Home Inspection Tip—Dryer Vent Safety

When a home inspector looks for fire hazards or electrical problems, he’ll probably come up with things you hadn’t thought of. You might be surprised how many things you can take care of yourself, without having to call in a professional contractor.

One such example is clothes dryer vent maintenance. Most clothes dryer vent ducts are short in length and can be cleaned and maintained by any home owner. On the other hand, there are some long ducts that run twenty feet or more in crawl spaces or in non-floored attics which should be taken care of by a professional with special duct cleaning equipment.

Our focus here is on maintenance steps you can do yourself. You’ll know the vent needs cleaning if any of the following are happening.

* Clothes are still damp at the end of a normal cycle.
* Clothes are hotter than usual at the end of the cycle.
* Clothes have a musty smell after drying.
* A great deal of lint is escaping from the back of the dryer.
* The flapper on the vent exhaust hood doesn’t open when the dryer is running
* A lot of lint covers the vent exhaust hood.

Here are several simple steps you can take.

* Clean the lint filter before and after every drying cycle.
* Replace a vinyl duct with a ridged or flexible metal duct. (That’s because the metal duct creates less lint buildup at the bends and is a safer duct.)
* For safety reasons, never leave the dryer running when you leave the house or go to bed. (You don’t want to take the chance of a fire starting.)

Cleaning the duct isn’t difficult. The hardest part is pulling the dryer out from the wall to disconnect the duct.

The duct likely goes from the back of your dryer directly through the wall of the house to the outside. Once you’ve disconnected the duct, take it outside so lint doesn’t get all over everything. Use a shop vac or a regular house vacuum to vacuum the duct out from each end. If you don’t have a vacuum, you can tie a toilet brush to a rope and pull it through the vent. This method does a pretty good job.

Next check the back section of the dryer for lint buildup. Then check the vent discharge cap and flapper for any lint buildup or blockage. The most important thing here is to allow for good air flow through the vent. Your dryer will perform better, and you’ll have peace of mind concerning safety.

Here’s an important note if your dryer is gas operated. Always turn off the gas valve before working on the dryer. It may be necessary to turn off the gas by using the small valve at the dryer gas line. Then you can disconnect the gas line and pull the dryer away from the wall. Be careful you don’t damage the flexible gas line when you’re pulling the dryer out from the wall.

Once you’ve cleaned the duct and dryer and have everything back in place, you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment. Not only have you saved yourself money you might have otherwise paid a repairman, but you’ll have done one more thing to make your home more livable for you or for the party who may be buying it.

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