House & Home

DIY Tips: Venting a Clothes Dryer

Posted September 25, 2012 11:35 a.m. EDT

A few months ago our electric clothes dryer died. It was expected as the thing was getting close to 18 years old, and I had done a few basic repairs over the years. There often comes a time when it's better to just let go and move on.

The old unit we had was an entry-level machine and considering its age was still getting the job done. Rather than buy a shiny new one I spent a few weeks looking for a replacement on Craigslist. If you're not in a hurry you can find some pretty good deals there. Since we were still in the heart of summer we got by for a few weeks using some old school clothes drying methods. The power of sunshine and a fresh breeze can do wonders on your electric bill.

The Hook Up

When I picked up our new (used) machine I hooked up the vent as I normally do when installing for my Denver area remodeling business clients. To me the best method of install is completed using smooth wall rigid aluminum ducts. I can pick these up at my local hardware store in my small town or at our local big box store down in the flats. For my basic set up I needed a couple of elbows and a few feet of 4" tube. The tube sections come flat and it is a pretty easy job to snap them into "tube" shape with the special locking edges. Before I do this however, I like to trim them to the proper length with my tin snips. One thing to keep in mind when is comes to venting is "less is more" Short runs with few bends or elbows keeps the airflow velocity at a high enough level to reduce lint accumulations. Another thing is to point all of the male ends of the tubing away from the dryer, do not use screws to attach the sections but instead use metal foil tape.

My old vent was a bit squished. (That must have happened last year when I moved the dryer to install the water heater…but that is another story for another day.) I went ahead and installed all new vent pipe. The cost of this new run was not too bad and working with new materials is always a joy compared to old dirty stuff.

What NOT to Use

I have reworked a number of vents for clients over the years and the most commonly replaced item is flexible wire core vent tubing. Both the vinyl and the aluminum foil types. Take it from me, this stuff should be outlawed…sure it is easy to install, but the down sides are just not worth the perceived cost savings.

The flexible nature and expandable configuration allow most installs to occur with out any modification to the duct or the wall penetration. A pair of jumbo zip ties and your good to go…at least for a few months until all of the internal bumps and ridges begin to clog with lint. As more and more lint accumulates it reduces the airflow even more, which then speeds up the clogging process.

It also tends to kink and get some airflow restricting bends. When this happens, the airflow is reduced and your dryer's effectiveness drops off precipitously. I have also seen where this tubing was never cut to an optimal length, which hinders flow. Reduced flow can lead to overheating and lint fires.

The Next Best Thing

One option that is loads better than the wire core stuff. It is a combination of rigid and expandable aluminum. Here the rigid elbows are used, and the straight run is set up with a length of the expandable aluminum. This tubing is a bit like magic in that it expands like an accordion and can accommodate minor bends with ease. In extreme cases you could even use it for a full elbow type bend, but the turn radius is a bit bigger than rigid elbows.

Inspect Often

Whatever option you use it is a good idea to inspect and/or clean these ducts on a regular basis. Call an HVAC contractor if you don't know how to do it. The materials you use and the length and configuration of your vent will dictate how often this needs to occur, the frequency of use and clothing types will also contribute to various rates of lint build up. It's a good idea to check once a year and make adjustments from there. If you have lots of pets and kids and run the dyer every day or so…you may need to inspect every 3 to 6 months. We run ours about once or twice a week and I can normally get a few years in before I need to clean the vent. I just love smooth vent pipe.

Kevin Stevens writes for Networx.

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