Dryer Vent Safety

Too many consumers are unaware that a dryer vent cleaning and inspection for possible crimped vents is required to prevent dryer fires. It is also important in order to promote dryer performance and efficiency.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are an estimated annual 15,500 fires, 10 deaths and 10 injuries on average associated with the dryer vent. In addition, several hundred people a year are also subjected to carbon monoxide poisoning from improper dryer vent setups. The financial costs come to nearly $100,000,000 per year. In some cases faulty appliances are to blame, but many fires can be prevented with proper dryer clean out and inspection. A poorly vented clothes dryer can cost an additional $300 per year to operate if not properly maintained.

If you notice that the dryer takes more than one cycle to dry clothes or if it keeps stopping during a cycle, the cause may be lint accumulation in the vent system or a possible crimped dryer vent.  Annual dryer vent cleaning and inspection can reduce energy bills and increase the life expectancy of the dryer. In addition, clothes will not wear out as quickly when they are not put through multiple drying cycles.

The reason for this problem is that lint accumulation and reduced airflow feed on each other to provide conditions favorable for a fire. Lint is a highly combustible material and is one of the ingredients in home-made fire starters. As a rule, a fire starts from a spark in the machine and ignites the excessive lint buildup. But improper clothes dryer venting outside the dryer can play a key role in this process.

Many newer homes have dryers located away from an outside wall in bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and hall closets. These locations mean that vents are routed longer distances and can be installed with sharp turns and bends to accommodate the structure of the home. This situation can create more places for lint to gather. In addition to creating a fire hazard, if the vent is too long or has too many bends, it will cause your dryer to take much longer than necessary to dry loads.  Of course, the ideal solution is to have a short or straighter dryer duct vent system but that may not always be possible. A dryer vent booster can improve the dryer venting in cases where the vent is longer and/or has more bends.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has some tips to help prevent fires:

  • Clean the lint screen/filter before or after drying each load of clothes.
  • Clean the dryer vent and exhaust duct periodically. Check the outside dryer vent while the dryer is operating to make sure exhaust air is escaping. If it is not, the vent or the exhaust duct may be blocked. To remove a blockage in the exhaust path, it may be necessary to disconnect the exhaust duct from the dryer. Remember to reconnect the ducting to the dryer and outside vent before using the dryer again.
  • Clean behind the dryer, where lint can build up. Have a qualified service person clean the interior of the dryer chassis periodically to minimize the amount of lint accumulation. Keep the area around the dryer clean and free of clutter.
  • Replace plastic or foil, accordion-type ducting material with rigid or corrugated semi-rigid metal duct. Most manufacturers specify the use of a rigid or corrugated semi-rigid metal duct, which provides maximum airflow. The flexible plastic or foil type duct can more easily trap lint and is more susceptible to kinks or crushing, which can greatly reduce the airflow.
  • Take special care when drying clothes that have been soiled with volatile chemicals such as gasoline, cooking oils, cleaning agents, or finishing oils and stains. If possible, wash the clothing more than once to minimize the amount of volatile chemicals on the clothes and, preferably, hang the clothes to dry. If using a dryer, use the lowest heat setting and a drying cycle that has a cool-down period at the end of the cycle. To prevent clothes from igniting after drying, do not leave the dried clothes in the dryer or piled in a laundry basket.

An inspector will not be able to confirm the dryer vent’s code compliance during an inspection, but will be able to point out issues that may need to be corrected.

 The dryer is one of the three largest users of electricity in your house. The more efficient you keep it, the less danger you will have and the cheaper your utility bills will be.


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