I want to install a washer/dryer combo 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?
A washer/dryer of your very own is typically on most buyers’ wish lists—especially amid the pandemic. Carrying loads of laundry up and down from your building’s basement—or back and forth to the local laundromat—can get old quickly. However, if you’re thinking of forking out cash for a washer/dryer combo and getting it installed in your apartment, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
Before you start allocating closet space to house your new appliances, you’ll need to get your board or building management to give permission. That’s because some older plumbing systems aren’t equipped to handle the workload of washing machines in every apartment. In addition, there are “wet-over-dry” rules to keep in mind as well as permit and safety issues.
Assuming you can get approval—itself a tall order—you’ll need to choose the right location and appliances for your situation and stay on the right side of NYC’s building codes.
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 2020.]
Check with your board or building
Many New York buildings, whether they are rentals, co-ops, or condos, do not allow washer/dryers at all. Some co-ops and condos will only allow them on a case-by-case basis, others have blanket policies. You should always get permission from your board or building management—if you don’t, the consequences can range from having the machine removed to owing thousands of dollars to your neighbors if there’s a fire or flood linked to the installation.
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, or the building or specific line of apartments may have existing drainage issues, so adding suds can cause back ups that affect nearby apartments.
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 overflow sensor in the pan and an automatic shut-off valve.
Dryers can present their own hazards (more on this to follow). Should you get the coveted go-ahead, you’ll still need to be mindful of wet-over-dry rules and Department of Building compliance (more on that below).
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 a kitchen or 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.
If you have a closet in mind, you’ll want to make sure an installation there doesn’t flout wet-over-dry rules where any potential leaks would cause damage to a bedroom or living room in the apartment below you. 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 have made alterations. This is something on which the board will be able to advise you.
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. Depending on the scope—if you’re altering a closet or the electrical or plumbing lines—you may need to get permits.
If you are using gas machines, 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.
The DOB does allow the appliances 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).
You’ll need a final DOB inspection for all gas and electric work to make sure it’s been done properly.
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/dryer. Another option is to convert an entire half-bath into a laundry station.
Some owners consider installing washer/dryers in the kitchen. One plus is that the kitchen typically has a gas line but space will also be a little tighter and the height of many washer and dryer units is taller than a typical counter height.
Jennifer Morris, interior designer and founder of JMorris Design, says clients are increasingly looking to carve out drying space in their apartments. “Air drying clothes is so much better on the wear of clothes than a dryer. If you can make room for clothes to hang, then you can do a quick tumble to get them soft.”
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 smaller drum.
A lot of combo units are ventless, meaning you can install them anywhere there’s plumbing (such as in place of a dishwasher). Some units, however, do require vents. You’ll need to address lint build-up either way. If there isn’t a vent the appliance may need regularly wipe-downs and once every few years you might have to take the unit apart and scrape the inner workings clean.
Going with gas or electric dryers
Appliances with energy star ratings are going to be the most efficient. According to the energy star guidance, gas dryers may cost less to operate but typically have a slightly higher initial price tag. Like most electric dryers, gas models need venting to the outside but they also require a dedicated gas line which may not always be practical and could add to the cost of installation.
Electric dryers may be slightly cheaper to purchase initially, but can be more expensive to run.
If outside venting isn’t practical, you can buy ventless electric models. They won’t need a dedicated gas line, but keep in mind most standard sized electric models do need a 240-volt outlet. That’s not always easy to facilitate in some older buildings. Some of the more compact dryers on the market however, do use a 120-volt wall outlet.
The pros and cons of high-efficiency machines
High-efficiency appliances typically use less water and call for specific detergents that produce fewer suds, making them easier on plumbing and the planet (look for “He” on the label). Indeed, they are the only models allowed by some buildings.
There are a couple of 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 users, 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
Lint build-up can be very dangerous—you’re combining heat and a flammable substance in close proximity—so you need to clean the lint filter with every use. This will typically be spelled out in the appliance user manual.
You might also want to have a professional inspect the exhaust areas and remove lint buildup every year or two. A dryer inspection typically costs under $100; cleaning will be an additional cost. However, 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.
Longer ducts with elbows can increase the lint build-up so if your appliance vents to the outside, this is an area where you need to be particularly cautious. It’s possible the lint can harden or even get wet due to condensation. One solution is to add a booster fan at the midpoint or an exhaust fan at the end. You can also have a thin section of the duct cut out and a second, removable lint trap added to catch build up. This is an area where a professional can advise you.
Many newer machines are equipped to shut down in the event of a fire, so you may want to add this ignition shut-off to your list of must haves.
How much you’ll spend
The cost of adding a stackable washer/dryer to a closet space could stretch to around $5,000. That includes the cost of running new plumbing and electrical lines to the space. However, there may be circumstances where you can cut some of that cost if you’re able to take advantage of existing lines, say in a bathroom or kitchen.
Be prepared to spend about $1,500 or so for a stackable apartment-size washer/dryer from manufacturers like Maytag, Kenmore, or Frigidaire. Electrolux units start at around $1,000 each for washers and dryers. You can easily pay $3,000 and up for higher-end brands like Miele and Bosch.
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