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Q: I want to install a washer/dryer in my co-op apartment. What do I need to know about the approval process, what kind of machines should I get, and how much will they cost?
Schlepping countless loads up and down from your building’s basement—or back and forth to the local laundromat—can get old quickly. Why not just plunk down some money and get a washer/dryer in your own apartment?
Not so fast. Before you start shopping for appliances and creating the laundry “room” of your dreams, you’ll need to get your board’s (or building management’s) permission.
Assuming you clear that not-insignificant hurdle, you’ll need to stay on the right side of the building code in how the machines are installed and choose the right location and appliances for your situation.
The following expert guidance will help you determine your options.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post was published in March 2018. We are presenting it again with updated information for November 2019.]
Check with your board or building
Many New York buildings (rentals, co-ops, and condos) do not allow washer/dryers, period. Some co-ops (and condos) will only allow them on a case-by-case basis. That means you should always get permission from your board or building management. (FYI, here's what can happen if you don’t.)
There’s generally a logical reason why these appliances aren’t permitted. In older buildings, the waste pipes can be either too small or packed with sediment, so adding suds can cause back ups that affect nearby apartments.
"If the building or specific line of apartments has existing draining issues, you certainly don't want to add more to it," says Philip Kraus, president of Fred Smith Plumbing and Heating Company. Otherwise a small-capacity unit that uses low-sudsing detergent should be fine.
What’s more, if your washer malfunctions or overflows, it could cause damage to the floors below. This is why many buildings require a containment pan under the washer along with an automatic shut-off valve and an overflow sensor in the pan.
Dryers can present their own hazards (more on this to follow).
Should you get the coveted go-ahead, you’ll need to be mindful of these other considerations.
Beware of wet-over-dry restrictions
Approval in hand, the next step is to figure out where the units can be installed.
Most likely they will need to be in or near a “wet space,” generally the kitchen or a bathroom, to be close to the waste and supply pipes (aka the “stack”).
An adjacent closet is a common option, though you may not want to give up that precious storage space.
The closet might also constitute a “wet-over-dry” installation whereby any potential leaks from a closet would cause damage to a bedroom or living room in the apartment below yours. If all the units in your line share the same layout this will be easy to predict, but not so if you or your downstairs neighbors has altered that. (Your board will know.)
Complying with the DOB is key
When installing a new washer, the city’s Department of Buildings requires a master plumber to obtain a permit and do the work.
“Some buildings will want the engineer in the building to weigh in with any additional specifications,” says Kraus.
If you are using gas machines (something Kraus advises against given the extra hassle), you’ll need to tap into an existing legal gas line and provide adequate ventilation, which is why they are typically put in a windowed bathroom or kitchen. According to a department spokesperson, the DOB does allow them to be installed in closets as long as the code requirements for ventilation are met (for example, by connecting to the building's mechanical system).
The closet must also have a sprinkler head, in buildings where a full sprinkler system is required (same for an electric dryer).
Stacked vs. side-by-side units—and where to put them
Often the most logical place for these appliances is in a second, full bath—say, replacing a tub with a shower stall and a stacked washer and dryer. Or you could convert an entire half-bath into a laundry station.
Some owners are installing laundry machines in the kitchen. Who doesn’t want to accomplish two chores at the same time—like cooking a meal and doing a load of towels?
“I have seen more washer/dryers in kitchens, especially for retrofits,” says interior designer Jennifer Morris of JMorris Design. The kitchen will also typically need proximity to gas lines if you are looking for gas machines. That said, you may not have enough space to fit these machines into a kitchen seamlessly, and the height of many washer and dryer units is taller than a typical counter height.
Morris's verdict? A stacked combo is going to be best but a side-by-side setup offers great functionally, especially in a bathroom. “Plus you can use the tops for treating stains, drying or folding items. and piling clean clothes between loads.”
An all-in-one washer/dryer is another space-saving option, though according to consumer reviews (and our own in-house experience), the dryer can take as much as three times longer than a regular dryer, meaning you’ll need to do smaller loads at a time—and forget about washing large items like comforters in the sized-down drum.
Unlike with regular dryers, these combo units do not have a lint tray, so combating lint build-up is an ongoing ordeal that requires regular wipe-downs and a once-every-few-year adventure taking apart and scraping the inner workings clean.
On the plus side, a combo unit is ventless, meaning you can install it anywhere there’s plumbing (such as in place of a dishwasher).
Going with gas or electric dryers
Gas dryers are definitely more efficient—the dryer will dry your clothes faster and be gentler on your electric bill (reducing your usage by as much as 30 percent).
But gas machines require an existing legal gas line that you can tap into. (Here’s why you may not want to go down this road.)
Because many apartments do not allow for this possibility, your only option may be electric, which can run off a normal wall outlet. In terms of voltage, a 220-volt dryer will dry clothes faster than one with 110 volts, assuming your electrical service permits the higher voltage. Klaus says older buildings might also be incapable of supporting this output, at least in every unit.
The pros and cons of high-efficiency machines
These Euro-style units use less water and call for high-efficiency detergents (look for “He” on the label) that produce fewer suds, making them easier on plumbing and the planet. Indeed, they are the only models allowed by some buildings.
There are a couple potential downsides: Some owners complain of mildew problems after prolonged use. It's best to keep the washer door cracked open between uses to dry out the interior. The wash cycle is also longer than normal, trying the patience of many a user, though the drying time will be shorter (thanks to the extra water extraction capabilities of these washers).
Why you need to clean the lint filter
Take Robert De Niro's Central Park West apartment fire as a cautionary tale: It all started with a clogged lint filter in the dryer.
Besides cleaning the lint filter of the dryer after each use (per every owner’s manual), you'll need to have a professional inspect the exhaust areas and remove 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. Reason being, longer ducts often have elbows where lint can become lodged and then eventually harden or become sopping wet due to condensation. The solution is either to have a booster fan at midpoint or an exhaust fan on the roof, or even both.
Vizzi's company, Indoor Environmental Solutions, charges around $89 for a dryer inspection and another $100 for cleaning. “It’s a small investment that can avoid a much larger cost in the future and an important step in protecting yourself and your neighbors.”
Many newer machines are equipped to shut down in the event of a fire, so you may want to add the igniter shutoff to your list of must haves.
How much you’ll spend
Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor, estimates that adding a stackable washer/dryer to a closet space could cost around $5,000. That includes the cost of running new plumbing and electrical lines to the space.
“If you’re able to take advantage of existing lines, say in a bathroom or kitchen, you might be able to cut the budget in half,” he adds.
Be prepared to spend about $1,500 or so for a stackable apartment-size washer/dryer from manufacturers such as Maytag, Kenmore, or Frigidaire.
Electrolux units start at around $1,000 each for washers and dryers.
Midea boasts the largest drums among front-load washer/dryers in the standard 27-inch width; a set will cost you around $2,400.
Ventless washer/dryer combos such as by LG (often the highest-rated option) start at around $1,600.
As with other home appliances, it’s always a good idea to purchase the highest quality models that fit your budget. Given the average lifespan for a washer/dryer is over 10 years, you’ll be spreading that investment over the long haul.
—Earlier versions of this article contained reporting and writing by Tracey Kaler and Mimi O'Connor.