Dryer Vent and Lint Issues in Multi-Family Units

ByMarc Silberberg


Apartment or multi family living has its advantages especially if you are a single or recently married couple. It’s certainly easier and less time consuming to keep up a one or two bedroom apartment or condo rather than living in a house. No worrying about the gardener, the garbage man or a headache because of broken appliances and other major overalls. However, one main drawback of apartment dwelling is the problem of who, when and where the laundry is done. Many multi dwelling units have the washers and dryers in the basement and it’s first come first serve with availability. The worst scenario occurs when apartment dweller A does not come down in time to remove their laundry from the dryer and apartment dweller B removes it for them.

If dweller B is considerate enough to place your unfolded laundry in a basket you have prepared, then your problem will only be how to avoid ironing some of your permanent-press shirts that were crushed into your single prepared laundry bin. If your bin is not easily found the next scenario will be your clean laundry placed on top of the dryer and there is a chance it will fall on the floor and get dirty. We will not even go into a third scenario since we all could use our imagination if an annoyed and angry tenant gets a hold of your stuff.

Private Appliances in Multi Dweller Units

There are some apartment houses that allow the tenants to have their own stackable washer-dryers, but this is not necessarily the norm unless you are an owner rather than a tenant. Either way you will have to deal with dryer venting and lint problems that come as the dryer takes away the wetness of your laundry and disperses the lint. Many buildings will not allow private laundry appliances at all.

For example, there are many buildings in New York City that will not allow private washers and dryers at all no matter if they are condos, co-ops or rentals. A resident must get permission from the owner or board to install these appliances or face dire consequences such as having the machines removed at their own expense or in case of fire or a flood caused by your machines you will have to pay the tenant next door or in the apartment below thousands of dollars for damages. So yes, there are dwellers who will illegally install washers and dryers and the super might look the other way (for the right price) but you are literally taking people’s lives in your hands by trying your luck at such unauthorized activities.

Since laundry day is not every day when living in a multi dwelling you will have a nice amount of laundry each time you wash and dry. If the laundry room is unfortunately situated in the basement those heavy loads can make anyone sick and tired of using a communal laundry system.

If you are living in an older building, the waste pipes will be too small or too dirty that suds from the washer could cause backups and flooding in a neighbor’s apartment. If you are fortunate to get the approval for your own laundry appliances, you must be aware that there are rules called wet-over-dry.

Once you get that coveted approval for a washer and dryer in your apartment you need to calculate where your appliances can be installed safely. Being near a “wet space” means that your appliances must be installed in the bathroom or kitchen to be close to the pipes that are required for your machines to work. Of course, a better option would be an extra closet but that will entail making sure the dweller down below has the same layout as you do, otherwise leaks from the washer or noise from the dryer may bother those people below. Also, you may be required by the owner to place your stackable unit on top of a containment pan with an overflow sensor installed. This will ensure that your neighbor below you will not get flooded.

Communal Laundry Facilities

The use of commercial dryers may not require you to clean the lint trap since all the lint from the multiple dryers may be gathered in one location. You will however, notice if the air quality in the basement or the specific laundry area is not acceptable because there will be a musty odor that you might not be able to pinpoint its cause and could be coming from clogged HVAC ducts or from a backed up lint receptacle in the ceiling. The number of dryers included in the laundry situation in the multi dwelling you are living in will correlate directly as to the amount of stuffed up lint that can be trapped in an industrial lint container.

Those communal dryer vents might seem convenient to a new tenant or a newly married couple since there is no need for the user to clean any dryer vents when their load begins and ends. As each resident’s loads dry, the dryer vent accepts and traps the lint and over time this accumulation of concentrated gunk gets larger without any of the tenants suspecting a problem. You may notice that the dryers have to work harder and longer to get the laundry to the point where you are ready to fold it, but you might chalk it up to the machinery getting older. Or they may be heating up to abnormal temperatures but since they do not belong to the tenants, they will not complain as long as their laundry is drying. These two facts are indicative of problems that could cause fires.

There are all different ways to arrange dryer venting in multi dwelling units. Some venting pipes will go straight out through a window and sometimes up until the roof, especially in large buildings. You may have to remind your super or whoever oversees the laundry room safety that the dryer ducts and vents have to be cleaned out on a regular basis otherwise the lint gets so intensely compacted that it eventually can take a vent specialist hour to get rid of the compacted lint and many garbage bags can be filled in the process. It’s somewhat tricky when you are a renter to bud into the way the building is kept but if you get some other tenants together you can be successful in keeping your laundry area and ultimately your building safe from hazards and fires.

Although most commercial dryers do not have easy access to the lint trap, many lint traps are accessible. We do not recommend that you clean these commercial dryers by yourself, not because you can’t but you could be held responsible if the dryer breaks. Some commercial dryers can be opened on the bottom and the lint easily removed. It might pay to give the super a little money for him to bend down and open the bottom of the dryer and clean out the lint.

Tenant owned apartments in cities such as Miami Beach, Florida, have laundry rooms on each floor which deter tenants from installing their own washer dryers. If you have the laundry room in proximity to your apartment it should not be too difficult to use the facility rather than taking up space from a closet or shower stall for a stackable washer and dryer. You should garner good relationships with your neighbors on the same floor so that you will avoid coming into the laundry room and seeing your laundry scattered all over the place. A simple knock on the door or a call to your cell phone will keep your laundry safe in the dryer till you pick it up.

Final Words

Folks living in multi dwellers units may believe that they can leave the maintenance of the laundry room to the owners and workers who are getting paid to maintain the premises. However, there are often hidden problems that creep up that no one in the maintenance sectors will identify. Living in a private home causes the owner to be more vigilant about their clothes dryer and even those owners sometimes throw caution to the wind putting their homes and families in danger. A homeowner may believe that as long as he or she cleans the lint trap of their clothes dryer after each use they are satisfactorily safeguarding their machine. However, dryer maintenance is much more than cleaning the lint trap.

Commercial laundry rooms have additional risk of malfunctions and fires since the machines are big and used continuously. Dust and lint will clog the dryer vents causing the internal blower to work harder. The higher temperatures while the dryers are functioning can cause the clogged lint in the vents to catch fire. Cleaning the lint trap on a commercial dryer will only clean 25% of the lint with the remainder of the lint unseen unless you look for it while it builds up in the vent system of the dryer. With a gas dryer a clogged venting system does not allow proper ventilation causing a buildup of deadly carbon monoxide fumes. It’s imperative to insist that the maintenance crew of your apartment dwelling do a thorough cleaning of the dryers and venting systems regularly or call in a professional air quality service. Better to be safe than sorry.

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