Clothes Dryers: A Common Appliance with Uncommon Risks

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Even the cleanest and most well meaning home owners might neglect this critical hazard.

Wet laundry goes in, and dry laundry comes out. Almost like magic, residential clothes dryers keep on working year after year. Until they don’t. While laundry is tumbling and heating elements stay hot, a host of problems can, and often do, creep up. Unfortunately, most homeowners never see the fire hazard coming until it’s too late. That’s why proper maintenance and care are so important, and why your inspection of the vent system is, too.

Dryer Lint Collects With Every Load

Lint doesn’t just come from fluffy cotton towels and a favorite terrycloth bathrobe. It exists on nearly every fabric, and a cycle in the wash loosens up many fibers. Where fibers have worked themselves free of the knit or weave, the only places left to go are the dryer lint trap, or on into the dryer housing or vent. Even a small hole in the lint trap screen can let a lot of lint pass through.

Lint is extremely flammable. Clothes dryers get extremely hot. That’s a bad combination for the appliance as well as the house where it’s installed. All that it takes is the right amount of lint in just the wrong place, and there’s a perfect recipe for fire. And if a fire doesn’t happen, the appliance might fail and require major repair or replacement.

Some Home Owners Just Don’t Clean out Lint

You might be surprised by how many people rarely clean out the dryer lint trap or clean it less often than they should. Considering how easy the task is, the only logical explanation is a lack of knowledge about the fire risk. Where the trap is coated in lint, the dryer can’t breathe. It can heat up more than it should, which makes all of the built up lint an even greater fire risk.

If the trap is neglected, you can be sure that the dryer vent hose or pipe is neglected, too. Inspectapedia says dryer vents can become dangerously clogged, or nearly so, from years of use combined with neglect.

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Advise clients to mark the calendar for cleaning so that dryer lint doesn’t have a chance to build up.

What to Look For in an Inspection

There are so many wrong ways to install a dryer vent system, it’s nearly impossible to think of them all. Some homeowners believe that since dryer air is warm, venting the appliance indoors or directly into the crawlspace can help warm things up in winter. Unfortunately, that creates a condensation problem, which might show up as rot in the attic. The heat can also attract vermin to nest under the house.

Vent hoses with bends and turns almost certainly collect lint, as do the popular corrugated (but legal) dryer vent hoses that come in a kit. The only acceptable method for maintaining them is regular cleaning, although most homeowners don’t accomplish that. And if you ever see PVC pipe installed as a dryer vent, Inspectapedia says to anticipate a thick layer of lint inside.

The best dryer vent system is rigid or semi-rigid metal with as few turns as possible and routed directly outdoors. The smooth interior surface is slower to collect lint, and it’s also easier to clean out. It’s a more fire-safe system, much more than plastic or mylar, and it holds its shape better than flexible hose.

Clothes dryers seem fairly user-friendly, but operating one is only half of the job. Cleaning the appliance is the other half. Working RE says that as a home inspector, a good practice is to recommend that your client clean the vent at least twice a year. That helps keep the appliance use less energy to complete a cycle as well as reducing the risk of fire.

Are you ready to begin your training as a home inspector? You’ve come to the right place. Enroll now and follow the ICA School program at your own pace.

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