In the home where I grew up, a rambling Queen Anne Victorian in suburban New Jersey, the washer and dryer were located just off the basement boiler room, next to a plastic slop sink. Two dingy hopper windows looked out onto the driveway where we shot hoops and played street hockey. I can still smell the potpourri of detergent, dryer exhaust, and mildew.
A few decades later, in the midst of a gut renovation of an 1882 Brooklyn brownstone, it was my turn to plan a laundry room. Given the presence of a garden rental apartment in the building, the basement wasn’t an option. That’s just as well. Like most Americans these days, my wife and I wanted the washer and dryer on an upper floor, closer to where laundry is actually produced.
We didn't have a lot of room to work with in what will become an owner’s duplex—about 1,500 square feet. That precluded a full-sized laundry room along the lines of what you see on HGTV and design websites, with storage cabinets, a sink, drying rods, and other accessories. A laundry closet, with a stackable washer and dryer, was more realistic.
After several meetings with our architect, we decided to locate the laundry closet at the top of the staircase, by borrowing a few square feet from the master bathroom (see the Before plan below). But as one astute viewer pointed out during a Facebook Live chat devoted to the project plan, a single false step could send an unsuspecting laundry-doer tumbling backward down the steps.
At first we thought about moving the laundry downstairs. But after some back and forth, we hit on a suitable compromise: sliding the laundry a few feet to the right to eliminate the falling hazard (see the After plan). It seems obvious now, but in the heat of the moment, we worried that one design tweak would have a domino effect on the rest of the project. In the end we learned that sometimes on a major renovation, you have to make a few left turns to get going in the right direction. (See “Use Virtual Reality to Visualize Your Home Renovation” for more of the story.)
Sorting Out the Logistics
Before pulling the trigger on the new plan, we blocked out the space with 2x4s. To our relief, we saw that the master shower would still be plenty large. But we’d have to move the toilet to the shared bedroom wall (not ideal, but hey, marriage is an intimate arrangement). It was also clear that we’d never be able to shoehorn a linen closet into the master bathroom, no matter how streamlined. By stealing a few inches of floor space from the kids’ bathroom, however, we’d be able to recess a linen cabinet into the wall opposite their toilet.
As for the mechanicals, the new location turned out to be ideal. Because the laundry closet is basically part of the master bathroom, my contractor had no trouble tapping a water supply line for the washing machine and running its wastewater drain line to the house’s main plumbing stack. He also added a 240-volt line for the electric dryer and ran the dryer vent directly up through the roof above.
Although there’s no floor drain in the closet, my contractor waterproofed the entire floor area and added a curb across the threshold, in case of a leak. For good measure, I plan to put down a smart water sensor that will ping my phone if it detects a leak. We never run the washer before leaving the house for an extended period of time, so I’d hopefully make it back in time to stave off major catastrophe.
Picking the Washer and Dryer
With the location decided, that just left choosing the appliances. For the dryer, I ended up opting for a Whirlpool Duet WED87HEDW, an electric dryer that delivered excellent drying performance in our dryer tests.
Measuring 27 inches wide, the dryer is smaller than some of the supersized machines that manufacturers have come out with in recent years, but it's still a full-sized model. Early on, I’d thought about newer 24-inch-wide compact machines because space is tight, but Consumer Reports’ tests have found that performance with the washers in particular can be lacking and vibration is often quite intense—a concern with second-story installations like my own.
Dryer in hand, I then worked the open market for my washing machine, though I of course referenced Consumer Reports’ washer ratings first. Whirlpool’s WFW75HEFW front loader was compatible with my dryer, and earned stellar scores for washing performance and showed Very Good vibration control in our tests. Best of all: I nabbed the machine for just $600 during a promo at one of the big-box stores.
Now I can’t wait for the renovation to be finished—and for laundry day to finally arrive.
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