Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cleaning the Dryer Vent

Today I want to explain a bit how to clean the actual vent of your dryer ventilation system. This is the part that goes from the dryer to the great outdoors. It starts with the transition vent, which connects your dryer to the wall. Then the main vent is the part that's behind the wall. The tailpipe is the last piece that connects the main vent to the outside. The hood is the part that is actually outside.

It is best to be able to clean the whole thing from the outside. Your ability to do this depends on a few factors. One, you must be able to reach the hood from the outside. Sometimes this is up very high, and you may not have a ladder high enough to reach it. Other times, it is up on some weird part of the roof, and you can't get to it for that reason. The next best place to clean from is at the tailpipe just inside your home. Often you can access this via the attic when it is too hard to reach from outside. It may be a tight fit in some attics, but it's better than taking a spill off a roof twenty feet in the air. If you can't get at even the tailpipe from the inside, your only choice may be to clean your vent from inside, at the transition vent. This is least optimal, but still better than not cleaning at all.

When you clean from the outside, you generally turn on the dryer, on air fluff, and then go outside. Next, you bring your set of brushes and rods and drill outside. Once outside, remove a screen from the front of the hood if necessary, and get to work. Just go one brush rod at a time, running the drill on high-speed, medium torque, drill-in or screw-tightening mode (turning clockwise). With each rod, go in slowly, and then pull out slowly that one rod, and then go back in. This will kick out all the lint that's in that section. Keep going in and out until you get no more lint coming out from that section. You should have an idea of how long the vent is, by estimating or even measuring the distances to cover. That way you know how many brushes you need to run through, and you won't try to push the brush all the way into the dryer. You don't want to run the brush all the way into the dryer.

When you work from inside at the tailpipe, you just disconnect the tailpipe from the main vent (this is sometimes hard to do and sometimes easy to do) and do the same basic procedure as above. This is a little less convenient, because often the indoo space is cramped. Furthermore, the dust that you kick out of the vent will go all over the place inside. You can use a vacuum attachment to run a little shop vac collecting the lint from the vent, but then you don't get to see how effective your brushing is.

When you work from inside at the transition vent, you just disconnect the transition vent from the back of the dryer, and do the same basic procedure as above. Of course, running the dryer won't help you, since you are at the dryer side of the vent. In this case, it might be best to use the vacuum method, since you'll want to be drawing the lint that you loosen up towards you, otherwise it may just sit in the vent where you loosen it. When you clean from here, you may also want to put a leaf-style blower onto the vent once you have cleaned it, just to loosen any debris that you couldn't get to you from the dryer. Be careful when you do this, because if there's a screen at the hood, it could become clogged when you blow out the lint.

It is worth noting that wet lint cannot be as easily removed as dry lint. Some amount of moisture won't prevent your brushes from working, but if the lint is damp, it just won't come out with the brush most of the time. Be prepared to take apart the vent one section at a time and manually remove the wet lint. Not pleasant, but very effective. Then once you get to dry lint, you can reassemble the vent and brush as normal from the end.

You must also beware of potentially disconnected vents. If you get little or no airflow from the vent, even when the dryer is running, you may have a severe clog, or you may have a disconnected vent. Clogs are OK - the brush is good at that. But disconnected vents can be a real problem. When you get to the disconnected part, your brush can easily become stuck, and if you're not careful, you can get the brush stuck behind a wall or floor somewhere. Unless you want to be cutting into walls, floors, or ceilings, be careful of this.

That's the overview of cleaning the actual vent. Sort of a theory of operation for how it could go, or how to approach the basic situation. If this all seems a bit overwhelming, or if you find yourself in over your head after giving it a shot yourself, just drop me a line! Or give me a call at 860.324.5213, and I'll bail you out.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Old Mystic

Another great lead from Coogan! A family called me today, and I was able to respond immediately (as soon as I got done sliding around on the ice in the back yard with my 4-year-old daughter). An apparent clogged vent - pretty typical scenario, with plenty of opportunity for improvisation and problem solving.

Showed up to find an awesome cape with natural wood siding and hunter green trim. Inside, wide floor boards and high ceilings with exposed beams greet you. Heading up the stairs to the dryer area, you can't help but notice the space around in this house. Plenty of room and plenty of rooms, especially considering the architectural style. All in quaint Old Mystic, right at the peak of the Mystic River.

Turns out the dryer vent didn't lead to the outside. That's why we couldn't find any convincing hood. So I just put in a new one. Put the old (actually brand new) hole saw against the wall in the crawlspace attic, and made a hole. Screwed the hood on, built a 15-foot vent, caulked it all up, and cleaned the inside of the dryer. A big three-hour-plus job, but well worth it to make a well-working, easy to service dryer vent. They were happy, and so was I.

Oh yeah, and it was all in snow and ice. Fun to carry a ladder across a snow-drifts-turned-to-ice-skating-arena yard. I fell more than once. But it is always good to set up a great ventilation system.

If you are having venting problems, please feel free to email me or call me at 860.324.5213. I am in Mystic, CT and will travel up to an hour to help you.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cleaning the Inside of the Dryer

Once you understand the anatomy of a dryer ventilation system, you can see the importance of cleaning the inside of the dryer. Of particular importance are the area under and/or behind the lint screen, around the heating element, the electrical components, and the air intake slits. The photo to the right shows a stacked unit (common in smaller spaces) that has an extreme amount of pet-hair lint all along the ledge above the vent tubes. There are also many flat surfaces not visible in the photo that were covered with similar lint.

The lint screen configuration depends a lot on the specific dryer, but generally there is a lint screen which can be removed. This is the thing that you clean each load of clothes that you dry. Most of the time, it is a flat screen that slides vertically out from a compartment that is below the door of the dryer. If you take a flashlight and look into that space under the lint screen, you'll likely see a big buildup of lint. You can keep this maintained with a long, thin, tapered brush avaliable at home stores. When I clean this part, I use a bigger brush and a shop-vac stepped down to a 5/8" OD hose that can fit down there and get everything out. Sometimes you can take a panel off inside the machine that allows for easy complete access to this area, but normally it is a matter of poking around until you can tell by visual inspection that there's no more lint down there.

The heating element also varies in form. Most dryers are electric, and are heated by coils that act as resistive elements, such that when current flows through them, they create heat as a byproduct. This heat is channeled to be blown into the dryer by a fan. This is the part of the dryer where the fire will start. You must make sure this is as clean as possible. Often times you will see dark brown or black lint. It might look like someone spilled a bit of Guinness on the inside of your dryer. But this is not roasted barley, this is burnt lint. This is evidence of a near-fire in your dryer. Don't be too alarmed - this is pretty common. Normally the lint gets really hot and scorches, but no fire happens. But this area must be kept clean to prevent fires. At the same time, the coils (or gas burners and ignition system in a gas dryer) are fragile and delicate. It is a balance between cleaning that area and not disturbing the functional integrity of the device.

There are wires all over the place inside the dryer. It isn't exactly a functional test bed of nails for printed circuit board test, but it isn't quite as simple as those little DIY radio kits that your kids can do. Every dryer in particular will have an electric motor that drives a belt that turns the drum of your dryer. You know, the thing that causes it to spin so that the clothes move all around and get more evenly exposed to the hot air, so that they dry evenly and efficiently. Without getting all Electrical Engineering on you, this is basically just a big tight coil of wire that generates an electric field when current flows through it (it isn't as resistive as the heating element). The current causes a big magnet in the middle to spin with the current, which drives the belt, which directly drives the turning of the drum. If this gets too covered with lint, the electrical properties of the coil could be modified and effect the operation of the motor. If it gets extremely coated, wire connection points could become shorted by conductive lint. This must be kept fairly lint-free. It generally won't cause a fire, but should be maintained. It's good that this doesn't need to be "toothbrush clean" because it is usually really hard to get at.

Finally, there are air intake slits all over the back of the dryer. Often times you'll find a bunch of lint and/or dust behind your dryer. The back of the dryer is important to the function of the dryer, for this is the clean air intake for dryer operations. This lint and/or dust tends to be sucked into the dryer via the vent slits. To clean this, simply apply your vacuum to every slit back and forth until you no longer see lint or dust there. You may use your little brush attachment if you want, or the crevice tool. But for me the 5/8 tube works great, too.

That's the quick rundown on cleaning the inside of the dryer. OK, looking back through the writeup, it isn't that quick, but given the complexity of the system we're talking about, it is as quick as can be expected. If you just take the time to make sure all parts of your dryer are clean, you will get it right. At the same time, if you don't feel like spending a few hours figuring out how to take your dryer apart, which parts need to be taken apart, and how exactly to safely clean all the necessary parts, you can always give me a buzz (860.324.5213), and I will do all the hard work for you!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Anatomy of a Dryer Ventilation System

The purpose of your clothes dryer is to dry your wet clothes that have just been washed in your washing machine. To do this, the dryer applies heat (at a level of your setting, if so equipped) and moves the clothes around while creating airflow. The heat and spinning dry off the clothes, and the airflow carries the hot, wet air out of and away from the dryer.

The heating element heats up, and a fan-like device pulls air from the heating element through the dryer. Normally the heating element is at the back of the dryer - if you look, you'll see a bunch of little holes. The air is pulled through the lint screen (normally at the front of the dryer, near the door) and then out the dryer vent.

This is why you should clean your lint screen every load. If the lint screen is clogged, airflow will be recuded and drying efficacy will be reduced. But the lint screen still only captures 75% of the lint. The rest of it goes into the vent system and can be captured in there. If you take out your lint screen and look behind or under it, you will likely see a build up of lint. Some people use long lint brushes to clean this part of their dryer on a weekly basis.

At the bottom of that area behind or under the lint screen is where the fan-like device (it is actually somewhat more like a turbine - cool, huh?) pulls the air out of the dryer into the vent. Then inside the dryer is a bit of vent, which leads to an outlet from the dryer. At the back of your dryer is where the external ventilation system begins.

The vent is normally made up of a transition vent, a main vent, and a hood assembly. The transition vent goes from the dryer to the wall or floor. The main vent is hidden away from sight and leads to the outside of your residence. The hood assembly is the part that is visible from the outside. Behind the hood is a tailpipe which connects to the main vent. And there you have the path it takes.

You may notice that your transition vent seems much longer than it needs to be. This is normally done to make it easier to service the dryer, such that there's enough extra vent to be able to pull the dryer away from the wall a bit without the vent coming disconnected from the dryer. The transition vent may be made of flexible foil-like material (shown above), it could be a more rigid flexible pipe (shown to the left), it could be hard straight pipe (illustrated to the right) and elbows, or it could be some combination of these materials. White plastic should be an alarm to you, as this is not safe - it is flammable and should be replaced.

The main vent should be as rigid as possible. Since it is normally out of sight at best and inaccessible at worst, you want it to be foolproof. Whenever possible, it should be all hard straight pipe and elbows. Sometimes hard flexible pipe is needed. Soft flexible foil should be avoided if at all possible.

The tailpipe will almost always be a hard straight pipe segment connected to the hood. The hood may be a full-sized four-inch hood, a compact two-inch hood (not recommended), or a low profile hood (that's the one with three or four flaps but no real hood). This generally closes while the dryer is not running and opens when it is running. This keeps unwanted visitors (e.g. birds) out but allows proper airflow when needed.
This overview of the parts of the dryer ventilation system is the basis of knowledge needed to properly service a dryer ventilation system. Next time, I'll explain how to clean the inside of the dryer.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Work Truck Wanted

I have finally decided that I need a work truck for my Dryer Ventilator (and Dr. Dryer Vent subcontract) work. I am sick of my little Little Giant ladder being two feet too short to work. But yet restricted by the capacity of my 2006 Nissan Altima, I am stymied at attempts to carry a full-sized 28-foot extension ladder. Furthermore, my car is on a lease, and driving 300 miles a day back and forth and all around between Mystic and Avon CT.

So here's what I want. Color is white. I will accept either a work van (e.g. Econoline 150) or a full-sized pickup (e.g. F-150). It has a ladder rack. If a pickup, it has a cap for the bed. If a van, it has rear windows. It costs less than $2001.00. It is capable of taking me from Mystic to Avon and all in between every day.

Anyone out there with a lead, let me know. Anyone else, just hold the thought of me having this work vehicle in your mind and it will soon come to me.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Dryer Vent Cleaning Information

I found this great blog today, and they have some really great information and cool content there regarding dryer vent cleaning, including YouTube videos and things. Look for more of that stuff here once I spend a bit figuring out how to actually use YouTube.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Coogan Rocks!

So for those of you who paid attention, Coogan and Gildersleeve is my best referrer. They gave me all my local Dryer Ventilator solo projects. I finally made a step to make good with them today. I brought over a bin of "Two Bite Brownies" (purchased at A&P) to the service desk over there (along with a handfull of cards - they must be about to run out). The dude who took the cards was cool. He actually came to my residence to try to fix my old fridge (it was dead BTW), and he was happy to get the treats and cards. It was cool and easy. Those guys at Coogan are way cool!