Dying in a fire is NOT on my bucket list.
July 30, 2014 5:56 PM   Subscribe

Everyone in my building has to run their dryer for three cycles to dry their clothes. Nobody seems particularly concerned. Management says the problem isn't with the dryers (which they sent people to clean out) but with something or other in the walls (the pipes?) and eventually they'll need to open the walls to fix it. They don't seem to be treating it as an urgent matter, though. Should I?

Having to dry a load on high for 180 minutes is one thing, but what drove me to AskMefi tonight was a horrific article I randomly encountered about a house fire that spread too quickly for smoke detectors to give the alert. As my dryer buzzed, it suddenly occurred to me: should I be concerned about a fire hazard resulting from whatever is wrong inside the walls?

The management has told me only what I wrote above: something vague about how ALL the dryers vent into a very twisty, old series of passages (inside the walls) that need to be fixed in some way that will require opening the walls first.

From that limited info, should I be concerned enough about fire safety to aggressively agitate for a fix? (And if so, what EXACTLY should I be agitating for, in the short term? A ban on our dryers until the passages in the walls are fixed?)

I know pretty much nothing about home repairs, renovations, appliance safety, fire safety, etc., so I thought I'd put the question to the crowd and ask how worried I should be -- and if I should be worried, what I should be doing/asking/demanding to ensure the safety of myself and other residents.
posted by artemisia to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, you should push them to fix this and I bet it's far easier to fix than your landlord is letting you on to believe!

Anecdote: when we moved into our current place, we had the same issue with the dryer taking 3 or more loads to dry clothes. Landlord sent out an HVAC guy who said the problem was in the vent pipe leading from the dryer to the outside - specifically that it was blocked full of lint because the previous tenant did not clean the lint trap, like, EVER. He had some sort of mega device that connected to one or both ends of the vent to suction (or maybe force out via air?) the clogged lint out of the pipe. Presumably the same could be done at your building?
posted by joan_holloway at 5:59 PM on July 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Ask them to fix this. Good reasons for them to fix this include: fire safety (lint buildup can cause fires either at the dryer end or further in), damage to tenants' clothes (OK, landlord may not care about this one, but your neighbors might), and energy costs (who is paying for these absurdly long dryer runs?) It is possible the dryer inefficiency is just because the venting is into a twisty maze of passages, all alike, but with no lint build-up. They still ought to be able to tell you when the last time they had the thing cleaned out was.

They still might not bother, so make sure you've got decent renters' insurance coverage and back up anything important (these are good things to do regardless, but if you haven't, it's easier to find the motivation when you've got a particularly good reason!)
posted by asperity at 6:07 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

If the air from the dryer isn't flowing easily outside, then moisture from this dryer air could be building up...somewhere, in the walls, in the attic, somewhere. This could significantly increase the risk of mold, which will be extremely expensive for the landlord to fix.
posted by amtho at 7:11 PM on July 30, 2014

Yes, you should push this. Fires from dryer vents are incredibly common - and if they're lax on this kind of major maintenance, what other fire-safety stuff have they slacked on? Talk to the local fire chief/inspector... or move.
posted by stormyteal at 7:37 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah this is insane. When this was going on at my alma mater I'm pretty sure our housing department got fined. Maybe you could send a report to your local firehouse/fire marshall?
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:39 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Walk to your nearest fire house, give them your address and ask them to come inspect the issue.

They will be happy to do it! This is literally their job & within their jurisdiction to accomplish.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:41 PM on July 30, 2014 [21 favorites]

I was in the same situation when I lived in an apartment just outside of Dallas. Turns out that they had birds nesting in the vents. If I wouldn't have put up a fuss, they wouldn't have cleaned it out, and there could have been a nasty fire. You could call your local fire station and ask them to come out for an inspection. You are not wrong to be concerned about this.
posted by myselfasme at 9:00 PM on July 30, 2014

Yeah, twisty dryer vents and lint buildup can cause fires. It's kind of a big deal. Here's a report about it. I'm sure you can find more stuff online pretty easily as well.

Talk to the fire house/fire marshall.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:03 PM on July 30, 2014

The report I linked to says "If heavy clothes such as blue jeans or towels are taking a long time to dry, or clothes feel hotter than usual at the end of the cycle, a clogged dryer vent exhaust is likely the problem." It also says that clogs in dryer vents are what cause fires.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:10 PM on July 30, 2014

Recently, the laundromat at the end of my block burned down. Because of unmaintained dryers. This is absolutely a fire safety issue, and lint blocking the vents, which it sounds like could be the problem for you, is a leading cause of dryer fires. Definitely push for them to fix it immediately.
posted by catatethebird at 5:23 AM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Or do it yourself.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:15 AM on July 31, 2014

This is a legitimate fire hazard. And like, a big one. A house i used to live in burned down(for unrelated reasons), and pretty soon after we found out a nearby house had burned down... from this. That was the 4th or 5th time i'd heard of a place burning down from this.

A dive bar next to one of my previous apartments had an attached laundromat. Which burned up, from this.

In addition, this was an insurance thing when my parents managed a building, and when my work recently got a washer/dryer installed it came with a lot of scary warnings about this, and enormous pipe cleaners to prevent this. The vent gets "flossed" multiple times a week, and it's only like 3 feet long.

I'd do exactly what i did when the thermostats started randomly sparking and smelling melted in a previous place. Call the local fire station, tell them exactly what's going on and why you think it's unsafe. Both times i've had to do that they showed up within a couple hours.

...And wrote my landlord a huge fine.
posted by emptythought at 3:51 PM on July 31, 2014

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