Dryer vent proves worth over the long haul

Winter is the time when the quality of your dryer vent really matters, and if your vent is like most in Canada, you’ve got some work to do.

Unlike the rigid plastic flaps in traditional dryer vents

Unlike the rigid plastic flaps in traditional dryer vents

Winter is the time when the quality of your dryer vent really matters, and if your vent is like most in Canada, you’ve got some work to do.

Run-of-the-mill dryer vents are amongst the most useless pieces of home hardware available, allowing frost to build up on dryer ducts, condensation to drip onto floors and lots of wasted heat to escape outdoors.

That said, you don’t have to settle for a dryer vent that’s just pretending. There is an alternative that I know is pretty good because I’ve been using it successfully for more than five years.

The main problem with typical dryer vents is the way they rely on a flap of lightweight plastic to seal the opening. Without sufficient weight, the slightest breeze lifts the flap on this overly optimistic design, allowing cold air into the duct and into your dryer — sometimes really cold air.

This observation is why my first attempt at a dryer vent solution involved boring a hole in the bottom edge of the flap to accommodate a short, heavy, 1/2-inch diameter nut and bolt for weight. Sounds like it should work and it did — to an extent.

Where I live it’s windy, and even with a weighted flap, gusts not only lift the flap but make lots of noise in the process, as the flap slams back down again.

Vent flaps are also often warped enough that they don’t seal very effectively anyway, even if they somehow gained enough weight to show cold winds who’s boss.

Wintertime dryer temps proved almost as frigid as ever with my home made solution, and that’s why I opted for something completely different.

Back in 2004 I spotted something called an Ecovent during a reconnaissance tour up and down the aisles of Home Depot.

The design is made by Broan and seemed simple and potentially effective enough to give it a try. A large styrofoam ball seals the vent opening when the dryer is idle, yet the ball gets lifted up out of the way when air flow from the machine kicks in.

If store clerks don’t know what an Ecovent is, type the name into www.homedepot.ca to show them what you mean.

After going through the fifth winter now, I can say for sure that the Ecovent works exceptionally well. It’s a near-perfect solution to the dryer vent challenge, except for two things, the first of which didn’t emerge until late last year.

Lint that escapes past the filter in the dryer gets trapped by louvers in the opening of the Ecovent, though these are easy to pick clean. What’s more difficult to clean is fluff build-up on internal surfaces around the foam ball.

I knew something was wrong last winter when my dryer turned back into a deep freeze again — the first time since the Ecovent went on.

After prying off the plastic outer shroud, I found all the internal foam parts come apart easily.

A quick wash in the laundry sink to remove several years worth of fine lint on the various internal sealing surfaces, a simple reassembly job and the Ecovent has performed perfectly since then.

The only other problem I’ve had stems from my overzealousness. I like the Ecovent so much I installed it as part of a bathroom exhaust fan, only to find a minor flaw. The foam ball sometimes gets frozen shut during very cold weather after venting the steam generated by a shower.

It’s not a huge problem, though, since running the exhaust fan for five or 10 minutes warms things up, defrosts the foam ball and lets air flow again.

Saving energy usually involves getting a whole bunch of details in your home correct, and your dryer vent is definitely one of the places where a little care and attention is well worth the effort.

Steve Maxwell is Canada’s award-winning home improvement expert, and technical editor of Canadian Home Workshop magazine. Sign up for his free homeowner newsletter at www.stevemaxwell.ca

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