Evolving Trends

In-unit washers and dryers are preferred by residents and developers.

For years, doing laundry meant having residents trek to the same laundry room, quarters in hand, to get their clothing clean. Then the technology allowed residents to bring a smart card instead of change and, even more recently, check for available machines from the comfort of their own units. And what seems like another shift in the industry, you can now kiss the communal laundry room goodbye. New developments aren’t including common laundry rooms within the property, but instead are putting the washers and dryers back in the individual units where they say the residents want them.

Stacy Gray, vice president of Atticus Real Estate in College Station, Texas, says that her company hasn’t built common-area laundry rooms in a multi-family project in over seven years.

“In the Class A market and the infill properties, the trend is to put the machines back in the individual units, although a few new properties are still building common laundry areas,” says Gray, whose company has properties in Dallas and Houston.

“One of the reasons that we switched to in-units is that the property layout can be a big concern. If we have a project that has 14 units per building and the property has 25 buildings, trying to locate a common laundry area can be difficult.”

But what about the cost considerations? Laundry rooms have always been a great source of revenue for a multifamily property, and a study from the Multihousing Laundry Association in Raleigh, North Carolina, found that residents with in-unit clothes washers used 3.3 times more water for laundry than residents in apartments with community-area laundry rooms. Another study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed that converting from an in-unit laundry to a common-area laundry room allows owners or managers to reap the savings and other benefits without having to become experts in laundry services for their properties. In-unit washers and dryers use more water, drive up overall utility costs and  can lead to flooding or other water damage. In-unit connections also require more costly plumbing, venting and electrical wiring.

But that hasn’t stopped the industry. Greg Bonifield, partner at Woodfield Investments, says that his company has returned to installing the appliances inside the unit because, he says, “in our communities, it’s all about convenience for the residents.”

Woodfield has properties in Metro D.C., Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina. “When those residents move in, they plug in their TVs and they have cable or Internet, so why not give them the washer and dryer in their units, too? People are renting by choice because of all the wonderful conveniences.”

And with the drive to make buildings green, washers and dryers are far more efficient, saving both water and energy. This is an attraction to bringing new residents in, as well as a money-saver for the property. Atticus Real Estate installs basic GE and Whirlpool Energy Star washers and dryers in its units.

“I’d be shocked if anyone in the industry isn’t utilizing energy-efficient appliances,” says Bonifield, who says his company also uses basic front-load Energy Star-rated GE and Whirlpool washers and top-load dryers. “It’s a no brainer.”

Right now, the trend is turning toward in-unit washers and dryers, but the laundry industry is forever changing and evolving. It remains to be seen if this will continue throughout the country and for how long it will last.