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Dryer disasters: Birds, wasps and critters in your vents!

By Garth Haslem

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 5 2012 5:25 p.m. MDT

Missing any kind of cover, this vent is plugged past the point of no return.

Garth Haslem, www.crossroadsengineers.com

A wise individual once said that barns induce memory loss: You build them up and forget about them — that is until they fall down.

In some ways, dryer vents can be like old barns — you forget about them until they crumble. Let’s face it — we’re all guilty. That being so, there are great costs associated with failure to keeping your dryer vent on your maintenance radar.

Dryer vent adversities can include mouse, bird and wasp entry at exposed openings, mold and termite issues from the moisture, and potential death from carbon monoxide poisoning. But wait! Just like a classic infomercial, there is more. The consumer product safety commission reports that unattended dryer lint can cause home fires. If that list of catastrophes sounds long and extremely unpleasant, tranquility is near. Addressing the problem is a breeze — if you get to it soon enough.

Not attached — termites attack

Home inspectors often notice when they pull out the dryer, the vent hose doesn’t move. It might have looked attached, but really, was not. Not attached at all. The proof is the dust. The more dust you see behind the dryer, the longer the duration of the attachment problem. Sometimes an inspector will see some of the more innovative solutions for dryer ventilation. These include individuals attaching pantyhose to the dryer exhaust. Sometimes it gets worse — some just run the vent behind the sheet rock to die. In each situation, lint will fill the room causing lung problems, and the moisture is a guaranteed source of mold and termites in your manor.

The birds and the bees

It’s not always just about what’s going on inside your home. The exterior dryer vent can be the cause of other issues. For example, a dryer vent typically has three flap covers. These open up to allow air to escape when the dryer is on, then close when the dryer is off. What happens when one of these flaps come off? Birds happen. Wasps happen, too, and another good friend of the writer once played host to various families of mice. She got the honor of “mouse family hostess” simply because the uncovered dryer vent looked like a front door for rodents. After all, if you love your home, why shouldn’t the mice?

The photo set shows a home where a bird’s nest was built just inside the dryer vent cover. This made a pretty good place to call home if you’re a bird: It’s up high, roughly 7 feet from ground height and away from cats. (In addition, rent is cheap and the pad boasts an excellent view.)

While the area does have the makings of a bird-nest paradise, there are drawbacks. Being up so high, the dryer line to this swallow condo rises to that elevation from main floor level. This means that chicks being pushed out of the nest by the big bad brother have to fall several feet to the ground, falling victim to either the sun or local felines. While that may sound bad to the bird mother, another scenario may affect you a bit more: big brother pushes little brother out of the nest and into your dryer hose. When this happens, you have a rotting carcass inside your wall … they don’t smell good.

Marathon runs

Have you ever ran a marathon? Why would anybody do that really? To force your body through the streets when you could sit on the couch, eat doughnuts and watch the Kardashians? (Well, maybe the running does sound better.) In any case, long runs can be hard, and the longer the run, the harder it’s going to be to get it done. The same is true for dryer ventilation. Short runs of a few inches are ideal. According to eHow.com, a run of 3 feet or less is preferred if the homeowner will be using fabric softener.

Plugs promise pulmonary problems

Got carbon monoxide? If the exhaust doesn’t make it out, you may. If you have excessive dust, a bird nest, a wasp condo or any combination of the above, the air from your dryer will struggle to escape. Rather than find its way through a torturous path around birds and little Johnny’s pocket lint, the air may simply find a hole in the sidewall — any hole will do. Such a condition will cause all of the carbon monoxide that should be escaping to find its way right back into the home. There, your family will benefit from the not-so-soothing effects of carbon monoxide.

But it’s dirty!

Cleaning your dryer vent line is rarely entertaining, but it’s better than a tube full of mice and wasps. Cleaning your dryer vent is also better than risking your life. Here’s another way to put it: If you know someone who occasionally has to vent their problems, imagine all the new and improved drama associated with previously “unvented drama.” Your dryer needs to vent, too. It just needs to vent completely, and more often.

Garth Haslem is a registered structural engineer and experienced home inspector. He is author of "The Home Maintenance Guide" & "The Household Hazards Handbook." Download free at www.crossroadsengineers.com. Facebook: "Garth Haslem — the Home Medic"

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