Given the range of models, styles, and sizes of washers available, there are many things to consider when shopping for a washer to ensure your choice will be adequate for your family's needs. Installation requirements are also of prime importance, as are the costs of the appliance, including both the purchase cost and the cost of operating the washer over its lifetime.

Washer Types

Although installation is a prime factor for any washer, the first decision you need to make is what type of style of washer you want. A traditional top-load washer costs much less than most front-loaders or high-efficiency top-loaders, but conventional machines cost more to run (due to greater energy use) over their lifetimes.

When space is limited, you might consider a stacked washer-dryer in one unit, also called a laundry center or a pair of smaller front-load laundry machines that can be stacked. For apartments, a washer-dryer combo may be the best option. These are single units that handle both washing and drying and typically fit under a standard kitchen countertop. Some don't need an air vent, making them easy to retrofit into a rental apartment.

Washer Capacity and Physical Size

Washer capacity relates to the volume of the interior drum and is measured in cubic feet. On average, a 3- to 4-cubic-foot washer can accommodate 12 to 16 pounds of laundry. A 5-cubic-foot machine can hold up to 20 pounds of laundry. Keep in mind that the recommended size of load depends on the washer model and manufacturer.

The physical size of a washer relates to its outer dimensions—height, width, and depth—measured in inches. In addition to the unit itself, you'll need 1 to 3 inches at each side, 4 to 6 inches at the back of the washer, and 20 to 25 inches in front for the door (or about 20 inches above for top-loaders).

Installation Considerations

Most washers require plumbing installations, with the exception of some combo units or compact spin washers that can be connected via an adapter to the kitchen faucet when required. If your home is not washer-ready, you may want to consult with a plumber before buying a washer. Consider washer/dryer positioning for ease of use when planning a spot for new laundry appliances.

For utility hookups, washers need a 20-amp, 120-volt electrical outlet as well as hot and cold water supplies, and a drain connection. Conventional electric dryers need a 240-volt dryer outlet and a vent duct leading to the outdoors. Gas driers need a 120-volt outlet, a gas line connection, and a vent duct.

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