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We have an old front-loading Maytag Neptune washing machine. The bearings are going bad. I'm looking into having someone swap the bearings out for me, but also considering getting a new machine.

I found that Puget Sound Energy has a program where they will give customers a free washing machine under some circumstances! But here's the weird part: they will give a free front-loader only if it will be installed at ground level or in a basement; for upstairs they will only give a top-loader. The relevant quote:


You'll receive a free ENERGY STAR qualified clothes washer that fits in the same spot as your old one. If your new washer will be installed on the first-floor or basement level, you can choose a front-load model. Or you can choose a top-load washer for any level of your home.

http://www.pse.com/SAVINGSANDENERGYCENTER/FORHOMES/Pages/Free-Appliance-Replacement.aspx


Why would PSE have a policy like this?

P.S. Our washer/dryer closet is upstairs, by the bedrooms. We love the front-loader so I'd rather not accept a top-loader even if it's free. But I am really wondering if there is something I ought to worry about if I'm picking a new machine.

EDIT: I have accepted an answer. I am certain that vibration is the issue. I will just be sure to buy a washer with low vibration. One brand of washer actually has a "Second-Floor Guarantee" and I might buy that brand.

Thanks to all who answered.

  • Wish I had that offer; I keep thinking of replacing my basement top-loader with a ground-floor front-loading set... Of course it's up to you to check that the one they give you actually has performance and repair history you'll be happy with; free and annoying isn't necessarily a Good Deal. – keshlam Nov 7 '14 at 5:41
  • Having seen one let go, it makes a bit of a mess. A work mate had a 3 year old front loader in a utility room at the top of the stairs drain into the living room below. Greywater soaked carpets... – Fiasco Labs Nov 7 '14 at 6:11
  • My assumption this would be a HE top loader stead of the standard top loader. HE top loaders are almost as good at saving water/energy as the front loaders. – diceless Nov 7 '14 at 6:15
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Front Loaders spin at an incredibly high rate compared to top loads. Because of this, the amount of vibration that is transferred to the structure is immense compared to the top loaders of days past.

A concrete slab is the ideal substrate, as it will absorb all vibration. But if the home has a solid joist system and subfloor, they are viable. However, there will still be noticeable vibration. We have a 1989 built home (also in Puget Sound) that, alas, doesn't handle the front-loader washer we just bought a few months ago as well as we'd like. I will be installing lolly columns in the crawl space to reinforce the laundry room floor. If that doesn't cure things, it looks like I'll eventually be building a laundry room in our garage.

The reason they are not allowed on second floors has nothing to do with leaking (as that's a risk of ANY washer, of course) but because the live load requirements for residential construction differ between the main floor and the second floor.

I can't find a direct source to cite (if anyone can find one, please share!) but IIRC, the live load requirements for the main floor of a house is 40psf, but the live load requirements for sleeping areas on a second floor are less at 30psf.

A front load washing machine, in spin cycle, is a very "live load"*. :)

The bottom line is that in the US, the typical construction of second floors aren't equipped to handle the abuse of a front-loader washing machine.

You could probably get an exception if you reinforce the flooring in the second floor room that will house the washer. But that's likely not going to be cheap--ultimately costing you more than the savings in energy you get with the front loader. I believe PSE's top loader option is still a high efficiency appliance, though, so you'll still see a savings in energy with that. It just won't rattle your house quite as much.

UPDATE:

Found the load tables. Here's an excerpt:

From the International Residential Building Codes

TABLE R301.5 MINIMUM UNIFORMLY 
DISTRIBUTED LIVE LOADS 
(in pounds per square foot) 

USE                                 LIVE LOAD
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
Habitable attics and attics 
served with fixed stairs            30

Rooms other than sleeping room      40

Sleeping rooms                      30

(*) NOTE: As ben points out--and as I attempted to point out with the smiley face--the fact that washer vibrates a lot isn't what makes it a 'live load' necessarily in the eyes of building code. My point was that the upper floor is just built to a different standard than the main floor. That said, I do see the broad definition of live load also includes vibration: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structural_load#Live_loads

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    @benrudgers I agree, I'm definitely using a tongue-and-cheek explanation of 'live load' when it comes to the Front Loader. I'll clarify that. That said, the essence of the answer is simply that the second floor of a house is typically built to a different standard than the lower portion and that lower standard doesn't handle the vibrations of a HE Front Loader nearly as well. I'd argue even the first floor in many houses is under-built for the vibrations that a front loader introduces (at least that's true for our house!) – DA01 Nov 7 '14 at 15:10
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    @benrudgers I disagree with you. International Residential Code 2012 Chapter 2 Definitions Section R202 Definitions LIVE LOADS. Those loads produced by the use and occupancy of the building or other structure and do not include construction or environmental loads such as wind load, snow load, rain load, earthquake load, flood load or dead load. I would definitely define a washer sloshing water around as a live load. – Tester101 Nov 7 '14 at 16:04
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    @benrudgers The building code bits of the answer are just there to show that different floors are built to different standards. The fact is, they don't want to give you a free washer, and then listen to you complain that the washer shook your house apart. – Tester101 Nov 7 '14 at 16:13
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    @benrudgers while I absolutely won't claim that my answer is definitive by any stretch of the definition, it's not based solely on one company's business decision. Many units' manufacturer's installation instructions state that they should not be installed on second floors. And while it's true it's not uncommon for houses to be built above and beyond code it, alas, is also not uncommon for houses to be built to meet only the absolute minimum of code. – DA01 Nov 7 '14 at 16:38
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    In addition to the increased live load, you're also dealing with the potential for high cycle fatigue. Imagine a person jumping up and down over and over thousands of times in the same spot on the floor. – Doresoom Nov 7 '14 at 16:47
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Every device has a failure mode. In the case of a top-loading washer the failure mode is overflowing the tub at the rate of the water supply - usually handled very easily by the drain pan that I hope is under the unit. Likely damage will be limited to your water bill at the end of the month.

A front-loading washer's failure mode is "Niagara Falls" if it happens with a full drum. No drain pan can handle this, esp. as most of the water will end up a meter in front of the unit and shortly thereafter on your carpet, subfloor, stairs, wallboard, level-below ceiling etc.

If the front-loader's door blows off in the basement it all goes down the floor drain, replacing the cheap indoor-outdoor carpet usually found down there is an easy afternoon's work.

However, if you are ok with the risk the way you handle it is have them put the new washer in the basement, and the next day move it upstairs yourself.

You do have a drain pan, with a real drain, in your second-floor laundry room, yes? If not, now is an excellent time to install one.

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    Is there a history of front-loader doors blowing off? Keep in mind that a front loader's water table is below the door most of the time. And that in spin cycle, very little water would be able to exit the front due to centripetal force. One of the main benefits of the front loader is how little water is uses vs. the top loaders. – DA01 Nov 7 '14 at 8:43
  • There is no drain of any sort in the washing machine closet. I don't think it is practical to try to install one; that's a major project. I think I would sooner clean up after a disaster than try to have that work done. – steveha Nov 8 '14 at 20:17
  • @DA01 there is very little history of the door blowing off the same day the fill limit switch fails. There is a lot of history of lawyers saying "what if the sky falls?" – paul Nov 11 '14 at 9:30
  • @steveha You have a drain in the closet. Where do you think the water goes each time you run a load? – paul Nov 11 '14 at 9:31
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    @paul There is a drain pipe, in the wall, to which the washer's drain hose is connected. However, if the washer leaks onto the floor, it will flood the house, as there is no drain in the floor. I will concede the point that the drain pipe in the wall qualifies as a "drain of any sort" but I was answering the question "You do have a drain pan, with a real drain, in your second-floor laundry room, yes?" so I thought in context my meaning was adequately clear. As that was, in fact, your question, I'm bemused by your response. Did you really think I didn't know about the drain pipe? – steveha Nov 11 '14 at 15:15
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I would assume it's because of liability; they will be installing the unit in your house. A leak in or above a basement has a good chance of having a negligible effect, whereas a second floor leak is an immediate thousand bucks. Maybe they're just being considerate; front-loaders will leak.

  • Our front-loader has never leaked. If I buy a new one is it more likely to leak than our 18-year-old one? – steveha Nov 7 '14 at 5:21
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    I have had to fix front-loaders for leaking at the door, but I've never had to fix a top-loader with a drum leak. -Your claim and time frame astonish me. – Mazura Nov 7 '14 at 5:34
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    A second-floor installation should be over a leak pan which would drain most "normal" leakage either into the plumbing or (in some installations) outside. A catastrophic event is a different case, but is a much rarer case. (And I tend to agree that a properly maintained decent-quality front-loader shouldn't leak beyond its own ability to handle.) – keshlam Nov 7 '14 at 5:39
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    Leaking is an issue with any water appliance. So this isn't likely the reason they'd let one kind on the first floor, but a different kind on the second floor. – DA01 Nov 7 '14 at 8:44
  • @Mazura It is a Maytag Neptune MAH3000AWW, which we bought new. It has a design flaw, a wax motor that can blow and fry the main logic board... we found that out the hard way and it was an expensive repair. So I won't claim it has been trouble-free. But yes, really, it has never leaked. – steveha Nov 8 '14 at 20:00

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