What you can’t see can hurt your wallet, or worse.
Some of the biggest threats and money sieves at home are things you can’t see, such as your clothes dryer vent.
The easily neglected piping, which in larger homes can exceed 40 feet, often goes ignored for years, sometimes decades. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, that inattention causes more than 15,000 fires annually.
“A lot of people don’t understand how bad the problem can be,” says Scott Smedstad, owner of Arizona Air Duct Cleaning in suburban Phoenix. “A lot have never had it done.”
According to Glen Mayfield, owner of Dryer Vent Wizard of Central Indiana, if your dryer takes more than 40 minutes for a load, feels hot to the touch while running or collects large amounts of lint during operation, you’re probably ready for a cleaning.
If you want to clean your dryer vent on your own, there’s equipment available, including brush kits that cost from $15 to over $50 based on length and quality.
Both Smedstad and Mayfield say results vary.
“Many do it successfully, but (the brushes) can break or disengage, so you have to be careful to make sure it works properly and it doesn’t get stuck,” Mayfield says. “I’ve retrieved a lot of them.”
Smedstad has also seen good intentions go bad.
“Rarely is someone going to have enough or the right equipment to do it on their own,” Smedstad says.
The longer the ventilation pipe, and the more bends and buildup it has, the more difficult the job. Professionals such as Smedstad and Mayfield use a sturdy snake or power brush to release clogs, along with a strong vacuum to remove the impediments.
Along with substandard brushes, Mayfield and Smedstad shudder at another do-it-yourself tactic: using a leaf blower to clear the vent from the inside.
“You can do that if it’s thoroughly cleaned first, but most people blow it and plug it up 10 times worse,” Smedstad says. “Sometimes it’s packed in so bad people have to cut the ceiling out to take the pipe apart. It isn’t a real good idea.”
“Lint is moist, and a blower can’t clean it out,” he says. “It’s like a snowball, and the more it rolls the bigger it gets.”
Lint isn’t the only enemy, as birds are a common infiltrator. Entering from the outside, they love building nests in the closed, warm space.
“They’re a huge problem,” Mayfield says. “Sometimes they’ll peck the vent cover until they can get it open, and they can get in even if it’s in good shape. We’ve found them six and eight feet deep into the vent.”
How much does dryer vent cleaning cost?
Smedstad’s average dryer vent cleaning costs around $95, whereas Mayfield charges $125 to $175, depending on the job.
The service saves customers money both short- and long-term. Mayfield cites industry studies that say clogged vents can add $18 to $25 to your monthly energy bill. Also, since clogged vents render dryers ineffective, it isn’t uncommon for a homeowner to scrap a unit because he thinks it’s shot.
“They’ll go out and buy a new one, have the same problem and then call us,” Mayfield says. “Then they’ll say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I got a new one and didn’t even need it.’”