It may not be a glamorous job, but cleaning dryer vents has the potential to prevent your home going up in smoke. What should you look for and avoid?
Prevent Fires with Clean Dryer Vents
Terming them “dryer fires,” Consumer Reports estimates that in excess of 13,000 fires originate in laundry rooms each year. Of these, roughly 4,000 are due to lint buildup. In addition to the approximately $97 million in property damage, these fires claim 10 lives annually. The Dryer Vent Wizard places the number of dryer vent fires as high as 15,000 each year. To prevent fires such as these can be as easy as cleaning dryer vents.
The Problem with Dryer Vents
The average dryer duct is made from reinforced foil or the more flexible plastic. It vents from the machine to the exterior. In other cases the flexible duct-work connects to more rigid duct-work that then leads to the home’s exterior. Although convenient, this system is open to a number of problems.
— Flexible ducts trap lint, which accumulates to such an extent that is causes one area to sag. Even more lint now accumulates at this low point.
— To enhance storage flexibility and useful reach, the duct-work is manufactured with ridges that allow it to fold like an accordion. These ridges ultimate contribute to lint buildup in the hose.
— Although cheaper, plastic dryer vents add to a budding fire hazard whereas metal has the potential to keep the flames contained.
Safe Dryer Setup
Replace plastic ducts with metal ones. Get rid of the accordion tubes and choose flexible or rigid metal. Verify that the duct actually vents to the outside. (Faithful viewers of “Holmes on Homes” know that plenty a drive-by contractor is known to have vented the dryer into an attic, creating a fire hazard.)
Unless the consumer deals with a short and easy to reach, clean and inspect duct – mine leads straight from the laundry area outside below eye level – it is advisable to hire a professional to come out periodically and clean the vent.
Warning Signs that all is not well
Drying two to three loads of laundry should generate appreciable lint buildup in the dryer’s lint trap. If the lint screen is virtually devoid of any lint buildup – but instead there is a bit on the clothes – this is a good sign that the duct-work is not venting properly.
Assuming that your dryer features a towel setting, check to see if it indeed dries a load of towels in the time allotted for the task. If they still come out wet or more moist than dry, it is possible that the vents are clogged; if the problem worsens over time, you know that the airflow is obstructed.
Consumer Reports: “Dryer Fire Caution”
Dryer Vent Wizard: “Dryer Vent Cleaning”