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Old 09-18-2011, 11:29 AM   #1
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80-year-old apartment buildings, washers, DFU values, FUD

Hi all--I hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful Sunday, at least here in NYC.

I'm looking for someone who has direct experience with installing clothes washers in pre-war apartment buildings.

I am on the board of such a building in Manhattan with 6 floors and 90 units. We're about to embark on a long, expensive project that involves replacing all the hot and cold water pipes throughout the building. Needless to say this isn't a DIY project; we've hired an engineering firm and are in the process of bidding the job out.

As long as we're going to be doing this, we thought, we should try to remedy whatever infrastructure issues prevent people from installing clothes washers in their apartments. Like many older buildings, we do not allow them, but all the new buildings have them, and here's an opportunity to modernize our building and attract buyers who would not otherwise consider a pre-war.

The problem is, it's very difficult to find anyone who has direct experience with this. Everyone's heard this or that, but no one has any firsthand information, and it just goes round and round. Someone says "There will be suds in the first-floor apartments!" and then someone else says "But aren't new washers more efficient and don't they use low-suds detergent?" Then someone says "Well my friend's apartment was totally ruined because the neighbors upstairs had a washing machine and the water line broke and flooded their living room!" and then someone replies, "But what about dishwashers? We allow them, and they can also leak--what's the difference?"

There's a general sense that this can't be an impossible task. There are millions and millions of people living in older buildings here, and in Europe, and everywhere, so can it be true that nobody has thought of a way to enable them to install washers without breaking open a wall and running a brand-new dedicated waste pipe and new supply lines?

We went looking for other buildings that allow washers, which only created more confusion. We have a policy from one building that allows them upon approval of an engineering plan by the board. And we have another one that allows them in combined apartments, where the owner has removed a kitchen.

So has anyone actually done this before who can speak to the issues or risks involved?

Thank you,
Willis Blackburn


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Old 09-18-2011, 01:17 PM   #2
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Some of my thoughts;

If you are replacing all the hot/cold supplies, I would think you want to replace all the drains also. You will have to open the walls (and probably the ceilings) regardless.

Buildings taller than 6 floors are equipped with washer hook ups. Back flow prevention valves can be installed to prevent back ups into lower units. Washing machine drip pans can be installed in each washer location.

With a washer you will need a 240 volt 30 amp dryer receptacle. While the walls are open you need to work on the electrical.

Sounds like a big project!


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Old 09-18-2011, 02:31 PM   #3
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Mostly 80 year old water & drain lines? It definitely sounds like it's time to replace them. There's going to be a major disruption to all the units and it will take a long time, but when it's done then the plumbing will be good to go for another 50~ years while the building will have 130 years of charm.

rjniles suggestions above are all excellent ones. One thing I would add is that the dryers will need some sort of venting system so factor that into the upgrades as well. Unless you decide that on the vent less option, which don't work nearly as well from my personal experience.
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Old 09-18-2011, 03:18 PM   #4
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If all the suites have common plans floor to floor, you might concider adding a dedicated stack for the laundrys. A multi-story wet vent. As you said, it's a long and expensive project, and if walls etc. are being ripped apart anyway.....At the base of the stack you have a suds pressure zone, but your engineers should know how to pipe the drains in these areas.
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Old 09-18-2011, 05:25 PM   #5
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Your engineer will figure out whether the water lines and drain lines are adequate to handle the washing machines. Not all of the machines will be on at the same time but there could be many of them on during the evening hours.

In a building that old there could be arteriosclerosis of the water pipes which would result in less flow (volume) than you might otherwise predict. Upper flow faucets could slow to a trickle.

Water heaters, if common, could be overwhelmed, giving some folks cold showers.
The good conscientious technician or serviceperson will carry extra oils and lubricants in case the new pump did not come with oil or the oil was accidentally spilled, so the service call can be completed without an extra visit.

Last edited by AllanJ; 09-18-2011 at 05:30 PM.
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