Liberating The Laundry Room From The Basement


December 14, 1991|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

Where should you locate the laundry facilities when you're building or remodeling? Didn't used to be a question: Washer and dryer went in the basement. If the house didn't have a basement, they went into a separate laundry room, usually somewhere near the back door.

Then designers and builders thought, hey, the biggest part of laundry is linens, and where are the linens? Where the bedrooms are. So why lug heavy sheets and towels all over the house; why not put the washer and dryer on the second floor, or near the bedrooms?

The trouble is, people don't spend most most of their waking time at home in the bedroom -- they use the "living" areas, kitchen, family room, "breakfast" nook. So there's been a trend to incorporating the washer and dryer into kitchen cabinetry.

The trend has been helped by technology that made full-size washers and dryers sturdily stackable.

Jim Krengel, a certified kitchen designer who is design director consultant to the Maytag Co., points out that modern stackables take up a space only 27 inches square. That makes them easily concealed behind cabinets that match the rest of the kitchen.

"Generally," Mr. Krengel says, "the second floor is considered the best location" for the laundry area. "But bringing it to the kitchen or a related area can be a big help."

In fact, each location has its advantages and drawbacks. Here are some things to consider about each location:


Advantages: Plumbing may be easy, and therefore inexpensive; floor is usually concrete, providing a sturdy, vibration-free surface; and if there's a leak, it may get the floor wet, but it won't ruin any ceilings.

Disadvantages: If the plumbing enters the basement above the floor level, or the main drain is above floor level, the washer may need an ejecter pump to pump water up to the drain. The basement is usually the farthest location from the sources of dirty laundry and, if it's an older house, may be a fairly dark and not-fun place to be. A laundry chute can make the basement location a lot more convenient.

*Second floor.

Advantages: Close to sources of dirty laundry; equipment may be designed neatly into a family bathroom space (side by side, full-size washer and dryer combos take up a space about 30 inches deep by 60 inches wide); laundry activities never intrude into "public" areas of the house.

Disadvantages: Vibrations while equipment is operating -- especially during an unbalanced spin cycle -- can damage walls by causing drywall nailheads to pop out or taped seams to break; if the space isn't adequately ventilated, equipment may put too much moisture into the space (especially where laundry is part of bath); plumbing may be more complicated -- thus more expensive; a leak could cause major problems. Also the equipment may be noisy; if kids go to bed at 8, that may curtail any late-night laundering.

There are ways to prevent leaks, or at least to confine them. The washer can be installed in a washer pan, a shallow, watertight metal tubwith a built-in drain. The floor should be tile or vinyl sheetgoods so water that leaks doesn't seep through into other parts of the house. Another way to contain leaks is to install a raised threshold so water doesn't run onto adjoining floors.

Many washer accidents occur because the drain is clogged or the hose has fallen out of the drain. A recessed washer box encloses the hot and cold water hookups, so leaks at the valve will be channeled into the drain. (Washer boxes are pretty standard in new houses, but you should be sure to ask the plumber for one if you're doing a rehab.)

A final consideration in an upstairs laundry is remembering to turn off the water valves before you leave the house for an extended period. Hoses wear out; if one breaks while you're not there, and the water is on, it could be a disaster.

*Kitchen or nearby laundry room.

Advantages: It's the heart of most family activity, so the laundry lieutenant doesn't have to be out of the action; the units can be concealed completely in cabinetry.

Disadvantages: Laundry still has to hauled around; the plumbing is no simpler than for second-floor installation; leaks and vibration may still cause big problems. Noise may still be a problem as well and laundry activity may intrude in cooking/eating/homework-doing areas.

It all comes down to personal preference. How and when do you do laundry? Are there safety concerns with steps? Do you want to be able to hear the washer changing cycles or the dryer shut off? Do you do laundry often, so the location should be as close as possible to the source? The right choice is what works best for you.

Next: Bleeding radiators.

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is Home Editor of The Sun.

If you have questions, comments, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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