Three Ways to Create a Laundry Room

Last week’s look at Davison and Bernice’s Upper West Side kitchen renovation raised some interesting questions about finding ways to add laundry appliances to NYC apartments. I don’t think I’m alone when I say I am flummoxed, FLUMMOXED, every time I walk into a home goods store and see washers and dryers on the sales floor. These appliances are not prohibitively expensive and yet so few New York City homes have them. It boggles the mind – these are life-changing gadgets and they are relatively affordable but most city dwellers are still stuck lugging sheets and towels to laundromats or to shared stackers in dank basements. I have inspected every inch of my 340 square foot East Village home and I can accept that there is no possible place to put a washer or dryer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t live vicariously through NYC neighbors who have won this battle.

Building management approvals and City permits

Space aside, the biggest roadblocks to in-unit laundry are typically the co-op and condo board regulations that ban washers and dryers in many City buildings. In some, the electrical grid is not up to meeting the demand that dryers (specifically) place on the system, and in other cases, the existing pipe stacks are not large enough to handle the increase in water and suds flow. Still in many other cases, fears that washing machines will overflow and dryers will lead to flames have traditionally been enough to block tenant plans for laundry upgrades.

If your building’s management is onboard with your request to install laundry appliances, you may still need to meet certain safety requirements. Many buildings will require that you install a fixture that monitors water flow and shuts off water if any overflow is detected, and some buildings have electrical grid limitations that only allow low-voltage dryers. So, if you’re considering adding laundry appliances to your home, start first with your building’s management and confirm that your planned purchase is allowed.

In addition, the City requires permits for work that involves “alteration, re-arrangement, relocation, or permanent removal” of any piping, so if your laundry plan requires anything other than a direct swap of an appliance, you need to work with your contractor to arrange for the right plumbing expertise and paperwork.

Here then, are three roads to clean-clothes-heaven, plus some budget notes.

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1. Create a laundry cabinet in your kitchen (thanks to Upper West Side homeowners Davison and Bernice and Sweeten Expert Louie for this inspiration!)

Ubiquitous in Europe, a combo washer-dryer under your kitchen counter is a super space-efficient way to make room for laundry. A few pros and cons here: the biggest complaint about space and energy-efficient washer-dryers is that they can only manage small loads. Duvets, etc, are a no-go here, making this a tough choice for families or households with multiple residents. The next most common complaint is that these combination machines do a half-hearted job of drying fabric. True, the high-heat steam does leave clothing a little damp when it comes out, but this drying method also tends to be kinder to clothing.

From a budget perspective, if you are already doing a full kitchen renovation, creating a cabinet for laundry appliances is a relatively seamless addition to your project’s total scope. Adding a washer/dryer to your kitchen requires access to the water supply, waste outlet, and electricity. Talk to your contractor about whether to build cabinetry around the unit, or enclose it with a custom door, and where to position the appliances for best access. You can expect the cost to account for the price of adding an additional cabinet and the cost for installation will likely be comparable to your contractor’s quote for hooking up your other kitchen appliances.

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2. Build walls and a door (thanks to Prospect Lefferts Gardens homeowners Blaise and Kristin and Sweeten Expert Paul for this inspiration!)

If space is not the primary limitation in your home, you may want to re-purpose square footage in a room or hallway to create a separate laundry room. Your contractor’s estimate will probably account for the cost of putting up or extending walls, installing doors, adding or relocating lighting, and cosmetic paint and trim steps. More work may be required here to run hot and cold water from the building’s stack and to connect waste lines, if these valves are not located within a few inches of your new appliances. Note that most urban buildings have strict requirements about keeping “wet” areas aligned throughout each floor, so you may not have free reign to run water lines down halls if your home is above other homes.

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3. Move walls to carve out a laundry room (thanks to Prospect Heights homeowner Brad Andrews and Sweeten Expert Aleks for this inspiration!)

Prospect Heights homeowner Brad Andrews walked me through the full process of creating a laundry room for his family’s three bedroom, three bathroom condo. After Brad posted his project on Sweeten, we introduced him to Sweeten Expert Aleks to remove an un-used shower from one of the apartment’s baths and re-work wall placement, creating a full-sized laundry room. Brad set an overall budget of about $20,000 for labor, materials and appliances — a helpful guide for other homeowners preparing for a laundry room renovation — and was able to keep the project on time and within budget.

Materials and placement

Brad and his wife wanted front-loading appliances that were both generously-sized and durable. Kenmore Elite appliances with 5.2 cubic foot capacity fit the bill. Brad and Aleks discussed ways to deal with water flow; Aleks steered Brad away from installing a floor pan that would catch overflow water and instead selected a preventative automatic sensor that scans for the presence of water on the floor and immediately shuts off the water if it detects any. Brad also hired an electrician to asses the building’s electrical capacity and clear the appliances they planned to purchase.

Brad initially planned to stack the washer and dryer, but Aleks encouraged him to install the machines side by side because of two factors behind the walls: the location of the water pipes in the wall as well as the wall’s support structure grid of metal beams made it easier to hook up appliances if they were positioned side by side. Once demolition of the original wall occurred, it became clear that stacked appliances would be more difficult, so Brad embraced the plan to place both washer and dryer on the floor and go with tried and true Elfa shelving from the Container Store. Brad also contemplated building in enclosed cabinetry, but input from Aleks steered him toward the simpler and more open shelving approach. To finish off the room, Aleks proposed a set of floor tiles for Brad to choose. Brad went with a ceramic floor tile from Home Depot to be consistent with finishes in another bath in the condo. Brad was hoping to fit in a folding table and ironing board, and may complete the room with those pieces soon.

Demolition and build

The project took a total of 2-3 weeks. Brad reported that the demolition of the original drywall was fairly simple: the wall was not load-bearing and didn’t contain any critical support beams. Aleks’s team was careful to protect the family’s hallways and living areas and contain the dust that result from the demolition. Brad suggested the pocket door to replace the original hinged door to minimize the door’s footprint and keep access to the room as open as possible. Pocket doors can be prohibitively expensive if you are tunneling into a brick or concrete wall, but in this case, the wall structure easily allowed for the alteration.

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I am so grateful to (and also terribly jealous of) each of these families for sharing these ideas on making room for laundry in NYC homes. If you are thinking about a kitchen or bath renovation, and think you might be able to fit laundry appliances in your plans, post your project on Sweeten and we’ll introduce you to contractors who can help you create a space you will love.

  • carol-anne ryce-paul

    In the first example could you give some info on the washerdryer combo and the different types available in the US

  • Kerry at Sweeten

    Hi Carol-Anne – it looks like all of the major national retailers (Home Depot, Lowe’s, Best Buy, etc) offer washer-dryer combo options, ranging from $1,700 down to $800. LG seems to be the most ubiquitous option, but Haier also appears to be readily available in the US. Hope that’s a start!