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Q. I want to replace my washer-dryer with one that vents to the outside. What's involved and much should it cost?
A. As much as I'm reluctant to answer a question with “it depends,” in this case, it really does depend. Adding a dryer vent is not a small job. It has a lot of specific elements which, undertaken by themselves--i.e., not a part of a larger remodeling project--can prove complex and expensive.
Start by asking your property manager whether the building will let you create an external vent and, if so, the process you need to go through in order to build one. New York City codes, and most condo and co-op boards, require that you file a permit to do a job like this, meaning that you’d have to hire an architect to prepare filing drawings, which could run you $2,000 or more. (The permit will cost a minimum of $250.)
Keep in mind that you definitely won’t be allowed to tap your new vent into any existing kitchen or bathroom exhausts, which are designed to remove air from internal rooms like kitchens and baths that generate odors/humidity. Exhaust ducts draw air at a very specific rate, calculated for the number of apartments that share the shaft. Tapping into the shaft with a dryer exhaust--which pushes hot air--upsets the balance of the draw, and can be a fire hazard.
Next, you'll need to hire a contractor to run a duct, anchored to the ceiling, from your dryer through the exterior wall to the outside of your building. (Your condo/co-op will have rules on what you need to do to penetrate that exterior wall, but the duct--and the hole--can be no more than four inches in diameter, and can't be within six feet of a neighbor's window.)
New York City code says the duct must run less than 25 feet horizontally, meaning you have limits on where you can put your dryer. Each bend--each change in direction to clear an obstruction--will deduct five feet from that 25. The duct also needs to be enclosed in a fireproof enclosure, like Sheetrock. And if there’s any modification of gas lines necessary, you’ll need a licensed plumber to do the installation.
What is all of this work likely to cost? Again, it depends--but you’re probably looking at a range of $5,000 to $10,000.
You may ask, what about venting the dryer another way, like through the top of a window that goes into an airshaft? Wouldn’t that be cheaper? The answer may be yes, but it could also be dangerous, the main concern being a potential fire hazard, says Bolster's architectural advisor, Mary A. Burke, FAIA Principal, Burke Design and Architecture.
Burke recommends consulting with the Department of Buildings about getting a permit to do this.
"This really needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis," says Burke. "I would check with the building's board to make sure it's okay before proceeding with the work."
Fraser Patterson is a former general contractor and the founder of Bolster, a NYC-based company that guarantees the price and outcome of home improvement projects with a first-of-its-kind Home Improvement Project Bond. For more information, visit http://www.getbolster.com. To ask a renovation question, click here.