Chimney and dryer vent fires — two leading causes of home disasters — are actually easy to prevent with regular maintenance including a chimney sweep and dryer vent cleaning. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, fires in chimney flues and laundry rooms account for 6% and 4% of all household fires, respectively. And although kitchen fires are much more common (resulting in 42% or all home fires), the scary thing about chimney and dryer vent fires is they often go unnoticed until the fire is burning out of control, resulting in major structural damage, destroyed homes, injuries and death.
What Causes Chimney Fires?
Chimney fires are caused by dirty chimneys. Chimneys are designed to safely expel the by-products produced when wood is burned, such as smoke, water vapor and gases. However, the residue that remains – a tar-like substance called creosote – sticks to the inner walls of the chimney and is highly combustible. If the creosote builds up in sufficient quantities and the internal temperature of your chimney flue gets hot enough, the result could be a chimney fire.
Photo: Chimney Safety Institute of America
What Causes Dryer Vent Fires?
Clothes dryer vent fires are caused by a build-up of lint in crevices deep down inside the lint filter trap and all along the dryer vent hose. Lint is formed as water is removed from clothing during the drying process. Excessive lint builds up slowly and gradually. Cleaning out the lint trap inside the dryer after each use will help prevent problems. However, fires can occur when there is a build-up of lint in the dryer vent hose that blocks the flow of air and results in excessive heat.
A special meter can be used to monitor backpressure in the vent that happens when there is a build-up of lint. You can also watch for these warning signs that your dryer vent hose may be clogged with lint:
- Clothes take longer to dry or aren’t drying fully;
- Clothes are hotter than normal at the end of the drying cycle;
- The outside of dryer gets very hot;
- The outside exhaust vent flapper does not open very much, indicating low exhaust velocity;
- Laundry room becomes more humid than usual;
- Burnt smell is evident in the laundry room.
Regular Maintenance Prevents Fires, Provides Other Benefits
Removing the build-up of creosote and soot in the chimney of your fireplace, wood stove or pellet stove will reduce the risk of fire and improve the draft. Experts recommend an annual chimney inspection by a professional and a chimney sweep cleaning at least once a year. A clean chimney flue will operate more efficiently and provide a warmer, more comfortable home.
Similarly, cleaning the build up of lint in your clothes dryer vent hose on an ongoing basis will help to eliminate the threat of a fire starting there. Another benefit is your clothing will dry considerably faster, thus reducing the energy needed to run the dryer and saving money.
“DIY” Chimney Sweep and Dryer Vent Cleaning Tools
Professional chimney sweep and dryer vent (or dryer duct) cleaning services can be found in most communities…at a cost. With the right equipment, homeowners can save a considerable amount of money handling these cleaning tasks themselves.
Do-it-yourself tool kits for cleaning your chimney flue, pellet stove and stovepipe, and dryer vent are easy to use and come with specially-designed brushes, flexible extensions rods and adapters and hook up easily to any cordless power drill.
- Chimney Sweep Rotary Cleaning System — The spinning action of the plastic chimney cleaning rotary “whip” cleans flues and stovepipes better than a brush and won’t scratch metal flues the way wire bristles will.
- Dryer Vent Cleaning System — The rotating action of the auger brush and flexible rods will traverse the multiple turns that are common in most vent systems.
- Pellet Stove Rotary Cleaning System — Spinning chimney “whip” removes dangerous soot and ash buildup better than a brush.
If You Have a Fire…
If you observe or suspect a fire in your chimney or dryer vent, get everyone out of the house and call the fire department immediately. Once the fire is successfully extinguished, bring in a professional inspector or repairman to find the cause and make the necessary repairs to prevent future fires. Remember that doing a regular chimney sweep and dryer vent cleaning is the best way to avoid these types of home fires.