October 31, 2014

Winter Safety Tip – How to Prevent Dryer Fires

One of the ways that dryers can start household fires is by igniting the excess lint that accumulates around the motor, burner shroud (for gas dryers) and cabinet interior. Lint is composed of very small, dry clothing particles which includes cotton and polyesters–both very good fires starters. Polyesters are particularly pernicious fires starters and are very difficult to extinguish once they ignite. Polyesters, vinyl in particular, pose another fire hazard when used as vent hoses, which we’ll talk more about later.

There are three things you can do to prevent the threat of fire from accumulated lint inside your dryer. First, clean your lint filter before every load. This will minimize the lint blow-by around the filter and save energy by helping the dryer run more efficiently.

Second, inspect your lint filter each time you pull it out. If you see any rips or distortions in the screen, replace the filter immediately.

Finally, have your dryer professionally disassembled and cleaned annually. A thorough professional cleaning removes accumulated lint and dirt from the dryer cabinet interior, motor, and burner or heating elements. In addition to substantially reducing the risk of dryer fires, this type of regular cleaning will help the drum bearings and rollers last longer, preventing or minimizing future service calls.

Many dryer installations use the common, cheap white vinyl vent hose for the dryer exhaust. These hoses were never UL-approved for dryer installations and are increasingly being recognized by local building codes as fire hazards. The American Household Appliance Manufacturers Association (AHAM) recommends the use of either rigid aluminum or steel duct or spiral-wound aluminum flex hose–NOT the white vinyl hose. For any dryer, but especially gas dryers, white vinyl vent hose should never be used and if yours has this installed on it, replace it ASAP with UL-approved materials.

One of the biggest causes of vent hose fires is the ignition of accumulated lint inside the vent hose. Lint gets caught in the folds and creases and sticks there because of the humidity. Over time, the lint builds up to such a degree that the dryer cannot exhaust properly. This results in increased drying times initially and, ultimately, in a fire. Once a fire starts in a vinyl vent hose, the hose itself ignites and burns vigorously creating a fire that is very difficult to extinguish.

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Appliance Maintenance Tips and Lifespan Estimates

I think it’s good to be reminded regularly to look after these appliances we spent so much to acquire.  So I feel justified in offering this list from the Sun Herald that nudges you to take a minute and check up on your household appliances. It could add years to their lifespan.

Refrigerator

Average life span: 14 years

What you need to do: Locate the condenser coils by checking your owner’s manual. Clean them by unplugging the fridge and removing dust gently with a broom or brush. Check the seals by sliding a piece of paper in the closed door. If it falls out, you need to replace your seals. And defrosting regularly can’t hurt.

Inspected and cleaned: Have it done if your at-home remedies don’t work or if there are noises you can’t locate.

Washer, dryer

Average life span: Washer: 12 years; Dryer: 14 years

What to do: Clean the dryer’s lint filter and hoses. Kinks or ridges can cause highly flammable lint to build up, a major cause of fire.

Inspected and cleaned: Replace the hoses on your washing machine every 3 to 5 years.

Window air conditioner

Average life span: 13 years

What you need to do: Changing the air filter every month helps the system run more efficiently and improves air quality. Dirt and neglect are the main causes of AC failures, so clean it well.

Inspected and cleaned: Do it twice a year, usually fall and spring.

Garbage disposal

Average life span: 13 years

What you need to do: Keep anything stringy, like pumpkin pulp, out of it. Also leave out tough produce, anything hard that can dull the blades, and grease, which can clog your pipes.

Inspected and cleaned: Have this looked at whenever your plumbing is checked.

Microwave

Average life span: 5 to 8 years

What you need to do: Microwaves are simple appliances; they don’t know the difference between the food you want cooked and old splatters in the chamber, so keep it clean and don’t exceed the recommended usage.

Inspected and cleaned: Anytime there’s a problem. You should never attempt to work on it yourself.

Dishwasher

Average life span: 9 to 12 years

What you need to do: Be mindful of what you put in it. Leave out small pieces that can get lodged in the drain and make sure everything is dishwasher-safe. Use a powdered detergent, because gels can cloud dispenser and glasswear. Spend the few dollars on a rinse aid, such as Jet-Dry, every month or so.

Inspected and cleaned: Every 2 to 3 years.

Water heater

Average life span: electric: 6 to 14 years; gas: 5 to 9 years

What you need to do: Check your hoses, fittings and release valves. Also watch for damaged areas on the outside of the tank and leaking.

Inspected and cleaned: Every couple of years.

Stove

Average life span: electric, 16 years; gas, 19 years

What you need to do: Check temperature with a thermometer or by following a basic white cake mix and making sure it cooks correctly. Keep it clean inside and out, using nonabrasive cleaners. Check your seals and the hinges, which can bend over time and let heat escape.

Inspected and cleaned: Any time it’s not heating properly.

Central air system

Average life span: 10 to 20 years

What you need to do: Check for leaks around the system and with hose connections. You should also change your filter monthly.

Inspect and cleaned: Seasonally