Fixit: Home with unvented dryer can be trouble-prone

  • Updated: January 20, 1999 - 10:00 PM

QWe bought a home with an electric dryer in the basement. The dryer is not vented to the outside but rather is attached to a small plastic basin with a snap-on cover. The front of our house, which is the logical place to vent the dryer, is cobblestone, and we don't want to make a hole in it to vent the dryer.

Because our basement is finished, we cannot vent out the side but only to the back, which seems too far for a vent. What can we do? Every time I use the dryer the room in which it is located becomes a sauna.

AYou've identified one of the problems associated with unvented dryers -- excess moisture. Not only can the moisture be unpleasant but the vast amount pumped into a home when the dryer is in operation is more than most homes can handle. That means the house is prone to moisture-related problems such as icy windows and attics and moldy walls and closets.

It's important that clothes dryers -- gas or electric -- be vented to the outdoors, said state energy specialist Phil Smith. In addition to moisture, unvented dryers dump air laden with lint and chemical residues from cleaning and softening agents creating unhealthy indoor air.

But there are other concerns regarding safe indoor air even after the dryer is vented. The danger comes not from the dryer but from the dryer's effect on other appliances in the home.

Smith explained it this way: Dryers take in air from the house, heat it and expel it outdoors through a vent. This movement of air can amount to more than 150 cubic feet of air a minute being exhausted from the house. In some homes, that is more than what can possibly infiltrate the house from gaps, cracks and holes, especially in new or improved homes.

That means the laundry room or basement will become depressurized. This depressurization (or need for air) can cause air to be pulled down the chimney used by the water heater or furnace. If that happens, dangerous fumes from these appliances that normally exit the house will be pulled indoors where occupants breathe it.

To prevent this, you have to be sure there is enough air making it into the house to supply 150 cubic feet per minute that is flowing out. For information on how to determine that your home has enough makeup air for safe dryer operation, contact the Minnesota Department of Public Service's Energy Information Center at 651-296-5175 or 1-800-657-3710.

To answer your question about the feasibility of venting your dryer to the back, it's best to ask the manufacturer. In your case, Whirlpool recommended using 4-inch-diameter smooth metal ducts. If the vent needs three 90-degree elbows to run out the back, the maximum length of duct you can use is 35 feet. If the vent needs only two 90-degree elbows, then 44 feet of duct is OK.

In any case, keeping the duct and blower clean is critical to being able to support this length of duct, Smith said.

More on toothpaste  

Following the Jan. 11 Fixit column about Vademecum toothpaste's being available only by mail order, readers offered names of Twin Cities stores where they've found it for sale. Some of the stores mentioned were Lunds, Byerly's and Cub grocery stores, Dayton's, some Walgreens, Burch Pharmacy in Minneapolis, some Snyder Drugs, Drug Emporium and Cashwise in St. Cloud.

The message for Vademecum seekers seems to be: Check around, and you'll find it.

-- Send your questions to Fixit in care of the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488, or call 612-673-9033, or e-mail fixit@startribune.com. Past columns are available at http://www.startribune.com/fixit. Sorry, Fixit cannot supply individual replies. Fixit appears every day except Friday.

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