Thousands of fires are sparked each year by clogged dryer vents

Angie's List: A clean vent can prevent disaster

TAMPA - According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 15,000 fires are sparked every year by clothes dryers.  Lint and other debris can build up in your dryer vent, reducing air flow to the dryer, backing up dryer exhaust gases, creating a fire hazard.

"Clothes dryers are an appliance that make our lives easier but we often take them for granted. We shouldn't," said Angie's List founder, Angie Hicks. "We need to maintain them and most importantly have their vents cleaned."

Glen Mayfield, a dryer vent technician, said the first sign that you might have a clog is when your dryer stops drying your clothes in one cycle. "The dryer is designed to exhaust the heat and the moisture while it's drying. If that heat and moisture cannot get out of the dryer, then the dryer just sits there and keeps working itself but it can't accomplish the drying. that means the dryer works harder and heat builds up and that is what can lead to a dryer vent fire." Mayfield said it's a bigger problem in new homes, where the dryer is placed in the center of the home rather than up against an outside wall. "As a result, the vent can run quite a long distance. We see 15, 20, 25 foot vents all the time. The longer the vent, the harder it is for the dryer to get the lint out. Those homes with longer vents are more susceptible to fire."

Here are some of the signs that it's time to clean your vent:

  • Clothing does not dry completely after a normal drying cycle.
  • Drying time for clothing takes longer than 35 to 40 minutes in duration.
  • A musty odor is noticed in the clothing following the drying cycle.
  • Clothing seems unusually hot to the touch after a complete drying cycle.
  • The dryer vent hood flap does not properly open as it is designed to do during the operation of the dryer.
  • Debris is noticed within the outside dryer vent opening.
  • Excessive heat is noticed within the room in which the dryer is being operated.
  • Large amounts of lint accumulate in the lint trap for the dryer during operation.
  • A visible sign of lint and debris is noticed around the lint filter for the dryer.
  • Excessive odor is noticed from dryer sheets that are used during the drying cycle.

Hicks recommends you leave dryer vent cleaning to the professionals. "They have the proper tools and additionally they know whether your dryer vent meets code and they can fix it if it doesn't."

Angie's List Tips: Dryer vent cleaning

  • How much does it cost? Dryer vent cleaning is relatively inexpensive given its benefits. A cleaning typically costs between $100 and $150, depending on the length and location of the vent. In addition to the reduced threat of fire, a cleaning can actually pay for itself in less than a year through the improved efficiency with less drying time required.
  • Hire a pro:  Though there are do-it-yourself vent cleaning kits available, they typically aren't as effective as the tools used by professionals. One advantage to having an experienced, qualified and reliable professional clean your system is that he or she has likely seen just about every make and model and will likely be able to clean the interior components more efficiently than you will. Plus, you'll have the assurance that the job was done correctly and safely.
  • Start with an inspection: A qualified company should do an inspection of the dryer vent prior to a cleaning.
  • Licensing requirements: The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that homeowners look for the Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician designation.
  • Annual cleanings: Dryer vents should be cleaned at least once a year to reduce the risk of fires, gas leaks, and operate efficiently.
  • Do not restrict airflow: The transition vent between the dryer and the wall goes INSIDE the pipe leading to the wall. Also, the length for the transition vent should be as short as possible.

Angie's List Tips: Tips to decrease debris

  • Limit the use of dryer sheets used when drying clothing.  Instead of dryer sheets for liquid fabric softener.
  • Only operate clothing dryers for intervals of 30 to 40 minutes per batch of laundry.  This allows more air circulation within the dryer and less lint build up from occurring.
  • When possible hang clothing such as heavy bedding, pillows and other large articles outside to line dry.
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