Monday, April 19, 2010

Need Something to Worry About? How About Lint Fires?

"Lint From Dryers Can Become Fire Hazard"
CBS2 Chicago (April 1, 2010)

"There is a potential fire hazard in homes across our area. Most at-risk are houses built in the last 20 years. The danger involves clothes-dryer ventilation systems.

"2 Investigator Dave Savini spoke with a Munster, Ind., woman who came dangerously close to losing her home because of a dryer fire.

" 'You could just see the fire just kept coming and coming,' said Elizabeth Moreno.

"She says she had no idea how common clothes dryer fires are. Nationwide, more than 15,000 are reported each year. Seventy-percent of dryer fires are caused by a clogged system.

"Moreno, like many other owners of homes built since the late 1980s, did not realize the ventilation system attached to her dryer was too long. Her vent was nearly 40 feet long, which meant the system could not effectively blow the lint outside. Therefore, dangerous amounts of lint clogged the system...."

"...Wesselhoff took apart a dryer in a Tinley Park home to show us how it was loaded with lint. The dryer ventilation system in the home was 50 feet long, which is twice as long as what the Federal Emergency Management Agency says is safe. According to FEMA, dryer vent runs should never be longer than 25 feet...."

That April 1 (April Fools' Day) date stamp encouraged me to do a little checking. I'd rather not believe that someone with a funny bone but little common sense would think a fake warning would be funny: but it doesn't hurt to check.

Well I didn't find much on the FEMA website ( to support the CBS2 claim - apart from this reference in a bibliography: "Electric arc ignites lint in dryer vent," Tremblay, Kenneth J., NFPA JOURNAL, p. 24, September-October 2001. That's in a pdf-format file, "Focus on Fire – Prevent Home Fires," "A selected bibliography of recent publications, Compiled by the NETC Learning Resource Center."

There's some pretty good advice about using a lint-free cloth to clean surfaces, and conducting evacuation drills, and that sort of thing, though.

I did find this:

"Overheated Clothes Dryers Can Cause Fires"
Consumer Product Safety Commission (Updated June 2003)

"The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in 1998, clothes dryers were associated with 15,600 fires, which resulted in 20 deaths and 370 injuries. Fires can occur when lint builds up in the dryer or in the exhaust duct. Lint can block the flow of air, cause excessive heat build-up, and result in a fire in some dryers...."

It's not FEMA: But the USCPSC staff presumably knows what they're talking about.

Bottom line?
  • Long dryer vents aren't a good idea
  • Cleaning your dryer filter regularly is a good idea
  • Having your home burn down is unpleasant
  • Being inside when it burns is worse
My household's dryer vent system is under three feet long, by the way - including an external filter.

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