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NJ AIR QUALITY BLOG

Is Your Dryer Vent the Cause of Your Broken Clothes Dryer?

ByMarc Silberberg

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“Trouble”, I said to myself as my wife walked from the laundry room toward me with a frown. She is usually so upbeat, but the kids had just returned from camp and their laundry pile was so high.

My wife washes everything from underwear to towels to linen even if it looks clean when the kids come home from camp. Some of the items may look washed but have acquired that not too fresh campy smell. Certain towels come home damp straight from the last day of swimming and hopefully mold has not been produced and the towels and other damp items can still be salvaged. My wife was under pressure to get all the laundry done before the dampness causes permanent damage to the laundry items so that a trip to Target or Walmart to buy new necessities could be averted.

 As I predicted, there was trouble with my eleven-year-old clothes dryer. Since I have attempted to fix my dryer and other appliances in our home successfully in the past, I was hoping I would be able to repair the dryer this time as well. I remembered that with a previous problem in the past I had changed a certain part but could not recall the name of the part so I called my neighbor who had helped me out at that critical time. After playing several rounds of phone tag, my neighbor finally returned my call. Following my description of the matter, he diagnosed the problem and then gave me the name of the part, which was called a thermal fuse. A thermal fuse is like a house fuse used for monitoring electricity in the dryer. When the energy serge becomes too hot the fuse will shut off automatically. These fuses are installed on the dryer’s exhaust duct. Some dryers will shut off automatically when the fuse triggers while others as ours did, will keep going without heating. Federal law requires that a thermal fuse must be included on all dryers produced since the 1980’s. It is a single use device that must be replaced after blowing each time.

With all the drying going on in our home the past couple of days, it did make sense that the problem could very well be the thermal fuse. With a short trip to the local appliance store, I purchased a thermal fuse for my Whirlpool clothes dryer for fifteen dollars.

Back home, I moved the dryer away from the wall making sure to unplug it from the outlet. I removed the screws from the back of the dryer to take off the metal backing. It was a regular 220-volt wall outlet so cutting off the power was easy. I was able to replace the thermal fuse smoothly, and low and behold the dryer hummed back into life. Was the problem solved? I certainly thought so.

Unfortunately, later in the day, my wife complained once again that the dryer was still not working. At first, when the thermal fuse was replaced the dryer did work but then stopped soon after. After confirming with another qualified neighbor, who is somewhat experienced in repairing appliances, I was advised that the thermal fuse probably blew due to a clogged dryer duct.

Our laundry room is located on the second floor of our home near the bedrooms. The first step was to look and see underneath the gas dryer if the flame was on. I noticed that the orange light was going on and off, but no flame was burning. The dryer vent goes up through the ceiling and then through the roof. I realized that the dryer vent had not been cleaned in years. Could this be the reason for the clothes failing to dry even as the dryer turned for many minutes? I was determined to find out.

Realizing that I had not cleaned the duct in years I sought out another experienced neighbor whom I knew had cleaned out his own dryer duct. Before attempting to take the duct unit apart I reached up and pulled out a glob of lint. I had only touched the bottom of the pipe where some lint had collected. The way my duct was shaped was quite intricate. There are two pipes attached to each other in a perpendicular manner. By sticking my hand into the first pipe I did come up with a handful of lint and at first I thought that maybe I had cleared the blockage but then I realized I just had cleared the lower part of the pipe. This was not enough of a clearing since that part of the pipe did not block the path to the roof.

Although, I have fixed various problems in my home efficiently, (for example, changing the oven igniter, fixing toilets and drains) this was way beyond my realm. This task would entail taking apart pipes and reconstructing and retaping them in the right places with duct tape. So, although I was reluctant to part with my hard-earned money, I wisely got in touch with a highly recommended dryer vent cleaning company.

Finally, after a few days without a working dryer, the duct cleaning serviceman arrived and cleaned out the dryer duct working for over one hour. In addition to vacuuming out the pipe he took it apart completely as my neighbor had described for me to do myself. He then reconstructed the pipes using a special sliver foil duct tape. He explained that the massive lint buildup was due to moisture mixing with the lint causing a huge accumulation near the opening in the roof. As far as the price, when he came into my home, he quoted a price of $135, but ended up charging me $160.

The vent technician turned on the dryer and to our amazement it worked. He suggested having our complicated vent cleaned every one or two years or whenever the dryer stops working. I paid the man and he left. Disappointingly my story does not end here.

Later, that day, we realized that again our dryer was not working. It had stopped igniting once again and we were back to square one. Since I had bought an extra thermal fuse when purchasing the initial one, I tried installing it first, but this did not solve the problem. My next call was to an appliance repairman. Luckily, for us, he was able to come the same day and diagnosed the issue as spark plug coils that burned out either because of insufficient air flow due to clogs or being worn out from use. These coils are the heating element of a Whirlpool dryer and is usually the first part that is suspected when the dryer is not working (assuming the vents are clear). This was some type of electrical problem that only an appliance repairman could fix.

I was happy that my dryer vents were cleaned prior to the appearance of the appliance repairman. Since the most common dryer issues are due to clogged vents, I bet this guy would have recommended that I have the vents cleaned before attempting to fix the dryer. I would have had to pay him for two visits instead of one. Also, our newly cleaned vent gave our family peace of mind knowing that our vent which was so badly clogged is now newly cleaned. We heard of someone who had a fire due to a clogged dryer vent and in the future, we will be more diligent with cleaning our vents on a regular basis.

Since moving into our townhouse over ten years ago, I take pride in solving my home repair problems. If my laundry room would be located near the end of the house or in a place where the dryer duct goes straight out of the house, I might have succeeded in cleaning it myself. In the house I grew up in, the vent is much shorter, and you can see it from the beginning to end when you move out the dryer. The worst that could happen when cleaning this type of dryer duct would be causing a hole in the hose which could be repaired with duct tape. In my townhouse, which is attached on both sides to similar homes, the only way for the dryer duct to go is up. Up, up it goes through the ceiling into the attic and through the roof. So, I am dealing with quite a long bit of hose and additionally the hose is attached to another hose in a perpendicular manner. I am so glad that I did not repair this problem myself and called a reputable repair company.

Each builder and contractor have their own unique way of installing a dryer duct. Especially in homes that are attached to each other, it is prudent to find a reliable duct cleaning service that is familiar with different types of homes and apartments. To clean a duct system such as mine required an intelligent and creative serviceman. I am thankful that I called the right person.

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