Bad Dryer and Bath Fan Venting

Inspection Community:

The house I bought two years ago was built in '96 by the largest residential building company in Iowa. The inspection process turned up no significant issues. I bought the house with a sense of confidence…or so I thought.

The house is a two story with the laundry room located upstairs in a closet just off the second full bathroom. Since this closet can be shut by louvered doors, there is a bathroom style exhuast fan located above the dryer to help disipate excess humidity. The dryer exhaust itself goes into the floor and — we all initially assumed — out of the house. The second upstairs full bath also has a standard bathroom exhaust fan. The masterbath, however, had no exhaust fan. The builder got around that since the building code did not require one at the time since a window is present in the masterbath.

Wanting an exhaust fan in the masterbath, I climbed up in the attic to investigate installing one. I found that the other two exhaust fans I mentioned above had no ductwork. They were buried under the insulation which was dark and moldy in the vicinity of them. At that time, it dawned on me that I didn’t know exactly where the dryer exhausted to the outdoors. Guess what? It didn’t. I found it dumping into the attic space above the attached garage. The builder was so thoughtful that they had even put a plastic end cap at the dryer duct termination point — just like you would expect to see on the outside of a house.

Fortunately, the attic area above the garage was separated by a wall from the main attic and had no insulation in it. That is, if you don’t count the 8 years worth of dryer lint that was coating everything. The worst part though by far was the mold. The roof sheathing was full of it throughout. A real mess created by total building incompetence and shortcutting. A potential health and fire hazzard all at once.

To make a long story short, I got an attorney and went after the builder. After much foot dragging, we finally got them to agree to fix the damage (minus my legal fees). After an examination by an environmental specialist, this involved replacing the garage roof (sheathing and all) and venting the dryer via insulated ducting through the garage roof. Service Master did a thorough clean up also. In the main attic, insulation was replaced and insulated ductwork and roof cap vents were installed. I took care of the master bath fan / venting at my own expense.

The house now has virtually no condensation on the windows in the winter, unlike before (we had replaced 4 windows that had rotted window sills). The air quality in the house also seems to be better. My young son has some mild allergies that were much worse before these problems were fixed. An allergy test showed him to have mold allergies. For him, an improperly vented house was something he was quite sensitive to.

Here is the unbelievable thing about this story. As I am finding out, my house is one of many with the same problem. In my neighborhood, there are close to 30 houses that are a variant of my model. Of those, only the last ones to be built have a visible dryer vent (on the roof). The rest, like mine, are ventless. So far, I have knocked on three doors of houses I suspected had the same problem as mine. All three did. One guy had replaced most of the windows in 9 years since new and had chronic dust (dryer lint actually) and condensation issues. I have also seen this model with the same apparent problems in other parts of town as well.

As a consumer, I’m pretty ticked. The builders work on a formula of cutting corners and incompetence, the city building inspectors seem to be worthless, and the hired home inspectors aren’t catching this kind of stuff either during a sale. It makes me wonder where the checks and balances are! My inspector has been in the business for many years. I think he is a good guy, and he did refund the inpection fee and apologize for what was missed.

Sorry to be long winded. Comments?

With no intent to make excuses, there is a ton more emphasis on venting now than there was 10 years ago…

I know I might have missed your bathrooms vented below the insulation (it’s only been a recent change here to at least bring the venting line up to about 30 inches above the insulation here) maybe believing it to be routed below the insulation to a soffit or eave.

The dryer terminating in the space above the garage I hope I would have caught. Now that there’s such a big emphasis on the materials, length of run, and screwless construction, I certainly hope it would have been traced to it’s termination point these days…

I guess all I did was make excuses. Hopefully we all learn something everyday.

Is the lesson here to locate all exhaust fan terminations during a home inspection by following each one…by lifting insulation in attics to locate them…

Or will merely a call out in the report that no exhause fan terminations could be found, inside OR outside…cover our assets?

I check the dryer hose in the crawlspace (find many disconnected) and also put in every report for the client to verify that the dryer exhaust is actually venting with the dryer running. I also report that the bathroom vent hoses and termination points are not always visible and that they should be venting to the exterior.

During a visual inspection at the typical rates all of this can not be verified without other tools or techniques. Think of how hard it would be to verify a bathroom vent output at the exterior with the wind blowing.

There are clues to look for in the attic and the crawlspace.
Any inspector using a 2-D cell flashlight in the attic and crawl should seriously consider getting at least two 1-mil CP rechargeable lights. You need two for those large crawlspaces or when you do two houses a day.