Reduce the Risk of a Dryer Vent FIRE!

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Prevent Dryer Vent fires

Every household has a dryer, and at least one dryer vent.  The exhaust vent, more commonly referred as a dryer vent, can be a hidden fire hazard.  Most homeowners clean the lint trap in the dryer.  But what they forget to do is clean the entire ductwork.

In this article, I’ll touch on

  1. Defects that are typically found during the home inspection relating to the dryer vent
  2. The fire hazard of a dryer vent
  3. Steps to ensure your vent is safe

During a home inspection, the inspector will look for installation problems related to the ductwork, if its clean or dirty, and the type of exterior vent cover.  Just a reminder, a home inspector does not perform a code compliance inspection.  For this article though, let us look at the ductwork requirements according the IRC (International Residential Code) Section M1502 Clothes Dryer Exhaust guidelines:


M1502.5 Duct Construction.

Exhaust ducts shall be constructed of minimum 0.016-inch-thick (0.4 mm) rigid metal ducts, having smooth interior surfaces, with joints running in the direction of air flow.  Exhaust ducts shall not be connected with sheet-metal screws or fastening means which extend into the duct.

Common defects found by inspectors

If your home inspector notes that the ductwork for the dryer exhaust was flexible plastic or aluminum, and not rigid metal with a smooth interior surface, there is a reason for that.  Those types can be kinked which restricts air flow and causes buildup of debris and lint, increasing your chances of a fire.

Lint and other debris can get caught and build up over time inside ductwork. 

Most hardware stores sell flexible plastic for less than $5 bucks.  They even sell flexible semi-rigid or aluminum foil ductwork for less than $10 bucks for 8 feet.  The one thing they don’t tell you is that you should not use this stuff!

The reason a lot of people use the flexible plastic is because its cheap and quick to install. Same way with the aluminum foil ductwork.  But think about what happens when the lint builds up in the dips in the that ductwork. 

Semi rigid ductwork is flexible as well making installation quick, but the interior is not smooth.  Depending on the length of your run, you have many grooves that the lint can collect, and build up over time.  Yet the hardware store or manufacturer doesn’t tell you this. Its best if you install rigid metal with a smooth interior!

Fire Hazards

During the drying process, the heated air turns the water in the clothes into water vapor and expels the water vapor and lint, along with other debris through the exhaust vent.  Over time, the lint and debris build up inside the ductwork, restricting the airflow.  This can cause the machine to overheat, and mechanical failures can cause a spark which ignites the built-up lint in the exhaust to burst into flames.  Ultimately, the house starts on fire.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2010,    U. S. Fire departments responded to an average of 16,800 home structure fires that were caused by dryers, 51 deaths, 380 injuries, and $257 million in property damage.  It can happen at any time, and it’s very easy to reduce your risk!

Steps to Avoid a DRYER VENT Fire

1. Take a few minutes and look at your dryer, ductwork, and the exterior cover. 

If there’s flexible plastic or aluminum ductwork, replace it immediately with rigid metal that’s smooth on the inside.  Make sure you use clamps instead of screws to connect the ductwork together.  And make sure the cover on the outside has flaps.  If your cover has a screen on it, throw it away.  That will restrict air flow and is a potential fire hazard .

2.  Clean Your Ductwork

According the NFPA, ductwork should be cleaned every year.  You can do it yourself or hire a professional to do it.  The dryer should also be cleaned at the same time.

3.  Make sure you have the Correct Cover

A cover with any type of screen should NOT be used.  There are two types of dryer vent covers that should only be used.  

The louver or flap style are the only types that are recommended.  They will open up when the dryer runs, and will allow lint and debris to exit the ductwork. You do need to check on them periodically to make sure they are in working condition and free of all obstructions. 

dryer vent fire

Never Use This Style


*The reason screens are not recommended is they are not cleaned frequently enough and pose a fire hazard.

Don’t become a statistic.  Take the easy steps today to protect yourself today!  Paxton offers dryer vent cleaning to help protect your home.  For questions or to schedule a cleaning – Call 701-306-0472.

Inspector Tip:  Never operate your dryer when you are not at home!



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About Me

Ike Paxton, CPI (owner of Paxton Inspection Services) is Certified by the IAC2 and InterNACHI and licensed inspector.

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