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Ending clothesline bans in Ontario will help save energy and money

Monday, July 16th 2007 11:03:30am

To the Editor:  

This is the second in a series of bi-monthly columns by Environmental Law Specialist Dianne Saxe.  These articles are available for publishing at no charge, provided Dr. Saxe is cited as the author.  She can be contacted at (416) 962 5882 or  More information at

The clothesline has been making a comeback in Ontario, partly due to rising awareness of global warming and our increasingly urgent need for energy conservation. Clothes dryers are the third largest energy consuming appliance, after refrigerators and stoves, using approximately 6 percent of the energy in an average home.  What could be a simpler way to conserve energy than hanging your clothes outside?  

Unfortunately, using the sun and the wind to dry clothes is not so simple for many communities in Ontario.  This is due to a ‘no clothesline’ rule, part of many new and old subdivision covenants.  Even if you live in an older subdivision, there could still be a clothesline ban in a private contract that runs with the land, binding all subsequent property owners.  

These bans have been a cheap, popular way for developers to make suburbs look higher-end.  Yards that are free of clotheslines show passer-bys that people in the neighbourhood have enough cash to buy and use gas or electric dryers; and unmentionables are kept, well, unmentionable.

But times are changing, and clotheslines are making a comeback.  Rich or poor, everyone can help reduce energy consumption by drying clothes outside. And as energy conservation acquires cachet, the anti-clothesline stigma is disappearing.

Municipalities, recognizing the benefits of clotheslines, are also beginning to take action.  The City of London has just passed a resolution (July 2007) requesting local developers not to ban clotheslines. London also plans to amend its zoning bylaws to permit backyard/sideyard clotheslines.  This is a good start.  And the Town of Aurora, where Mayor Phyllis Morris is one of the most vocal pro-clothesline advocates, has called on the province to use the Energy Conservation Leadership Act to wipe out all clothesline restrictions in Ontario.  All it would take is a new regulation designating them as important energy-conservers.

But the province may be reluctant to take action unless enough communities take a stand.  Communities can therefore do a great deal of good by following the leadership of London and Aurora.  It would be straightforward for any municipal council to pass a resolution.  This is what the resolution could look like:  “We call upon the Province to demonstrate environmental leadership, and to pass a regulation under section 3 of the Energy Conservation Leadership Act designating clotheslines as goods that everyone is free to use.  Until that happens, our municipality will no longer approve proposed subdivisions that contain restrictions against the use of clotheslines.”

This is a great time for communities to pass such resolutions, as we head into a provincial election this October.  There is nothing like an election to make provincial politicians unusually responsive.  

Dianne Saxe, one of Canada's leading environmental lawyers, is a Certified Specialist in Environmental Law, and holds one of Canada's only Doctorates of Jurisprudence (PhD) in environmental law.