Contractor tips: Wise advice for laundry room design

Laundry rooms these days are migrating upstairs from basements, where they've traditionally sat in most homes. Sometimes these rooms are little more than two appliances and a slop sink in an unfinished space. While this is a step up from rubbing the clothes on a rock at river's edge, most people are looking for a better laundry experience.

If you are upgrading your laundry room but are still keeping it in the basement, the issues you deal with are mostly about aesthetics and function -- better lighting, counter space and other common issues. But if you are moving the setup to upper levels, there are different concerns. These are heavy-duty appliances -- one filled with water and one with heat, so you need to be careful. These tips can help you handle this serious situation with appropriate care and planning.

One of the first upgrades to make to a laundry room is adding counter space. Front-loading washers free up space on top of the appliance, so it is possible to install a counter over the washer and dryer. Make sure to leave space for the machines to move without hitting the counter. You'll need to install wood blocking to support the counter -- don't rest it on the machine.

This chandelier certainly does sparkle, but it's not practical lighting for the laundry room on its own. Fortunately, it doesn't need to do the heavy lifting in this room because there are recessed lights for ambient lighting and undercabinet lighting for task lighting. Other than added counter space, better lighting is one of the first upgrades you should make to your laundry room, so you don't end up stepping out of the house with a spot on your shirt you couldn't see.

To make the task of moving wet laundry into the dryer easier, make sure that the washer and dryer are installed so the door swing on each is opposite, and that the door of the dryer doesn't get in the way as you toss clothes from one to the other. When you purchase appliances, ask the salesperson if the doors can be switched easily at home if the swing isn't right on the one you buy.

If your laundry is in an area open to view as people pass through your house -- like a mudroom -- you'll want to keep things hidden. Some of the same things that we install in kitchens to make life easier work in a laundry as well. If you are building a kitchen and laundry at the same time, consider combining the cabinet order and get accessories like this pullout ironing board. Or use the old kitchen cabinets in the laundry and add an aftermarket pullout trash can, like the one available at Rockler.

The closer your laundry room is to the rest of your house, the more sound will be an issue. If you are building the room from scratch, install batt insulation in the walls to reduce noise. These are heavy appliances that move around a lot. If the laundry is going to be on an upper floor, the floor joists should be reinforced to handle the load. Stiffening the floor will also reduce noise from rattling objects nearby.

A noise you don't want to ignore is what's known as "water hammer." Newer machines add small bursts of water repeatedly, and the water turning on and off can rattle the pipes in the wall, potentially causing leaks. If you hear a clunking sound when the washer runs, consult a plumber before it's too late. On the outside of the wall, a burst washer hose can flood your house in a minute, so make sure you are using braided stainless steel reinforced hoses.

The washing machine itself could leak, so if you're on an upper floor, it should be installed in a pan with a drain, as shown in this picture. Better yet, tile the floor and have a floor drain installed. This way you'll be ready for any floods and you can mop the floor right into the drain.

The drying rack above the sink pictured here is a great way to save energy, but you'll want to get rid of the moisture in the air, so install a dehumidifier or an exhaust fan ducted to the exterior.

We've talked a lot about water, but remember there's fire in the room too. The most important safety concern in your laundry room is the dryer duct. A smooth-walled rigid duct, properly installed with the minimum run and fewest number of turns is critical. Make sure the dryer isn't pushed against the wall, crimping the exhaust. Clean your lint filter and check the ductwork and exterior outlet at least once a year for lint buildup. You've made your laundry space beautiful and functional -- don't let a flood or fire ruin it.


Kenny Grono is the owner of Buckminster Green LLC, (, a remodeling company based in Philadelphia, Pa.

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