Q. I want to install a washer/dryer in my co-op apartment. What should I know?
A. If you’re tired of traipsing up and down from your basement--or worse, back and forth to the Laundromat--you may be considering the addition of a washer/dryer in your apartment.
First you'll need to get your board's permission to do it, and then find a practical spot to install your new machines.
Here's a checklist of questions and answers to help you confirm that you're ready, willing and able to install that washer and dryer in your city apartment.
Will my co-op allow a washer/dryer?
Many New York buildings (rentals, co-ops and condos) won’t allow washer/dryers, period. Some co-ops (and condos) will allow it on a case-by-case basis. Though it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask, be prepared for a negative answer based on the age and plumbing conditions specific to your building. (FYI, here's what can happen if you go ahead without permission.)
There’s often a logical reason why these appliances aren’t permitted in high-rises, and it’s not just so you get a weekly workout schlepping loads of towels from your basement.
In many older buildings, the waste piping systems can be either too small or packed with sediment, explains according to Joe Santullo of Systems 2000 Plumbing in Manhattan.
Suds can back up and affect nearby apartments, which is a risk most boards won’t take.
“Usually the building will know if this is a problem and not allow the installation of a washer/dryer because of the inadequate piping," Santullo says.
European-style "high-efficiency" washing machines can significantly reduce the sudsing problems, because they use far less water and require a special high-efficiency detergent that produces far fewer suds. Downside: Some owners complain of mildew problems after prolonged use, though keeping the door cracked open between uses and using only cold water to wash clothes can help.
Where is the best place to install a washer/dryer?
If you’re able to snag the coveted go-ahead, most likely you’ll have to install in or near a “wet space,” which means the location will need to be in or adjacent to your kitchen or a bathroom.
The ideal location would be near a “stack ”(vertical plumbing waste and supply) in the vicinity of the kitchen or bathroom, says Santullo. You can put the machines in the actual room or “the washer/dryer can be located behind a bathroom or kitchen in an existing closet if there is enough room.”
If you have very little closet space, though, "then taking up a closet to install a washer and dryer may not be the best idea," notes Alex Usharyov of Click and Improve.com, a New York City website specializing in home improvement and renovations.
If you're installing it in the kitchen, a washer/dryer combo unit (one appliance that functions as both a washer and a dryer) may be the best option, unless it's a sprawling space. (Bear in mind that although the washer portion of an all-in-one unit should operate close to a standard washing machine, the drying portion will take about 2-3 times as long as a regular dryer. It’s best to do smaller loads in a machine like this.)
If you think your bedroom closet is large enough to hold a washer-dryer, don’t get too excited. Chances are you could have a tough time convincing your board to allow the addition of a “wet” space, since a bedroom is a dry space and the space in the apartment underneath is also a dry space,
Can any contractor install a washer/dryer?
Finding the right space and getting approval isn’t all you need to do. The New York City Department of Buildings will require a permit and also that a “master plumber file the piping installation to accommodate the new washer,” says Santullo.
In addition, says Santullo, the correct washing machine drainage standpipe needs to be installed. “The installation of check valves on cold and hot water supplies is good practice, as well as using a washer machine box for a clean professional installation.”
What can go wrong?
After it’s been installed, should your washer malfunction or overflow, there is the chance of it leaking into the unit beneath you, causing damage and an unhappy downstairs shareholder, even though a containment pan can be installed under the washer to prevent damage to lower floors.
Santullo says that most buildings require an automatic shut-off valve with a sensor placed in the containment pan under the washer: “In the event there is a problem, the sensor will activate the valve and isolate the water supply to the unit.”
Dryer fires like the one that set Robert DeNiro's Central Park West apartment ablaze last year are also a hazard. You'll need to get the machine and exhaust areas inspected and rid of lint buildup every year or two.
If you have an outside-venting dryer, the further away your machine is from the exhaust point, the more concerned you should be, says Maria Vizzi, an indoor air quality expert whose company, Indoor Environmental Solutions, charges around $89 for an inspection and another $100 or so for cleaning. But even non-outside venting dryers need to be looked at every once in awhile because "the lint has to go somewhere," she says.
Many newer machines are equipped to shut down in the event of a fire, so if you're in the market for a dryer, you may want to add the "igniter" shutoff to your shopping list.
Can I buy any type of dryer?
When it comes to drying, most NYC dryers are electric because gas units are required to vent to the outside, which isn’t possible in most apartments.
"If you go with an electric all in one washer and dryer, then there is no need to vent, though electric washers and dryers tend to be inferior to gas," says Usharyov. "The problem with venting a washer and dryer usually occurs in apartment buildings that have cement ceilings and floors, and while it is still doable in theory, almost no management company will allow it."
A 220V dryer is best in the event the dryer is electric, says Santullo--if your electrical service permits the higher voltage. Otherwise, with 110V you’ll need more time to dry. Gas dryers will dry your things faster and be gentler on your power bill too.
How much will it cost?
According to Usharyov of Click and Improve.com, the cost to build a laundry area would typically cost somewhere in the range of $3,500, give or take an additional $500 to $1,000 for venting. If you're only adding a washer/dryer and not building a closet, cost for plumbing and electrical would run approximately $1,500- $2,500.
Be prepared to spend about $1,200 or so for a stackable apartment-size washer/dryer from manufacturers like Maytag, Kenmore, or Frigidaire. You can easily pay $2000 and up for higher-end brands like LG, Miele and Bosch.
For a combo washer/dryer, I can personally recommend the LG ventless washer/dryer combo, which starts around $1,400. I've used it for four years and although the amount of time it takes to dry has taken some getting used to, I think it's ideal as an apartment washer/dryer combo where space is limited. And as mentioned above loads need to be smaller too.
Tracy Kaler was a designer, decorator and renovator in her last life. Before working as a freelance writer, she held several furniture sales jobs in the Big Apple and purchased a new wardrobe. Now she works in her pajamas and commutes two feet to her desk each day. This is one of the few advantages of living in a New York apartment, and well, so much for that wardrobe.