This is a fair question! It makes a lot of sense to understand what can go wrong if you don't have a service performed. So let's take a look at what can go wrong if you do not clean your dryer vent.
Failing to to perform regular dryer vent cleaning causes lint to accumulate within your ductwork to the point that it becomes a fire hazard. But it also causes the following major issues:
It is common for a customer to repair or replace their dryer several times before realizing that the precipitating issue was a dryer vent that needed to be serviced. It's unfortunate, but many times it takes a major issue like this for people to become aware that dryer vent cleaning is essential to maintain.
The worst possibility of all, however, is a house fire due to the lack of dryer vent cleaning. The National Fire Protection Agency estimates roughly 16,000 laundry related home fires each year. A dryer can be replaced, a vent can be repaired...but the people in the house are irreplaceable.
We highly recommend getting on a cleaning plan in order to ensure proper upkeep with your dryer vent system.
It is hard to know what to look for when having a service performed at your home. What should you expect a service professional to address during your next dryer vent cleaning? You want to ensure that you are paying for a job well-done, so should be included in an effective and professional residential dryer vent cleaning? When researching companies make sure that you choose a dryer vent technician that addresses the following areas.
A proper dryer vent cleaning will thoroughly clean out the debris built up around the flexible duct behind the dryer (transition duct), the ductwork traveling through the house (main duct), the flapper area on the exterior (termination cover) and pest guard (if applicable). Pest screens are against code, so make sure you don't have a screen installed as this is a major fire hazard.
Depending upon the cleaning method used by the technician, sometimes the dryer will need to be pulled and sometimes it won't need to (or be able to). This depends on the cleaning, but typically it is best to make sure the dryer is pulled out to ensure as thorough cleaning as possible.
Many companies also clean the dryer duct (the portion of duct sticking out from the back of the dryer), the lint screen and the lint trap as part of their cleaning process. These are all technically parts of the dryer--not the dryer vent--but due to the overlap in the function of venting, it is great to have these cleaned out as well.
Occasionally, a dryer vent technician will also offer the additional service of opening the dryer to clean out the inside the appliance. Many dryer vent technicians leave this as a service to be performed by an appliance repair technician due to the complexity and liability of opening up a dryer. If you do have this performed by a dryer vent technician, be sure that they are experienced, licensed and insured for appliance work in addition to the vent work.
Yes, dryer vent cleaning is crucially important to be performed regularly by a qualified technician! Dryer vent cleaning is necessary to eliminate the flammable lint build up within the vent system. This build up can catch fire and spread throughout the house, restrict your dryer's ability to perform, create blockages leading to water damage and cause premature dryer repair/replacement. Often it is best to get on cleaning plan for service so this important aspect of home maintenance is not neglected.
Most dryer manufacturers recommend "regular cleanings"; the US Fire Administration recommends that you "clean lint out of the vent pipe every three months." Generally, however, a good guideline is to never go more than 1 year between dryer vent cleanings. Here at The Dryer Vent Guys we offer three cleaning plans--6 month, 9 month and 12 month discounts--but you can schedule whatever frequency works best for you.
The answer is often, yes! Many times your dryer vent becomes so restricted that it causes a failure within the appliance. So, yes, it is often due to your vent; and, yes, it is often your appliance. The lack of heat is a direct sign of an appliance problem (typically the heating element), but oftentimes is indirectly due to restricted ductwork causing the appliance failure in the first place. I’ve heard many customers recount that the warranty company warned that they would not cover the repair again unless the homeowner got the dryer vent professionally cleaned—otherwise the appliance can just keep failing requiring repair after repair. That is dangerous, and could be a prime situation for a fire to start.
Occasionally, water can accumulate within your dryer vent system so that there is wet, sopping lint. Normally, the moist air from the dryer dampens the dryer vent ductwork, the moisture in the exhaust is largely brought to the exterior, and the dampness remaining in the duct evaporates away. When there is a significant blockage or restriction such that the dryer is unable to bring the moisture outside, the water accumulates within the duct and creates problems. First, it can be very difficult to clean the dryer vent (higher cost) and can also require an additional cleaning a week or two later (extra cost). Second, large amounts of condensed water can leak out of the duct and damage your house. Third, this same water can corrode the galvanized metal ductwork, especially if it doesn't have a way to leak out of the duct. This can require anything from a more isolated repair to a complete dryer vent replacement. This can all be avoided by simply staying up on regular dryer vent cleanings. All these problems become quite costly and can be mitigated by proper maintenance.
There are several factors that contribute to lint accumulation (the topic for another post), and these factors vary significantly from house to house. However, no matter your dryer vent's configuration, the frequency for cleaning is based upon how much buildup occurs in your dryer vent. So how much accumulation should be found between cleanings? Not much more than a dusting. For straight sections of duct we look for no more than a dusting and for your transition duct, around your elbows (turns) and toward your termination cover there will be "balling." Since these latter areas are more restrictive they have increased accumulation and start to clump up (balling). Those balls of lint should be no more than a quarter in size (and hopefully not that large).
In order to target this level of buildup annual cleanings are preferred for most people. If your vent system is DIY-friendly (only exhausts a few inches through the side of your house and does not require an extension ladder to access), then by all means clean your vent system more regularly. However, for professional cleanings it usually turns out that an annual cleaning does pretty well in targeting the desired level of accumulation. If you go beyond this level you begin to flirt with the fire-hazard aspect of your vent system. In order to incentivize this proper maintenance we give an annual cleaning discount and offer, for a further discount, to schedule your next appointment a year in advance.
There are a several choices when it comes to termination covers. Plastic or metal; louvered or single-dampere; hooded or flush. Louvered models can have two, three, or four louvers. If metal, they can be paintable, galvanized, or pre-finished. Plastic models can consist of the standard cover or have multiple pieces which comprise act as flashing. Sometimes a termination cover will be installed over the siding, flashed around the siding, or with part of it under the siding. Plastic models can also dramatically vary in quality, leading lower quality models to disintegrate or break easily. There is even a model that has two single-dampers. one on top of the other, to deter bird entry.
We prefer to install metal covers because they tend to last far longer than their plastic counterparts. By far and away, the most popular model we install is this:
Why do we like it so much? It is the most attractive and efficient cover on the market (that we are aware of, at least--and we are aware of most of them!). Also, it is more easily cleanable than other metal models, ensuring the damper remains functional. Perhaps most importantly, it has a couple layers of bird resistance built into it so as to thwart off avian entry. (However, there is also a matching bird guard to definitely ensure that they stay out!)
Something that can need to be replaced is the dryer's transition duct. The transition duct connects the duct from the dryer to the main ductwork that begins in the wall/ceiling/floor. There are a few things to bear in mind regarding transition ducts. Firstly, they should be of the appropriate material. This means that it should be a heavy metal material. Slinky foil ducts should not be used--ever--in the dryer vent system. Typically, the choice material for transition ducts is semi-rigid duct. This allows for heavy metal material while maintaining flexibility while connecting the dryer. Secondly, the transition duct should be of the appropriate length. Code requires that the transition duct not exceed eight feet. Unfortunately, eight foot sections of semi-rigid duct do not actually equal eight feet--they are often closer to six feet when extended. This means that in certain longer-length situations the main duct needs to be extended in order to bridge the difference. Thirdly, the transition duct should not extend out of the laundry room area. Non-rigid material certainly cannot penetrate past the wall/ceiling/floor of the laundry room such that it is concealed. Lastly, the transition duct should be listed as in accordance with UL2158A.
Over the last few decades, architects have begun to design laundry spaces with convenience in mind. As a consequence the laundry room has become more and more centrally located in the home. This has largely created the need for professional dryer vent cleaning, since most homeowners are not aware of the proper procedures for cleaning a dryer vent nor do they have adequate equipment to clean these longer vents. Instead of a vent running a few feet to the exterior, the modern vents may be ten times that--and behind finished spaces.