, I think folks will switch rapidly.

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    Paul: I think the average hot water bill is about 20 percent of your electricity, but in our house we have six people living here and I'm sure it's more than 20 percent.

    As you noted, electrical appliances are a big part.Also you should remember to unplug things you are not using--toaster, cell phone charger, etc. Apparently they continue to draw electricity even when you are not using them!

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    Actually you can air dry clothes inside too. I have a lot of all cotton stuff that a drier shrinks. You can string clothesline in a basement, or use plastic hangers on a bar (yeah, yeah the plastic's an issue) or buy a wooden drying rack.

    Portland's issue isn't quantity of precipitation but number of overcast days & related vitamin D deficiency, intensified SAD etc.

    Around Boston, where I grew up, (& elsewhere in the coastal NE) winter precip often comes in the form of the famous nor'easters -- storms that come from the west, go out to sea, pick up moisture & then swirl back around. These tend to dump a lot all at once. Worst is two or three raw torrential days in a row in November, maybe several times. It's snow later on, measured in feet deptth, at a time.

    Snow's psychological effects are different than rain or even mist or no precip at all but overcast. Typical New England winters involve heavy snows at intervals beginning as early as late October and ending as late as early May, but usually more November - March. In between storms you can get days & days of cold high pressure coming down from Canada -- with very blue skies. Cold can be very cold but the sunshine glorious. Then there are the period weird January thaws when it will by in the 70s for a week (similar frequency to Portland ice storms).

    But you almost never see the fairly common Portland occurence of two or three weeks overcast in a row -- or the less frequent but regular 1-3 sunny days out of 90 in the winter. (I've heard Portland is even more overcast than Seattle, which is wetter, but don't know if that's actually true). While Portland's total inches of precipitation may be less, its days of precipitation likely are more. It's just that a lot of those days the precipitation is measured in very few tenths of an inch.

    The vocabulary of Portland local weatherpeople for describing our various forms of precipation is highly elaborated compared to Boston -- like the proverbial 11 Eskimo words for snow.

    Perhaps most tellingly, there's a reason why local weather forecasters have to make a big deal out of "sun-breaks", a concept unknown on the East coast.

    Face it, there is a reason why the U. of O. teams are called Ducks despite the inherent silliness of the bird (Donald, Daffy, might as well call them the Loons, a much prettier bird), why Oregonians historically have called themselves webfoots, why we take pride in mocking Easterners' rush to grab umbrellas over a little rain, just as New Englanders or upper Midwesterners mock Oregonians for abandoning cars on the freeway & closing schools for two inches of snow.

    Where Portland has it all over the East Coast & inland East as far as I am concerned is absence of the god-awful summer humidity. Despite our inversion problems, Portland's summer forecasts lack the concept of "haze", a nasty phenomenon combining high humidity with smog. And of course the summer greenery we get as payback for our protracted fall-winter wet (if not concentrated wet) period plus the May-June reinforcement.

  • Dave Bonkowski (unverified)

    RE: PGE and their renewable power program. I was working for the Energy Trust when a coworker asked me why I hadn't signed up for any of the renewable options. My answer was that I didn't trust PGE. After saying that the question came back "can't you find someone you can trust?" And unfortunately for me I had the resources to check out their program and other utility programs and retail sources of "green tags" Turns out at that time PGE had the lowest price, and as far as I could tell from my investigation, they didn't pocket any of your money. It really was the best deal at that time for green power. So out of excuses, I signed up for one of PGE's renewable energy programs and have stayed ever since. I hope this helps someone make their decision about their energy purchase. It's not easy to be an informed consumer about this stuff.

  • Nancy Younger (unverified)

    I have not had a dryer for years and years. I hang my clothes outside in summer and inside in winter on old drying racks I have collected at estate sales. With gas heat, the drying clothes add some moisture to the air so that you don't dry up and blow away. I saw a Martha Stewart episode where she showed how to put up a clothesline and told how she loved hanging her sheets out-of-doors. If its okay for Martha.... no HOA should exclude clotheslines.

  • Gerald (unverified)

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