One measure of the rebounding economy is the demand for durable goods, i.e., major appliances like washers and dryers . This week, I did my share to help the economy along.

Washer and Dryer

No, this dream laundry room isn’t mine — my washer and dryer are relegated to the garage. This lovely setup is in one of the Villa Metro home models I wrote about last week. Photo copyright 2013 Donna Schwartz Mills

We bought our house 17 years ago. My daughter was four months old, I was 40 — and it was the first detached house I had lived in since I was 12.

It had taken us a long time to find a home that (a) both my husband and I could agree on and (b) was priced right. We started the search when I was still in my first trimester. By the time we stumbled upon this one, I did not care that the kitchen wasn’t huge or that the bathroom fixtures hadn’t been changed since the 1960’s — or that the laundry had to be done in the garage. After years and years of apartment life, I was excited just to have counter space! Two bathrooms! And no more trips to the laundromat!

But first, I had to buy a washer and dryer, and I had no idea what to look for. In 1996, washers and dryers pretty much all looked the same: they were big or small, and nearly always white.  My sister advised me to find a washer with the largest capacity I could afford. So I walked into Best Buy, scoped out a pair of GE models that were not the most expensive (but not the cheapest, either) and plunked down a credit card to pay.  Easy peasy.

They delivered and installed them just before we moved in, and I’ve used them nearly every day since.

They served us well, for the most part. But over the last several years, their performance started to suffer. There have been repairs. And there have been reunions with the laundromat while I waited for those repairs.

I know a lot more about home ownership now. I’ve lived through some exhausting renovations. I’ve replaced major appliances. And this month, I finally put that first washer and dryer out to pasture.

A lot has happened in washing machine technology since the last time I shopped. High efficiency (HE) washers that use less water and energy are all that rage, and I like the idea of being a little greener. I had thought that meant I would be stuck with a washer that opened in the front, meaning an endless amount of crouching (not much fun on arthritic knees). It was a pleasant surprise to learn that there are top-loading HE washers, too.

An even better surprise was learning that the power companies are offering rebates to residential customers who purchase high efficiency washing machines: $50 from the Gas Company and a whopping $300 from the Metropolitan Water District. This put the price of a greener washing machine well within our budget.

Color has come to the laundry room: You can get your appliance to match your decor, or you can go with the ever-popular option of stainless steel. Of course, that will cost you more, and since my hookup is still in the garage, I don’t really care about it looking good. You can barely see it behind all the junk in there, anyway.

So I went in knowing that I would get something in basic white. Other than that — I was clueless.

I hit all the usual suspects: Sears, Lowe’s, Home Depot and again at Best Buy — which turned out to have the best selection, and the best prices when comparing the same models the other stores carried. I priced Whirlpools, Kenmores, Maytags and Amanas. I even found an LG model that didn’t have a four-figure price tag, and the $350 in rebates made it a possibility. Up until then I had not even considered LG because I thought their machines were too expensive.

I wrote them all down and looked for product reviews on the web. I know that online product reviews should be looked at skeptically, but if you read enough of them, you do discern a pattern — and the only affordable washer that did not have a ton of negative reviews on the sites I looked at was the LG.

“Buy it,” my husband said. “But take some measurements and make sure it will fit.”

Huh. Of course it’s going to fit, I thought. Appliances are made in standard sizes, and I didn’t bother with taking measurements when I bought the original washer and dryer 17 years ago.

Then I remembered what happened when our dishwasher gave out and we had to replace it. This was after we had put in a new floor, which affected the size of the cabinet opening for the dishwasher. Sure enough, our dishwasher space was now too small — and there were only two models on the market that would fit. Expensive models. And that is how our Fridigaire and GE kitchen appliances ended up sharing space with a pricey Miele.

“Congratulations,” the sales associate said as we finalized the deal. “You just bought the Rolls Royce of dishwashers.”

Yeah. And we installed it right into a house that’s more of a Ford Escort. Although I have to say: I love that dishwasher. It may have cost us twice as much as we wanted to spend, but it makes me happy, every single day.

I hoped I would grow to love my new LG washer and dryer as much as the Miele. I did as my husband instructed, measured the space and went online to look at the specs, which is where I was once again surprised (but not so pleasantly): the LG’s are about three inches deeper than the machines they were replacing. That wouldn’t be a problem with the washer… but the laundry hookup is right next to a door, and the dryer would block it.

That weekend, my husband accompanied me to all the same stores, where we discovered that nearly ALL of the new dryers are 3 to 4″ too large for our space.

A salesman at Sears did a computer search and found just one Kenmore model that would fit. It would have to be shipped to us from another state. We had no other details — just the size. I longed for a little more choice.

“What do people with older houses do?” I asked.

“You could renovate your space,” he suggested.

This was not helpful.

The salesman at Lowe’s was sympathetic.

“I hear that a lot,” he said.

He had no answers. But he did suggest we go to Pacific Sales, which caters to builders, designers and regular folk who are renovating. I always think of them as a high end place (maybe because they are the ones who sold us that dishwasher). But we were getting desperate.

Pacific Sales had some washer-dryer combos I’d never seen before — but no models that were just 25″ deep.

“GE just discontinued a line that size,” our salesman told us. “We may have a few left in our warehouse.”

He checked his inventory, and he did. He also had pictures and specs on the model, which he printed out for us. It looked almost exactly like the one we were replacing, although with a few added features (which one would expect after 17 years, am I right?)

So we bought the dryer, sight unseen. It was delivered last week and it actually is an improvement (especially since the old one had taken to eating our clothes, which is what prompted us to embark on this journey in the first place). And we also bought the LG washer, which was delivered this morning.

My new washing machine. What a difference 17 years makes.

My new washing machine. What a difference 17 years makes. Photo copyright 2013 Donna Schwartz Mills

I have been doing laundry all day. I would say this new machine rocks, except it’s got some kind of ultra-advanced electronic stabilization thingy, so it’s exceptionally quiet, even on the spin cycle. I am especially loving the fact that there’s no agitator in the middle (I know — all of you who have been enjoying modern appliances for a while will laugh at me for this, but there you go. I have been in a laundry Twilight Zone until now!) And the estimated annual cost of operating it is just $16 a year. Not bad. Not bad at all.


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