When we think of today’s youth, we worry about the dangers of drugs, speed driving, texting while driving, etc. House fire caused by a dryer’s clogged vent is not among these, but unfortunately, it happened two years ago to 16-year-old Saylor Johnson of Harrisonville Missouri. Today, her grandparents are working with home inspectors to educate the public about the dangers of not cleaning your dryer’s vent. It happened to them, it could happen to us.
I can’t even remember when I first learned to clean out the lint after every use of the clothes dryer. Mom was a “worry wart” when it came to safety so that is where I get my sense of caution. Knowing that things happen is probably what got me interested to take the occupational safety course with OSHA and later to become a certified water and fire damage restoration specialist. Although about 30% of our restoration calls were for fires, I can’t say that I ever encountered a fire damaged home that was the result of a clogged dryer vent. Although I have been told that this does happen, so I decided to do a bit of research to find out how often this really happens.
According to one FEMA report from the US Fire Administration (data is the average over three years from 2008 to 2010), there were 2,900 homes clothes dryer fires each year that caused 5 deaths, 100 injuries and 35 million dollars of property damage. Now only a fraction of those fires was caused from the failure to clean out the ventilation ducting, less than 1/3. My new home might well have been future studies because when I ran the brush through, I got half a kitchen trash liner full of compacted lint free from the ducting. I couldn’t believe how much was in there. Apparently, the previous owners had never cleaned the ducts. They were fortunate not to have been fire victims.
What I found unexpected and a bit unnerving about the fire report was that the largest risk of fire is operational deficiency 46.6 % (I decided to buy a brand-new dryer). Other mechanical failure and electrical malfunction accounted for the remaining fires. Another fact reported was that smoke alarms were operational in 66% of all cases.
So my take away is that first we need to clean out those vents. When I had our full-service company, we did a lot of carpet and upholstery cleaning up in Ludington. I didn’t jump on the bandwagon when it came to air duct cleaning. The HVAC people have furnished their systems with decent filters that under normal circumstances do a fine job. Carpet itself acts as a filter for the air. I just didn’t see that duct cleaning is all that necessary, unless there is a mold or odor problem in the home. But dryer vent cleaning, like chimney cleaning for active fireplaces, is a must-do on the home maintenance list.
The second thing is using your calendar to remind you to check your smoke alarms each month. A 33% failure rate is just an unacceptable risk. Finally install an “ABC” fire extinguisher near the entrance of the laundry room. Remember you need the type that handles electrical (C) as well as Trash, wood, paper (A) and liquids (B).
I am going to be training my people to provide clothes dryer vent cleaning. The cost is going to be $160.00 for most homes.