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Can I install a washer/dryer in my NYC apartment?

If you’re able to get the go-ahead, most likely you’ll have to install near a “wet space,” which means in or adjacent to your kitchen or a bathroom

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Question:

I want to install a washer/dryer in my co-op apartment. What should I know?

Answer:

If you’re tired of trudging up and down from your basement—or worse, back and forth to the laundromat—you may be considering putting a washer/dryer in your apartment.

But before you start shopping for a washer/dryer or picking a good spot in your apartment to install it, you need to get your board's permission. Here's a checklist of questions and answers to help you confirm that you're able to install that washer/dryer in your apartment and figure out what type of appliance you can get.

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 them 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 pipes can be either too small or packed with sediment. Suds can back up and affect nearby apartments, which is a risk most boards won’t take.

"If the building is having draining issues, you certainly don't want to add more to it," says Philip Kraus, president of Fred Smith Plumbing.

European-style "high-efficiency" washing machines are easier on plumbing, because they use less water and require a special high-efficiency detergent that produces fewer suds. There's a downside to these Euro models: 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.

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, close to what's called the “stack," meaning the waste and supply pipes. 

You can put the machines directly in the kitchen or bathroom or in an adjacent closet if there is enough room. If you have very little closet space, though, taking up a closet with a washer and dryer may not be the best idea. If you have two full baths, a logical place would be in a second bath. One option is to remove the tub, replace it with a small shower stall, and install a stacked washer and dryer.

If the kitchen is your only option, a washer/dryer combo unit (one appliance that functions as both a washer and a dryer) may be the best option if you need to save space. Bear in mind that while the washer portion of an all-in-one unit will operate similar to a standard washing machine, the drying cycle will take about two to three times as long as a regular dryer. So 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 give approval, 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 city Department of Buildings will require a permit and also that a master plumber do the piping installation to accommodate the new washer. (A master plumber is a plumbing contractor who has been licensed by the city.)

In addition, the correct washing machine drainage standpipe needs to be installed. The minimum requirement is installation be in compliance with city code, but some buildings mandate additional precautions such as checking valves on cold and hot water supplies and using a washing-machine box for a clean, professional installation. 

What can go wrong?

After it’s been installed, if your washer malfunctions or overflows, there is the chance it may leak into the unit beneath you, causing damage and an unhappy downstairs shareholder. A containment pan can be installed under the washer to prevent damage to lower floors.

Another common solution is the installation of an automatic shut-off valve, with a sensor placed in the containment pan under the washer. If 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 De Niro's Central Park West apartment on fire are also a hazard. You'll need to get the machine and exhaust areas inspected 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. Her company, Indoor Environmental Solutions, charges around $89 for a dryer inspection and another $100 for cleaning. But even non-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 New York City dryers are electric because gas units are required to vent to the outside, which isn’t possible in most apartments. However, gas dryers will dry your clothes faster and be gentler on your power bill. In terms of voltage, a 220-volt dryer is best, if your electrical service permits the higher voltage. Otherwise, with 110 volts you’ll need more time to dry. If you go with an electric all-in-one washer and dryer, then there is no need to vent.

Based on Brick Underground's in-house experience with vent-less washer/dryers, here are a few things to keep in mind: they are a different animal from standard washers, particularly the dryers, due to the lack of gas heat. Not only does it take longer to dry clothes, but the clothes tend not to emerge completely dry. Also, the units tend to be small, making big items like blankets a tough if not impossible order. There's no lint trap, so lint buildup is also an issue, around the door seal, and within the machine itself, requiring regular wipe-downs and a once-every-few-year adventure taking apart and scraping clean the inner workings

How much will it cost?

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 $1,200 or so for a stackable apartment-size washer/dryer from manufacturers such as Maytag, Kenmore, or Frigidaire. You can easily pay $2,000 and up for higher-end brands like LG, Miele, and Bosch. 

Expect to pay at least $1,000-$1,500 for a ventless washer/dryer combo. The combo unit from LG is a popular option, and starts at about $1,600.