Washer/Dryer Retrofit
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WASHER/DRYER RETROFIT

QUESTION: Can an HOA prevent an owner from installing a clothes washer and dryer without first obtaining a study advising that such installation would damage the plumbing or other common interests?

ANSWER: I understand the desire by owners to add modern conveniences in their units. A washer and dryer not only makes life easier, it increases property values. Unfortunately, if the developer did not design the building to include washers and dryers, installing them at a later date can be problematic. This is especially true in buildings originally built as apartments and later converted to condominiums.

Utility Lines. Running electrical and water lines through the walls to a new washer/dryer is usually not a problem, provided the vendors are licensed and insured and everything is done to Code. The problem is water usage. Most condominium developments are master metered for water. That means everyone else in the association pays via their regular assessments for the increased water usage by the owner with the clothes washer. In my experience, owners are not very charitable on this issue--they don't like paying out of their pockets for someone else's higher water consumption.

Common Area Laundry Room. Buildings that are not designed for an in-unit washer/dryer often have communal laundry rooms with coin-operated machines for residents to use. Associations rely on the income from those machines to offset utility costs. Owners who install their own washers and dryers deprive the association of income from the communal machines (which raises the cost for everyone else). In addition, residents with in-unit washer are more apt to use their own machines more frequently than they would coin-operated machines, thus increasing their use of "free" water.

Drain Lines. The biggest obstacle is the building's drain line. The sudden force and volume of water into a drain pipe during the rinse cycle can overload the line and lead to backups in other units. When developers build multi-unit developments, they calculate normal water flow and only install lines needed to handle those flows per applicable building codes. Clothes washers need larger lines due to the larger flow and turbulence of water plus the sudsing effect of the detergent. Even if existing lines can handle the load of one washer, can it handle additional washers in the stack? If not, can the board approve one washer but deny all others in the stack? To handle the increased load, a larger drain line may need to be installed from the washer through the building to the sewer. That means opening the walls in the units below the new washer. This can be costly and disruptive.

Floor Drain. New complexes often have floor drains for mechanical failures or backups so water does not flood adjacent units. To install a floor drain to meet building codes can usually be done but may be costly.

Dryer Vent. Venting the clothes dryer can also be problematic. Dryer exhaust lines cannot, under any circumstances, vent into the common area walls, ceiling or floor spaces. Doing so puts moisture into those spaces that can lead to dry rot that destroys the wood structure and mold that can create health problems for residents. It also puts lint into the space which can lead to a fire. If the dryer vents to the outside (as it should) there is a limit on the hose length (no more than 25') because of lint accumulation in the line and back pressure buildup. Where venting to the outside is not possible, a special indoor dryer vent can be used but they have their own problems. Every time a load is dried, a gallon of water or more is released into the unit, creating excessive humidity with possible condensation and mold.

Noise and Vibration. Once the washer and dryer are installed, noise and vibrations can radiate through walls and floors into surrounding units. The problem may be minor or it may be significant depending on how the building was constructed. Sometimes the problem can be cured with a thick rubber mat under each machine.

Owner's Duty. The duty is not the board's to commission and pay for a feasibility study. The obligation falls to the owner who wants to alter common area electrical and water lines and drains, and install venting. Even if the project is feasible, there is no obligation by the board to approve it. Every one of the problems I described can, in most circumstances, be overcome--it's only a matter of money. In older condominium developments and especially condo conversions, the cost can outweigh the benefits.

Recommendation: There is clearly a benefit to installing clothes washers and dryers in units. Boards may want to set up a plan for retrofitting the building under the following conditions:

  • the retrofit is feasible,

  • larger drain lines can be installed,

  • proper dryer venting can be installed,

  • everything is done to building codes by licensed and insured contractors, and

  • the requesting party pays pay for it.

Under those conditions, a gradual retrofit of the building may be desirable.

ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.

Adams Stirling PLC