U.S. Water News Online
SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- For many apartment and dormitory
dwellers, doing laundry is a ritual. Purchase the single-serve box of
detergent from the modified cigarette dispenser, unload a pocketful
of quarters into the machine, and cram every last sock and T-shirt
you can into the tub. For those who have a washer and dryer in their
apartment, the chore is more leisurely and they don't mind doing an
extra load instead of sitting on the lid to get the cycle started.
The psychology of washing clothes is nothing new, but a recent
national survey showed the amount of water used (and discharged) by
tenants using in-unit washing machines was more than three times the
amount consumed by those using common-laundry facilities. "A
National Study of Laundry-Water Use in Multi-Housing" found that
a resident with an in-unit washing machine used 227 gallons of water
per week compared with a resident who used 69 gallons per week in a
David Feild, the executive director of the Multi-housing Laundry
Association (MLA), said the results shouldn't surprise anyone but
they pointed out the sharp difference -- and potential water, energy,
capital and maintenance savings -- between putting washing machines
in apartments versus a laundry room.
"If you're plunking a lot of quarters into a machine you're going
to save up," said Feild, "but if you have the availability of a
machine in the unit you do frequent, light loads."
The survey was commissioned and paid for by the MLA, a trade
association of businesses who install and maintain common-area
laundry facilities in multi-family housing, college dormitories and
military bases, but conducted independently by the National Research
Council, Inc. (NRC) of Boulder, Colo.
For approximately 60 days in the autumn of 2000, NRC monitored 191
in-unit washing machines and 50 common-area machines in eight
apartment buildings in San Diego, Atlanta, Dallas, and Portland, Ore.
Each machine was fitted with cold and hot water meters approved by
the California Dept. of Weights and Measures.
There is a socio-economic factor associated with laundry room use
and NRC Sr. Research Associate Erin Caldwell said the biggest
challenge was finding compatible apartment buildings. Buildings were
selected based on rent levels and they chose only higher-grade
properties she said.
At the end of the survey period, residents were sent a
questionnaire asking them how much washing they did at laundromats or
their friend's and the numbers were adjusted accordingly. (There was
a 48 percent response rate to the questionnaire.) After factoring in
offsite usage, the final results showed residents with in-unit
machines used 3.3 times more water than those using a common
The result verified a smaller MLA-sponsored survey made in Phoenix
in 1993 which found a water-use ratio of 3.7 between in-unit and
Feild admits the survey shines favorably on the MLA's industry,
but he emphasizes that the numbers speak for themselves. "There's
increasing scrutiny of washing machines in terms of water and energy
use and this survey show the vast difference in consumption," he
According to the American Water Works Association, the average
per-capita use in a single-family home is 15.1 gallons of water per
day for washing clothes or 21 percent of daily indoor consumption.
(Only toilets at 27.7 percent use more water.) In states like Florida
and California, there is a push to increase washing machine
efficiency to conserve water. In other areas there is concern about
the amount of wastewater the machines produce.
In Marin, Calif., the Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD)
offered a $75 rebate to customers who purchased more efficient
front-loading machines. According to MMWD, a top-loading machine uses
40-45 gallons for a large load compared to a front loader which uses
20-30 gallons. By converting, customers could save up to 6,000
gallons per year in water consumption and cut their energy
consumption for laundry by 70 percent. In addition to the more
efficient front-loaders, the industry has developed "smart cards"
which allow commercial washer and dryer users to pay only for the
cycles they use.
The MLA plans to distribute the survey for education and as a
reference point for municipalities and water providers who may be
considering rebates or other incentives for multi-housing owners and
developers to install common-laundry facilities.
"The big point is when they're installing in-unit hookups, they're
going to have less outlay for water if they have a common laundry
area," said current MLA President Craig Mitchell. "There's also a
greater cost of acquisition, service, and capital to have them in the
It is difficult to determine how much more tenants pay to have a
washer and dryer in their apartment, but the average cost if they
were rented from a commercial supplier is approximately $35 per
month. The MLA realizes that common-laundry areas will never be in
every apartment building or college dorm, but as water and
electricity becomes more scarce they must be seriously considered as
a conservation alternative.
Mitchell is the vice president of Washco Laundry Equipment in Fort
Myers, Fla. and he supplies equipment for common areas as well as
"We are a service industry and (washers and dryers) are a service
no matter where they are," he said. "But for the sake of the country,
I think common areas would be a good idea."
For a copy of the survey, contact the Multi-Housing Laundry
Association at 800-380-3652 or check on-line at
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