Clean Vents for Safe Drying
Article by Nashville Home Inspection, February Tips E-Blast
Most fire departments have answered a call to a home fire started in the dryer. Approximately 3,000 of these fires occur each year in the U.S., resulting in millions of dollars in property damage. While 50 percent of the fires are contained within the dryer, too many others travel beyond the laundry room, causing damage and injury.
The peak month for dryer fires is January, and the peak season in fall/winter. One theory for the higher number of fires during winter is the quantity and type of clothing worn in cooler months. A dryer fire will occur typically between 8 a.m. and midnight, with most fires reported between 1 p.m. – 2 p.m., or just after dinner.
While much of the lint is trapped by the dryer’s filter, lint is also carried through the vent system along with the moist air. Lint is highly combustible material and can ignite when trapped in a vent.
Fortunately, there are ways to minimize a fire occurrence. First, clothes dryers should always be vented directly to the outside. Some homeowners have experimented with venting a dryer indoors during winter months to capture heat. Rather than heating the house, the humid air causes concentrated humidity, increased condensation, increased mold and mildew and diminished air quality.
Most building codes stipulate that dryer vents must be made of metal with smooth interiors and that the total length of the vent duct does not exceed 35 feet (shorter if there are turns or bends). If a clothes dryer vent is too long or has many bends and twists, moisture in the warm air passing through it condenses on the vent surfaces,, attracting lint. A lint build-up will block hot air and may combust if the line becomes over-heated.
All manufacturer’s manuals currently state that plastic dryer ducts are unsafe to use because the plastic itself can provide additional fuel for a fire. Even flexible foil vents are not the best choice for venting clothes dryers because they can twist, providing space for lint to accumulate. Only flexible ducts listed by UL or another approved product safety testing agency should be used to vent dryers.
There are warning signs that a dryer operation may be compromised. If heavy clothes such as blue jeans or towels are taking a long time to dry, for example, or clothes feel hotter than usual at the end of the cycle, a clogged vent exhaust is likely the cause.
Since failure to clean the lint traps and vents are the primary cause of clothes dryer fires, cleaning the lint filter after every dryer load in critical. Miniature vacuum attachments are also available to help remove lint from hard-to-reach areas. Home improvement and big-box stores carry lint-removal kits that work with a drill, a shop vacuum or electric blower to clean lint out of the exhaust vent. There are also professionals who will come out to your home and remove lint from the dryer components and the exhaust vent.
It is important to follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions when using the dryer. These include never overload a dryer and never leaving a dryer running when no one is home. Every model also has specific inspection and maintenance instructions. If the manual is unavailable, visit the manufacturer’s website to access or download a copy.
Source: John Watkins, Nashville Home Inspection (February tips eblast) | Blog, In The News, distribution provided by Kenneth Bargers and Bargers Solutions, member of Pilkerton Realtors, residential real estate services located in Nashville, Tennessee