By Jamie Wallace
Chimneys and dryer vents are a mystery to many homeowners and even experienced contractors. Both vent flammable or toxic gases to the exterior of your home, and both are horribly ignored.
This information is especially important when living in or managing apartments or condos.
Let’s start with dryer vents. There are codes and standards for how they are built. Many times, a heating element in the dryer will fail, causing the need for replacement. In some cases the dryer was never the problem, it was incorrect installation of the vent or heavy lint accumulation. This essentially overworks a dryer and shortens its life span significantly.
In 2010, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) stated that over 15,000 dryer vent fires occurred in the U.S. due to dirty dryer vents.
The good news is: it is 100 percent preventable.
The NFPA also recommends a dryer vent be inspected and cleaned as needed on an annual basis, which would drastically reduce risk. When an experienced professional comes out to service a dryer vent, they should also make sure it was installed properly. There should be no vinyl hose connections, no PVC venting, and certainly no screws holding it all together, which act like lint catchers.
These are only a few of the standards and codes that can be checked.
Now on to chimneys. It is said that less than 10 percent of all chimneys nationwide have ever been professionally inspected. That’s a problem. Not only does this cause potential CO poisoning and chimney fire risks, but neglect can lead to expensive repairs.
For example: During a chimney inspection, cracks are noticed at the top of the chimney. This doesn’t seem like a big deal. Fast forward five years later and those cracks have gone through significant freeze and thaw periods, resulting in massive exterior damage. The small cracks that would have been relatively inexpensive to repair have now incurred a bill in the thousands of dollars, as the contractor now has to rebuild the chimney.
But wait, I have a metal factory-built chimney or gas fireplace. Did you think these are considered disposable appliances? Their shelf life is typically 25-30 years before you start seeing failure in the chimney and the appliance itself.
The truth is, you cannot simply repair a factory-built unit or chimney. It comes with a UL listing by the manufacturer, with very few aftermarket parts available. You will void that listing if you do a repair not according to the manufacturer standards. In most cases, the only repair is total replacement.
The bottom line is that preventative maintenance is always a good idea. We don’t change the oil in our cars only when we come across an issue with our engine. Similarly, we should not wait until we have an issue with our chimney or dryer vent before we have them inspected.
Wallace is owner of Saratoga Chimney Sweep in Wilton.