Side venting the clothes dryer: many lessons learned

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This is not a recent project, but one that I’ve been meaning to share because it might be helpful to others.  When we bought our house, it came with an old school washer and dryer in the kitchen.  They took up almost the whole wall on the far side of the room.  (Also check out that horrible fake wood counter and backsplash.  Those came out in short order too.)

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One of our first big purchases for the house was a new Samsung front-loading washer and dryer.  We got a good deal on them from Lowes by using one of those coupons you get when you change your address, plus one of those appliance sales they have several times a year.  We had the installers stack them, which allowed us to move our refrigerator from its original location just inside the kitchen doorway.  That really opened up the room.  

But there was a problem.  Isn’t there always something?  The back door to the house opens toward the washer/dryer, and I had measured them and knew they would fit and allow the door to open 90 degrees.  What I didn’t count on was that when the dryer is stacked on top of the washer, it is actually set back almost 4 inches.  It doesn’t look like it is from the front, but that’s because the top of the washing machine curves back at the top.  That meant that in order to leave enough room behind the dryer for the vent, the washing machine had to stick out 4 inches further than I had realized.  And then the back door couldn’t open all the way, which was not a good thing.  Argh!

I did some research and found out that while the default is for the vent to come out the back of the dryer, it can also be configured to come out either side!  Great, I thought, this will solve the problem.  Somehow I found out I needed a “side vent kit.”  I called Lowes to inquire about obtaining the side vent kit.  Lowes told me to call Samsung.  Samsung told me to use a Whirlpool side vent kit.  I called Whirlpool and they told me to get the side vent kit from Lowes.  I called Lowes again and they told me to call Samsung or Whirlpool.  Hmm.  [Note: this was over two years ago, and there may now be an actual Samsung side vent kit, but I can’t vouch for it.]  I looked around on the internet.  I found the Whirlpool side vent kit on appliancezone.com and bought it.  It took them over a month to send it to me even though they charged my credit card when I ordered it.  Then later I discovered that the kit was not useful, which I’ll tell you about in a minute.  The only good thing about the side vent kit was that its one-sheet set of instructions correctly indicated that I would have to essentially disassemble the entire dryer (but didn’t say how to do that) to access the internal venting and reroute it out the side.  

Unfortunately, the regular user manual does not provide instructions or even enough information about the insides of the dryer to figure out how to disassemble it.  I needed the service manual.  I found the service manual on several websites, but they were all charging an arm and a leg for it.  I don’t remember exactly how much, but I want to say in the ballpark of $40-50, which seems ridiculous.  Shouldn’t I be able to get a free copy of the service manual for an appliance I just bought for a lot of money?  Apparently not.  Finally, I found a person/website that saved me: the Samurai Appliance Repair Man at applianceguru.com.  I think I paid $5 at the time (looks like now it’s $10) for a 3-month “apprenticeship” (i.e., subscription), which entitled me to get as much forum advice and/or request any service manuals to washers, dryers, dishwashers, ovens, etc.  I asked for the service manual to my dryer, and within a short time the Samurai provided it in downloadable format!  Well, technically not the one for my exact make/model, but it was almost identical.  The Samurai Appliance guy is providing a really helpful service at a reasonable price.  I’m a fan.

I was pleased about getting the service manual for only $5 instead of $50.  I followed the directions in the service manual and started disassembling the dryer.  Everything was just as the manual showed, and all went smoothly.  Obviously, unplug it first.  Then take off the door and front panels:

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The blower cover: 

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And the drum cover:

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Next take of the drum belts and the entire drum comes out:

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… exposing the inner duct, which is under the drum and behind the blower.  Woohoo!  

And then, disaster.  The side vent kit was all wrong!  The parts matched the inventory and instructions that came with the kit, but just made no sense in the context of the actual dryer.  Once the dryer was disassembled, it was clear that at the very least a duct elbow would be needed, and that even the straight pieces included were not useful.  I wrote to Appliance Zone and told them that the kit doesn’t have the right parts, and asked for a replacement with the correct kit or else a refund.  They refused to do anything whatsoever to rectify the situation because I didn’t contact them within 10 days.  Are you kidding?  It went back and forth several times, and I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say I was extremely displeased with their “customer service” and two years later I still hold a grudge.  I will never purchase anything from them again, and you, dear readers, shouldn’t either.  Rant over, back to the story.  

I had blown some money on this overpriced and useless side vent kit.  On a few DIY forums, several people recommended making your own side vent kit from common duct parts found at the local hardware store.  Originally I had wanted to do it the “right” way by using a sanctioned kit, but now that was off the table.  Plus my dryer was in pieces all over my kitchen and living room floor.  I made a quick trip to Home Depot and bought some 4-inch round rigid duct pieces: 2 straight and one elbow.  Yep, that’s it.  Each piece was under $4.  I should have just done that in the first place.  It was so much easier and so much cheaper than the kit, which I couldn’t use for anything.  While I was at HD, I also bought a semi-rigid duct with connectors similar to this to use on the outside of the dryer, since I didn’t think too highly of the flimsy one used in the original installation.

Upon returning home, I had to make things up as I went along since my kit instruction sheet was useless (aside from vaguely mentioning that the dryer had to be taken apart), and side venting was the one topic the service manual didn’t cover.  Fortunately, there wasn’t much possibility of doing it wrong.  The existing duct went from the blower straight out the back of the dryer.  The new duct clearly needed to go straight towards the back, but then make a 90 degree turn to the left and go out the side instead.  That was the only possible way it could go from the blower to the knockout hole in the side.  So I cut my $4 straight pieces to the right length and connected them with the elbow.  I used the knockout from the side to cover the identical hole left in the back of the dryer, using foil tape to secure it.  [Note: Do not use duct tape on ducts and the like!  Use foil tape.]  Here’s what the internal duct looks like for side venting: 

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I don’t have photographic evidence, but I think I must have put some foil tape on the duct connections too.

EDIT: See the access panel in the back? Someone mentioned in the comments that you may be able to replace the ducting through that hole without having to take apart the whole dryer from the front! Genius! If you can maneuver through that hole, it will save a ton of time.

Then I put everything back together, working backward through the manual.  I had kept all the screws in separate containers with little notes so I wouldn’t mix them up.

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I attached the semi-rigid duct to the outside using the connectors it came with.  I chose that one because the plastic connectors protect the bendy parts from getting crushed.  It’s important for dryer vents to stay as smooth inside and uncrushed as possible, otherwise lint can accumulate unnoticed and become a fire hazard.  The plastic connector also gave me something to attach the inner duct to.

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The hole in the drywall was too big, so I got Matt to cut a square of plywood with a right-sized hole in the middle.  The plywood covered the extra space around around the hole in the drywall and gave me something to securely screw the vent door into.  I guess we already had the vent door shown (I don’t know what it’s called) along with this thing.

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And here’s what the finished product looks like (see how the vent can actually go behind the washing machine since it has a lot more room behind it than the dryer):

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In conclusion, I spent:

  • countless hours researching whether this could be done and how to do it;
  • some more hours trying to track down the (useless) side vent kit — though maybe there now exists a side vent kit that actually works;
  • a few more hours searching for the service manual before I came across the Samurai Appliance guy, for whose existence I am eternally grateful;
  • about $20 on things that actually helped me do the project;
  • more than $20 (I don’t even want to tell you how much) on something that was totally useless.

And for all of that, I got:

  • to move my stacked washer and dryer back a whopping 4 inches,
  • which allows the back door to my house to open 90 degrees instead of an unacceptable 70 degrees.

Was it worth it?  Let’s put it this way: if you are considering doing this, I would suggest you exhaust (!) other options that don’t require side venting.  If you really need to do it, it can be done, and maybe my experience will help you.  [Disclaimer: I do not know whether doing this yourself or even having a professional do it could void your warranty.  I read somewhere this might be the case, so I inquired about having it done by Lowes and they said they wouldn’t do it.  Proceed at your own risk.] 

I think in our case it was worth it.  Side venting was the only thing that would allow our preferred kitchen arrangement, and the alternatives are vastly inferior.  The dryer is currently only about an inch or so out from the wall, which is not enough room for even something like this periscope duct.  Recessing the duct into the wall was also not an option because there is plumbing in the wall.  Although there were frustrating moments along the way, it was an interesting challenge for me, and I’m proud that I persevered and got it done.

-Kelly