Tips on dryer vent and fireplace safety
When remodeling a home, appearance is often the primary goal. Homeowners should be mindful, however, that function and safety are more important. Remodeling can offer an opportunity to get things done right, and save money in the long run.
When most Heights homes were built, placement of a laundry room was an afterthought, or was done without any regard to venting. One common modern trend is to locate a laundry room centrally in the home. Although this may seem convenient and sensible, it may be dangerous.
One home inspected this winter had a centrally located basement laundry room. The dryer vent wasn’t taken into consideration when the home was built, and the vent had become detached in a finished ceiling—happily, the problem was discovered before it created a larger hazard. The vent of a dryer shouldn’t exceed 25 feet in length, and every 90-degree turn in the vent reduces that recommended distance by 5 feet.
Ideally, this dryer should have been placed much closer to an outside wall (or even near a roof) to vent properly. Having the vent hiding in a wall or ceiling makes it harder to detect issues and to repair them without demolishing finished walls or ceilings.
Also, the vent should be joined and secured properly. The vent mentioned in this example was not. It was joined together with duct tape—likely a contributing factor to its disconnection.
Homeowners need to be aware of the risks and the trade-offs, to make informed decisions.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), “Dryers and washing machines were involved in one out of every 22 home structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments in 2006–10.” These are high-usage appliances in just about every home. NFPA recommends having a dryer serviced once a year, or more frequently if it's taking longer than normal for clothes to dry.
Many 100-year-old Heights homes have fireplaces. When restored, they add elegance, are a heating source, and can save energy. When remodeling a fireplace it’s important to know the proper size of a hearth extension and cumbustible-trim clearances. The NFPA has two recommended hearth extension sizes. If your fireplace opening is less than 6 square feet (height x width), the front clearance of the fireplace north extension should be a minimum of 16 inches to the floor in front; and to the sides, 8 inches to the floor. For fireplace openings 6 square feet and larger, the recommendation is 20 inches to the front and 12 inches to the sides. Going larger is OK, especially if you are considering a wood-stove insert at some later date. Keep in mind that a hearth extension must be made of a noncombustible/masonry material, and be at least 4 inches thick.
Finally a tip about decorative wood trim: The first 6 inches surrounding a fireplace should have no combustible trim. In the 6- to 12-inch range, trim can exist, but protrude no more than 1.5 inches.
Scott Campbell is a Cleveland Heights resident and owner of Good Knight’s Sweep (www.gksweep.com). He is a certified dryer exhaust technician, and a member of the Chimney Sweep Guild and the Heights Hillcrest Chamber of Commerce.