After nearly two amazing years living in Boulder and working at E Source, I’m moving to San Francisco this fall with my boyfriend so that he can begin a master’s of architecture program there. Beginning next week, my very capable colleague Melanie Wemple will take over as the project manager of DSMdat and author of these monthly blog posts.
Over the last few weeks, my boyfriend and I have been thinking about what sorts of amenities we’d like our new apartment to have. Most of the items on our list are typical—reasonable rent, no carpet, a gas stove. But one of our requests is a bit unusual: We want an apartment in which we can install a clothesline or laundry drying rack with at least 30 feet of hanging space (enough to dry a medium-sized load of laundry). This, we figure, will save us about $100 a year in laundromat costs and keep our clothes in better shape. The 15 minutes a week I’ll spend hanging up my clothes will be a good opportunity to put on my cell phone headset and catch up with friends and family, too.
I’ve actually been line-drying my clothes (indoors!) for almost four years and have been on a crusade to spread the gospel of line-drying for just as long. It all started when I was studying abroad in Italy, where over 95 percent of households don’t own a dryer (PDF). If some of earth’s most fashion-conscious inhabitants hang out their clothes, I thought, then surely I can convince at least some Americans to take up this behavior. I first received a grant to install industrial drying racks in dorm laundry rooms and start a personal-racks-for-loan program at my alma mater. In subsequent years, I wrote a guide that explains how other students could do the same, created a web page that catalogs available drying-rack products (high quality ones are devilishly hard to find!), and was given the opportunity to share my story with the New York Times. One of the first things I did when I moved into my house in Boulder was ask my housemate to help me install clotheslines in our utility room.
When I arrived at E Source, I was naturally curious about how many utilities offer incentives to customers to install drying racks or clotheslines. I searched DSMdat and only found one program. In the intervening two years, two additional programs have been added:
- Ontario Power Authority offers customers a $5 coupon toward the purchase of outdoor umbrella stands or clothesline kits (DSMdat program #3076).
- In 2010, BC Hydro offered customers a 10 percent instant online rebate on two models of outdoor clotheslines (DSMdat program #4005).
Despite my optimism about the promise of line-drying laundry, I’m not at all surprised by the lack of utility programs incentivizing this behavior, nor am I surprised that all of the existing programs are in Canada. Hanging out laundry doesn’t exactly have a great rap in America. In many places, laundry out on the line is associated with poor taste or a lack of means. In fact, the stigma against line-drying is so strong that homeowners’ associations, landlords, and city councils across the country have passed covenants, prohibitions, and laws banning the activity.
Electric and gas utility companies, however, are well positioned to facilitate a shift in popular opinion—and claim substantial energy savings along the way. According to an Energy Star calculator (XLS), the average residential household consumes 371 kilowatt-hours (kWh) or 12.8 therms per year drying clothes. In 2009, the average U.S. residential customer used 10,896 kWh. Switching to line-drying would reduce that household’s energy consumption by 3.4 percent, equivalent to $41 if they pay the February 2011 average U.S. price of $0.112 per kWh.
Though these numbers aren’t terribly impressive, keep in mind that they are only averages. Like all other efficiency programs, a drying-rack rebate would be most attractive to customers with high rates. No utility program reaches all customers, and a drying-rack incentive program would be most effective if marketed toward households for whom clothes-drying is a large portion of their total energy bill.
Line-drying incentives could also be marketed to urban customers who are looking for more ways to save but believe that they can’t line-dry their clothes because they don’t have a backyard or don’t want to string up clotheslines in their limited outdoor space. I think that rebates paired with an informational campaign could be enough to encourage these customers to purchase one of the high-quality, high-volume, wall-mounted, folding drying racks that are still unfamiliar to most Americans, such as those available from Urban Clotheslines.
New DSMdat Filter: Social Norms
As part of our effort to increase DSMdat’s coverage of behavior-change programs, I’m pleased to announce the addition of “social norms” to the Incentivized Measures—Sociological filter category. Social norms are the behavioral expectations and cues within a society or group. Utility programs that leverage social norms typically do so by providing customers with feedback on how their energy consumption compares to the consumption of similar households.
We’re always on the lookout for new utility and state DSM programs that are unique, progressive, or just downright cool. Be sure to let us know if you’ve seen any such programs or run one at your utility.
June 2011 DSMdat updates: Added 46 new programs and updated 151 programs.