Climate shame when strata airs its dirty laundry

It seems that energy prices and the belief (or not) that there’s such a thing as global warming have the power to topple Prime Ministers.

The fossil fuel versus renewables argument seems like a very 21st Century dispute, so it’s ironic to think that our grandparents used solar and wind power in their rawest forms – sunshine and a stiff breeze – to dry the weekly wash.

These days, any ecologically minded citizen would see immediate advantages both to the environment and to their power bills in reverting to the old ways.

However, we in apartments are forced by circumstances and self-imposed rules to use whitegoods powered by electricity that was probably generated by coal and gas.

Modern blocks are usually built without the communal clothes lines and Hills Hoists that were the source of so much strife for previous generations of flat-dwellers.

Back in the day, timetables of which flat had access to the lines were strictly enforced and laundry would be dumped unceremoniously on the ground if you dared to wash on a different drying day from the one allocated to you.

Today, you probably don’t have that option and you are condemned to stuff your clothes in a tumble dryer and turn on the power, as many blocks have by-laws forbidding hanging laundry on balconies.

Some even have rules banning laundry from being dried anywhere that it might be seen – including inside your apartment.

Not for us, the long poles extending from the apartment windows of South-East Asia, with drying clothes dangling like festive flags. Nor do we have the pulley ropes strung between buildings in the alleyways of old European towns and cities.

But things are changing.  The 2016 NSW strata regulations provide model by-laws for post-1996 schemes that include a provision that “an owner or occupier of a lot may hang washing on any part of the lot other than over the balcony railings.”

This is revolutionary, compared with the prescriptive by-laws for pre-1996 schemes that say you can’t, without the written permission of the strata committee, hang any washing anywhere except on washing lines provided.

In Victoria, laundry doesn’t get a mention in the model rules, but the Owners Corporation Act specifically lists restrictions on drying laundry as a valid area for creating a new by-law.

Now, model by-laws are just a starting point for new strata schemes and any apartment block’s owners can decide to change theirs.

However, the necessary 75 per cent at a general meeting can be hard to achieve against a committed resistance, and there are some strata residents who become apoplectic when they get so much as a glimpse of a neighbour’s smalls fluttering on a balcony.

Admittedly, the further you get from the snootier inner-city apartments and into the increasingly crammed suburbs, the more likely you are to see balconies festooned with drying racks and laced with temporary washing lines draped with the latest fashions.

We’re not tlking about doing a full family wash and draping it over the balustrade – just the option to dry a few t-shirts, socks and undies to lighten the load on the dryer.

That tumble dryer is possibly the least energy efficient form of whitegoods, along with the portable air conditioner and the gas-powered fridge.  Considering that most new apartments come with one installed, that’s a big carbon footprint for something that replaces fresh air and sunshine.

So we need fewer restrictions on where you can dry your clothes and more buildings with communal clothes lines.

This column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.

And with strata block intranets allowing you to book anything from a moving-out date to a pest spray, being able to grab a slot on a shared clothes line would be too easy not to consider.

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