Public Service Announcement 1: Laundry Room

On Thursday, we had an unfortunate malfunction. The water level switch in our washing machine failed to trip. The switch is the device in a washer that detects when enough water has entered the tub. As you can probably imagine, that switch failing means that the washer will continue to “fill” well past the point where water overflows the tub. An hour after I started the cycle, I went downstairs to move the clothes to the dryer, and that’s when I discovered that the initial fill was planning on being infinite…

Fortunately, our laundry room is in the basement, so while the laundry room was flooded, the garage got wet, and the hallway carpet was soaked, cleanup wasn’t terrible and there wasn’t much permanent damage. We don’t keep anything of value on the floor down there just in case.

Here’s where things get stupid. After doing some troubleshooting and fooling with it, the switch was activating properly. I figured maybe I’d dislodged a blockage in the hose. So, we continued to wash a few loads, carefully ensuring that the fill was stopping properly. On Saturday, however, I walked off and left it again, this time spilling a half-hour of water on the floor. This time, I decided the hose connecting the tub to the water level switch was loose and leaking, so I repaired that.

Rather than trust the repair this time, I’ve taken some steps to help avoid a problem in the event that this part fails again:

  1. I installed a plastic pan under the washer. This pan will collect the water from an internal leak, but it will only hold a finite amount
  2. I found an automatic switch at Menard’s (about $20). It shuts off power to the washer in the event that its probe detects water. I put the probe in the pan, so if the water level switch fails again, it will shut off the washer

This should take care of my immediate concern: a failure of the water level switch. However, there are a number of other potential problems in that room yet to address, including a burst line to the washer, some other failure inside the washer, a leaking water heater, etc. Here’s what else I have done or plan on doing soon:

  1. Water alarms – for as little as $7, you can get a battery powered alarm that screams when it gets wet. Putting some of these in the laundry room will at least let me know immediately that there’s a problem (as long as I’m home…)
  2. Plumb the overflow pan to a drain – you can run a pipe from the overflow pan to the floor drain. If the washer fails, this will direct the water harmlessly to the drain, as long as you use a big enough pipe, that is.
  3. Water heater pan – just like the washer pan, you can get a pan for under the water heater, complete with an outlet for draining to the floor drain.
  4. Stainless steel lines – our washer came with plastic hoses to hook up the washer to the house plumbing. We immediately replaced them with braided stainless steel lines to lessen the chances of a burst line.

If you haven’t taken any of these steps, I’d consider thinking these tips through. For those of you who have main floor or second floor laundries without any containment measures, I’d make it a significant priority. If you don’t, make sure you have a shop vac.

2 Comments

  1. Wow, you weren’t kidding when you said you had some laundry trials at the bowling outing Friday! You’re much more industrious than I am… sounds like you have some good fixes there!

    I’ve heard there are some nerdy water alarms out there that you can get to email/text you when they decide to go off. They’re more than $7 though. 🙂

  2. A text message would be kind of neat in the event of a leak, but the more I think of it, I’d rather it just shut off the water! No point of being on vacation, getting a text message, then calling around to find someone to shut the water off!

    Actually, a while back I put in an outdoor irrigation system for my flower beds. The supply line for that system is on a master valve, an electric valve that only opens when the irrigation is running. If I have a leak in my outdoor plumbing, it’s only leaking when the system is running. I suppose it wouldn’t be to hard to rig something like that for the whole house, except I doubt those irrigation valves are designed to be “running” all the time.

    Mr. Wizard, long ago, showed me how to make a water sensor with a clothespin and a sugar cube. When the water reaches the sugar cube, it dissolves it, allowing the clothespin to close and two wires to touch. The link you sent recommended using an aspirin in the same way. If I could just come up with a material that wasn’t poison to animals or tasty to ants I’d be set.

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