DIY Tips: Venting a Clothes Dryer

Don't do this unless you want a clogged dryer vent. Photo by the author.A few months ago our electric clothes dryer died. It was expected from an entry-level machine which was getting close to 18 years old. I had done a few basic repairs over the years, but there eventually comes a time when it's better to just let go and move on.

Rather than buy a shiny new dryer, 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  old school clothes drying methods. The power of sunshine and a fresh breeze can do wonders for your electric bill.

The Hook Up

When I picked up our new-to-us machine, I hooked up the vent as I normally do when installing for my Denver remodeling clients. To me, the best method uses smooth wall rigid aluminum ducts, which I can pick  up at my local small town hardware store or 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's a pretty easy job to snap them into tube shape with the special locking edges. First, however, I like to trim them to the proper length with my tin snips. Keep in mind when it comes to venting that “less is more.” Short runs with few bends or elbows keep the airflow velocity at a high enough level to reduce lint accumulations. Two more tips: 1) point all of the male ends of the tubing away from the dryer and 2) attach the sections with metal foil tape,not screws.

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's a 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 downsides are just not worth the perceived cost savings. 

The flexible nature and expandable configuration allow most installs to occur without any modification to the duct or the wall penetration. A pair of jumbo zip ties and you're 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 the airflow is reduced, 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's loads better than the wire core stuff 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's a good idea to inspect and/or clean these ducts on a regular basis. Call an HVAC contractor if you don't know how. The materials you use and the length and configuration of your vent will dictate how often cleaning needs to occur. Frequency of use and clothing types will also contribute to various rates of lint buildup. Check once a year and make adjustments from there. If you have lots of pets and kids and run the dyer every day…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.

Updated February 28, 2018.

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