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“I know it’s a dirty little secret,” Smith says.  “It started because of how much the dryer costs in electricity and hanging the fabric (outside) gets rid of the pollutants in the home.  It’s naturally dry and so much nicer smelling.”

As a former homeowner’s association board member, she knows she is violating her community’s rules.  The restrictions are clear: “No clothing, laundry or wash shall be aired or dried on any exterior portion of the property.  No exterior clothesline or clothing hanging device will be allowed.”

Smith is sheepish.  “Our home is surrounded by trees so its very hard to see my clothes drying.  But I am worried that I will be considered a criminal and fined just because I want to save the planet and my pocketbook” Smith says.

Across the landscape of America, more than clothes are blowing in the wind.  Community associations and residents are grappling with a gust of environmental activism that is frequently pushing up against the aesthetic dreams of their neighbors.  From clotheslines to solar panels and rain collection systems, homeowners eager to take small steps to stop global warming or save scarce resources are pressing their association boards to allow them to do so. 

“I specifically bought into this TYPE of community because I wanted to live in a NEIGHBORHOOD where laundry was not hung out to dry; boats, trailers, were not parked in driveways for days on end; solar panels and satellite dishes did not CLUTTER roof tops or sides of buildings.”

Former Vice President Al Gore has become a symbol for homeowners desiring to do their part to help the environment by advocating the use of clotheslines on his website.  He recently won the Nobel Prize and already won an Oscar for “An Inconvenient Truth,” his documentary on global warming.  The popular appeal of his argument can be measured in the number of new housing, school and commercial developments that include environmentally friendly designs, including floor tiles and carpets made of recycled materials.  A planned high-rise condominium and casino project in Las Vegas will include three wind turbines to generate electricity.  Discerning parents can even buy organic baby clothes.

From installing energy-conserving windows and roofs in the Midwest to designing xeriscapes in the water-scarce west or refurbishing older homes in the East, many community associations have already taken steps to save natural resources.  Some are making the leap to ban lawn chemicals, grow organic vegetable gardens or preserve wildlife habitats.

While some associations have balked at changing their rules to allow eco-friendly devices, “other communities are seeing green as more of an expectation than an exception,” says John Beldock, executive director of EcoBroker International, which provides training to real estate professionals regarding “green” properties.  “Most people who are concerned about them are not seeing enough examples.

However, many homeowners chose their communities because they looked good and want to keep them that way.  Last year the chapter president of the NC Community Association’s Institute argued against a state measure that would have given homeowners the right to install solar panels regardless of their associations’ rules.  He then supported a compromise measure that allowed solar panels as long as they met reasonable rules by HOA’s on their placement and appearance.  The new state law went into effect on October 1st 2007. (View the NC Senate Bill #670 governing the HOA’s right to restrict solar collectors (panels) http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2007/Bills/Senate/HTML/S670v5.html )

In addition to North Carolina, at least nine other states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland and Utah, curb associations’ power to stop homeowners from installing solar panels.  Proposals are pending in several other states.

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