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Ask the Builder: Counters are key to optimizing laundry room space

Ask the Builder: Counters are key to optimizing laundry room space

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The washer and dryer are going to have a giant top over them.

Q: I need help with my laundry room. I’m enlarging it in a remodeling project and know I need more countertop room. I’m interested in ways to make the most of the space in the laundry room. I’ve got a healthy budget, and now is the time to put all options out on the table for consideration. —Maria A., Tuscon, Ariz.

A: Not everybody is lucky enough to have a room in their living space for a laundry. A lot of people have to keep their washer and dryer in the basement, especially in older homes. That’s the way it was in the home I grew up in as well as the first two homes I lived in after getting married. Finally, in the last home I built for my family, I created a dreamy laundry room with lots of space and amenities.

If you’ve done lots of laundry, you know how valuable counter space is for folding clothes. These flat surfaces need to be strategically located. You may find yourself setting your baskets of laundry up on regular-height countertops. I feel this is a huge mistake because it’s so uncomfortable to get things out of the basket. And putting the basket on the floor often causes uncomfortable bending.

The way I solve conundrums like Maria’s is to stop and think about the pain points of the laundry process. You should do this too. For example, when you do laundry, what causes problems for you? Do you have to reach far for the soap? Do you have to bend over too much to load clothes to be laundered? Do you bump into things? Do you wish you had an ironing board in the laundry room? I can list lots of other questions, but I think you know how to create a list of things that make you grumble when doing laundry.

Think about convenience. A short bench or platform that puts your laundry basket at the perfect height for you to get things out to sort or throw into the machine is a must. This could be a permanent shelf that’s right where you want your basket, or it could be a special bench that stores under a sink or some other convenient spot in the laundry room. I prefer a permanent shelf, as I don’t want to be moving a bench back and forth.

Whatever countertop space you think you’ll need in the laundry room, double it. You may want to stack folded clothes in different piles before you put them back into a basket. How much space do you need for these piles?

Newer sleek washers and dryers may allow you to put a countertop over the top of the machines because all the controls are on the front of the machines. If you choose to do this, do the math to make sure the finished countertop won’t be too high from the floor, where it’s not convenient to work. For reference, traditional countertops in a kitchen are normally 36 inches above the finished floor.

You don’t have to have all the countertops in the room at the same height. Experiment with work surfaces at slightly different heights than 36 inches. If you’re short, you may discover you love having a countertop at 32 inches off the finished floor. It’s not hard for a remodeling contractor to get a work surface at whatever height you want.

The countertop material needs to be waterproof. Plastic laminate tops work fine in these situations, and there are some stunning patterns and colors in modern laminate tops. Don’t brush these off until you’ve seen them.

I had two different sinks in my last laundry room. You can choose from many types of giant and extra-deep stainless steel sinks that will fit inside a normal countertop and regular sink-base cabinet. I had one of these monster stainless-steel sinks next to my washer in case I wanted to rinse something before adding it to the machine.

Think about any and all other options you may want and find out the best locations for electrical outlets so you don’t have cords draped across the countertops to reach some smaller appliance. Really think through where you’ll place things on the countertops before you tell the electrician where you want the outlets.

You can get foldaway ironing boards that fit in a sleek wall cabinet. The actual ironing board is a tad smaller than a normal one, so be sure you’re aware of this before you specify having one installed. I have one in my laundry room, but the builder who built this house — not me! — put it in the worst possible location. Because of this, it rarely gets used.

Lighting is very important. You want great light over the top of the washing machine as well as all countertops. Surface fixtures will achieve this goal well and just be sure you can get LED bulbs that will produce plenty of light.

Don’t overlook the importance of the flooring. You want something that’s slip-resistant and quite durable. I have natural slate in my laundry room and love it. There are lots of vinyl tile products that may work well for you.

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