With extra square footage and smart space planning, you can check the washing machine and dryer off on your wish list
Editor’s Note: This post, originally published March 2015, is one of our favorites, demonstrating different ways to incorporate the coveted washing machine into a floorpan—even a small one. City living means prioritizing your square footage similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; wish lists often include a dishwasher, a patch of landscape, and of course, the washer/dryer unit. If you do have space to spare, consider options from scaled-down stackable units, full-size side-by-sides, or a single machine. Before you make your product choice, read on for a few approvals and permits you’ll need to secure first, as well as insight from Sweeten homeowners who went through the process.
Felix created a laundry nook in her foyer
Building management approvals and 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 apartment 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 a washing machine 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, NYC 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. Check your local Department of Buildings for specific local requirements.
Here are three roads to clean-clothes heaven, plus some budget notes.
1. Create a laundry cabinet in your kitchen
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 washing machine and 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.
Blaise and Kristin built out a wall and added doors in their laundry renovation
2. Build walls and a door
If space is not the primary limitation in your home, you may want to repurpose 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.
Brad’s laundry room renovation
3. Move walls to carve out a laundry room
Prospect Heights homeowner Brad walked us through the full process of creating a laundry room for his family’s three-bedroom, three-bath condo. After Brad posted his project on Sweeten, we introduced him to this Sweeten contractor to remove an un-used shower from one of the apartment’s baths and rework 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. In discussing ways to deal with water flow, the contractor steered him 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 assess the building’s electrical capacity and clear the appliances they planned to purchase.
Initially planning to stack the washing machine and dryer, he was encouraged to install them 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 units on the floor and go with Elfa shelving from the Container Store. Brad also contemplated building in enclosed cabinetry, but input from his contractor suggested he consider the simpler open shelving approach. To finish off the room, a ceramic floor tile from Home Depot was installed which coordinated with other bath finishes in the condo. A folding table and ironing board are possible features to add to the space.
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. The contractor’s team was careful to protect the family’s hallways and living areas and contain the dust that resulted from the demolition. Brad suggested the pocket door 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.
We are so grateful to—and very inspired by—each of these families for sharing how to make room for laundry in NYC homes. For more ideas, these fellow apartment dwellers also incorporated units into their floorplan. And the washing machine comes with more options than you may realize, which you can read here.
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