I don’t leave the house when my laundry dryer is running. At least not anymore, I don’t. And I clean out the lint trap religiously – something I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t always do.
Why my sudden hyper-vigilance with my clothes dryer? I learned recently that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued a report in 2012 that concluded an estimated 16,800 home fires involving clothes dryers or washing machines occurred in 2010. Clothes dryers accounted for 92% of those fires.
It’s not like I sit around reading NFPA reports all day. If I’ve tried to convince my homeowner readers of anything, it’s that I’m just like you. I work. I have kids. Obviously I do laundry. But because I am a writer for the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) industry, I get exposed to a lot of information that the average homeowner doesn’t. Recently, while doing some research for an article I was writing about dryer exhaust ventilation (sexy, huh?), I learned a few things about clothes dryer safety.
How To Make Your Laundry Room Safer
First, not taking the time to clean out the lint trap each and every time you put in a load of laundry is really, really stupid. Lint build-up in the dryer cabinet is, overwhelmingly, the primary cause of dryer related fires – and this is usually due to homeowners neglecting to clean out the lint trap. Guilty.
Second, I learned how important it is that the dryer exhaust be vented with rigid or flexible METAL venting material – none of that plastic crap. Fortunately, my dryer has the correct venting material. But it’s still not ideal because it has to make a few turns before it reaches the exit vent on the exterior wall of my house. The more bends, kinks, crimps, etc., the more obstructed the airflow is and when airflow is obstructed, hot moist air can’t efficiently exit the unit. Hence, clothes remain damp after a dryer cycle. Furthermore, good airflow helps carry away suspended lint particles that can become a fire hazard if they accumulate in the dryer or the duct.
What The International Building Code (IRC) Has To Say
I’m fortunate in that my dryer is located close to an exterior wall. The exhaust vent makes a fairly short trip out the laundry room wall, into the crawlspace, and out the exterior wall, which is about four feet away from the laundry room. The International Residential Code (IRC) dictates that maximum length for dryer exhaust duct/vent cannot exceed 35 feet from the dryer location to the wall or roof termination. Each elbow reduces this maximum length by 5 feet since bends create more airflow restriction than straight duct. By keeping the exhaust path short and straight, you not only reduce your risk for dryer related fires, but clothes dry faster and more efficiently. Makes you think twice about having that centrally located laundry room, doesn’t it?
In my opinion, safety trumps convenience, so my preference would always be to have the laundry room located on an exterior wall for short, straight dryer venting. However, if you find yourself in a house in which there is absolutely no way to vent your dryer with 35 feet or less of vent (not counting bends – remember they equal 5 feet!) there are ventilation fans specifically designed to boost the airflow from the dryer. These devices are a suitable solution under the IRC.
Clean Your Lint Trap!
So, take a peek behind that dryer and do a little easy math in your head, especially if you’ve been frustrated with the lengthy dry times and damp clothes. Obstructed airflow is not only the likely cause; it’s also a fire hazard. Also, if you can possibly avoid it, don’t dry clothes when there are no adults in the home—just in case. And clean that pesky lint trap!
Remember, there’s nothing green about a house fire, or taking 3 hours to dry a single load of clothes!