Hanging laundry bag.
Pascal Blancon
After moving to Stowe, Vermont, from New York City in 1996, Fina Johnson began transforming her Cape Cod house from merely livable to efficient and comfortable. Her latest endeavor: installing a laundry chute from her bedroom closet to her newly finished basement. "I work in real estate and keep seeing laundry chutes in all of these houses—they're ingenious," says Johnson. "I won't miss climbing up and down my stairs as much either."

Adding a laundry chute to a house can be like threading a needle in the dark. Ideally, one should have an X ray—in the form of a blueprint—to plot a course through the house's frame and mechanicals. Even with blueprints, however, finding a straight drop from hamper to washer can be difficult, especially after remodeling, and often requires sacrificing a closet or nook. "You should make a chute as direct as possible but, if it has curves, they should be big and gradual," says This Old House contractor Tom Silva. The chase can be made of wood, melamine, drywall or sheet metal as long as the joints are sealed to ensure the smooth passage of clothes. For plywood, which tends to snag polysynthetics, carpenter Sid Bartlett of Patterson Construction in Moscow, Vermont, coats the inside with high-gloss paint. Although Johnson's chase—made of plywood with a bird's-eye maple veneer—felt silky to the touch, Bartlett worried that damp towels might eventually raise the grain, so he rubbed paste wax along the inside.

Although a chute's design depends on the house, Tom recommends an elevated door to prevent kids from accidentally falling down the chute. State building codes might regulate size, placement and design, and sometimes require a trapdoor to prevent fires from traveling up a chute. Dan Priest of the National Association of Home Builders suggests contacting local building officials to get the code information "straight from the horse's mouth with the most recent amendments."

The tricky part of a chute often starts just below the floorboards. In Johnson's case, the blueprints were long lost, so what she thought was a clear route quickly became a mapless maze. After prying up the carpet and floorboards, Bartlett could see the chute was on a collision course with a thermostat wire, a water pipe, a drainpipe and three outlet wires. "This is going to be a design-built chute," he said, meaning he'd have to build a chase that jigged in just the right spot to avoid the house's innards. He reached down into the floor space and poked 3 1/4-inch-long framing nails through the ceiling drywall from inside the cavity to determine where the chute would open into the laundry room. Downstairs, he traced the opening, using a framing square and a pencil to connect the dots of the nail tips.

After cutting the ceiling hole, he went out to the garage to build the 18-inch-long chase. He inserted the chase into the basement ceiling and attached a three-sided slide to the ceiling and wall, hence directing clothes into a laundry basket. Upstairs, he built the other end of the slide: a three-sided hatch door that opens to reveal a bottomless hamper. Then the chute was ready for a trial run. Johnson gleefully tossed in a red towel, expecting to hear a verbal thumbs-up from Bartlett below. But after several seconds of disconcerting silence, she realized the towel was missing in action.

She called down to Bartlett through the chute, and he poked a broom handle up into the passageway. The towel, which was hung up on a splinter, came tumbling down. Bartlett smoothed the rough spot with 220-grit sandpaper and a dab of paste wax. Johnson tossed in another test load, and this time it landed with a delightful whoosh in the basket.
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