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A Guide to Laundry Room Renovations

A bright and cheerful laundry room makes sorting, washing, and folding clothes seem like less of a chore. 

Laundry Room Anthony Tieuli

A bright and cheerful laundry room makes sorting, washing, and folding clothes seem like less of a chore. When thinking about renovating this hardworking space, look at how your current facility is falling short: Is location the problem?

For most homeowners, the basement is perfectly adequate, but if doing laundry feels like spending time in a dreary dungeon, consider relocating it to the first or second floor. Be sure to take into account factors such as noise, humidity and possible flooding should a hose break. If the location is fine, maybe other upgrades are in order. Better built-in storage or a more efficient configuration will improve your laundry experience. For inspiration, look at images online and in home design magazines to get an idea of what layouts and styles appeal to you.

Budget Concerns and Financing

Once you have an idea of the scope of your project, set your budget. There are a variety of ways to finance your renovation, including a home equity loan or line of credit, as well as FHA and personal loans. In addition, some homeowners refinance their mortgages or borrow against their 401Ks.

Hiring a Pro

Building out a new laundry room and moving plumbing, electrical, and gas lines will require a licensed plumber and electrician. You’ll also need a plumber to install a gas dryer. Otherwise, you can tackle most laundry room projects yourself.

Laundry Room Basics

From high performance machines to smart storage solutions, the laundry room packs a lot of function into a small space.

Here are the main elements to consider:

Appliances

Washers need access to drains and hot and cold-water lines. Gas dryers require a gas line and venting to the outside, and electric dryers require their own dedicated circuit. If you have a gas hookup, consider going with a gas dryer—it will cost a little more initially but will be cheaper to operate over time.

Front-loading machines cost more but tend to be more efficient than top loaders. They are also easy to stack, and when positioned side by side, they can accommodate a countertop. Look at energy star ratings which will guide you to high-efficiency models.

The average width of a washer and dryer is 27 inches each. For loading and unloading, allow 36 inches in front of the washer and dryer. Stacked units are ideal for small spaces or secondary laundry areas. Some washers have 15-inch-high optional pedestals to elevate them to a more comfortable height. Finally, a high-speed spin cycle, which vibrates at 100-120 rpm, can be loud, so if your laundry room is close to a bedroom or the family room, look at noise ratings to find a quieter model.

Countertops

Consider adding a counter over your side-by-side washer and dryer for sorting and folding. Manufactured solid surface countertops, such as Corian, are moisture-friendly and easy to maintain.

Engineered quartz can be made to resemble higher-end marbles and it’s non-porous, so it will resist staining. Laminate is another durable and budget-friendly option. Butcher-block and bamboo also stand up well in the laundry room.

Electrical

Laundry rooms generally require one 20-amp circuit for laundry equipment such as a washer or a gas dryer.

An electric dryer needs its own 30-amp dedicated circuit. Like the bath, all laundry room receptacles must be GFCI-protected.

Flooring

Your laundry room floor should be durable and waterproof. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are ideal for laundry areas because they resist staining, bacteria, and odors. Vinyl flooring (including tiles, sheets, and luxury planks) is a great moisture-resistant option. Natural stone or cement tiles are attractive, durable, and easy to clean, but they can stain and must be sealed.

Lighting

Laundry rooms tend to be cramped or in the basement, so they are often one of the most challenging rooms in the house to light well. Start with a single, low-profile overhead light or canned ceiling lights to provide diffuse overall lighting. Incorporate task lighting, such as under-cabinet LED strips, to illuminate the workspace so you can spot a stain that needs to be pre-treated.

Sinks

Historically, the most popular sink style for a laundry room was the stand-alone, floor-mounted utility sink, mostly because its deep basin minimizes splashing. Other options are drop-in or overmount, undermount, and wall-mounted sinks. Materials include cast-iron, acrylic, porcelain, ceramic or stainless steel, though you may find soapstone utility sinks in older homes, especially in basement laundry rooms. When locating the sink, place it close to the washer to keep plumbing lines together.

Storage

Inexpensive standard kitchen cabinets are a good solution for hiding detergent bottles and clutter in the laundry room. Wall cubicles, open shelves, baskets and hanging clothes bars are smart additions that can maximize function. Other ideas for streamlining storage include hidden hampers, pull-out drying racks, and folding ironing boards.

Walls

Bright, happy hues will help make doing laundry feel less like work. Since laundry rooms can be wet or humid environments, consider an anti-microbial paint formula specifically designed to resist mold and mildew. If you’re using regular paint and have proper ventilation in your bathroom, opt for a satin or eggshell finish.

For a dose of personality, consider employing beadboard or a whimsical wallpaper. Solid latex or canvas-backed wallpapers are more suited to humidity or rapid temperature changes, so they’ll be better bets for the laundry room. They are also durable and easier to wipe down than more delicate wallpapers.

If you’re installing a sink and countertop for folding, you may want to add a protective and attractive backsplash. Inexpensive subway tile is a great pick for the laundry room.

Ventilation

Proper ventilation is key in the laundry room. The dryer exhaust must be piped directly outdoors (never to the attic). The metal pipe run should be as direct as possible and not exceed 45 feet. Install a self-closing vent outside instead of a louvered model to prevent outdoor air from coming into the house. Lint and dust must be cleaned regularly from the vent to prevent the risk of a fire.

Keeping the outside vent clean isn’t just a necessary safety measure, it also helps your dryer work more efficiently. Also, humidity builds up and has nowhere to go, which creates an environment ripe for mold and mildew growth One more thing: if you’re installing a washer and dryer in a closet, it will require a vented door and enough space around the machines to dissipate dryer heat.

Related Home Improvements to Consider

Having a well-appointed laundry room not only makes washing clothes more pleasant, it also adds value to your home. If you’re moving laundry facilities to the first or second floor, staying close to the existing plumbing lines is key to keeping costs in check. And remember, you don’t have to rip out all the fixtures and reconfigure the layout to get a laundry room that feels fresh; updated tile, lighting, and a new countertop can transform the room.

Or you could give the laundry room a secondary function, combining it with a potting station or a pet grooming area. And if you’re tired of making trips up and down stairs, consider adding a laundry chute, provided there’s a clear path between floors.

Repairs and DIY Projects

Routine maintenance is necessary to keep your machines clean and operating at maximum efficiency. To prevent mold and mildew, clean the lint trap on your washer weekly and gently wipe down the gasket with a 1:1 mix of white vinegar and water.

Quarterly check the exterior vent while the dryer is running to make sure it’s working properly. Occasionally, problems arise with laundry equipment. If your washer leaks, check the hoses. If there are any small cracks or splits, replace them immediately.

Many DIY upgrades can improve functionality in the laundry room. Space-saving tricks include installing a folding ironing board or open shelving above a counter. Building a laundry pedestal is another project that combines storage and utility. These easy-to-construct boxes elevate your machine to a more comfortable height while providing drawers to stash supplies.

Recommended Tools and Equipment

Washer and dryer accidents are common causes of both flooding and fire, so incorporate these items to stay safe: braided steel washer hoses (they won’t split like rubber ones); a metal dryer-vent pipe sealed with foil tape; an outlet box that’s recessed in the wall so hoses and valves are protected; an automatic shut-off valve; and a washer drain pan to catch any overflow.

To handle basic plumbing emergencies, you’ll need water pump pliers, which need to be big enough to fit around pipes, an adjustable wrench, a basin wrench, a decent screwdriver, and a snake for drain traps.

Tools for projects and upgrades include a standard level, tape measure, hammer, screwdriver, and cordless drill with driver and bits. If you’re laying new tile for a laundry room redo, plan to have on hand a wet saw, trowels, grout float, grout sponge, chalk line kit, rubber mallet, tile spacers, and a bucket for the thinset mortar.

Make sure you’re prepared for any project by referring to the necessary tools recommended.