A Nashville native turned Hopkinsville transplant has designed a product to clean lint out of dryer vents.
Lowell "Sully" Sullivan calls it "The Dryer Buddy," an automated dryer and dryer vent cleaning system that he believes will prevent thousands of annual dryer fires once it goes to market.
"What my product does is it saves lives, it saves property and it saves energy," he said. "Obviously, saving lives is the most important thing."
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported each year, causing an estimated five deaths, 100 injuries and $35 million in property loss. The administration also states that the failure to clean the dryer is the leading cause of home clothes dryer fires.
According to Angie's List, there are telltale signs that the dryer vent is clogged with lint: Clothes aren't completely dry or smell musty; clothes seem unusually hot to the touch but take multiple cycles to dry; or large amounts of lint accumulate in the dryer's lint trap or the outside dryer flap.
The latter could lead to dryer fires, Sullivan said, noting it's recommended that home dryer vents get cleaned out once a year.
Sullivan went on to say that dryer vent cleaning has always been a manual process that most homeowners don't think about until it's too late. That's exactly what sparked his idea seven years ago.
"My wife came to me and said the dryer's not drying, so, I called a dryer repair company to come fix it," he said. "(The technician) told me the vent system I had was wrong, and 'it clogged up and burned up your heating element.'"
Sullivan said he cleaned the vent himself using a leaf blower, but a year and a half later, the heating element burned out again.
"That's when I said, what's going on here, and I wanted to know everything there is to know about dryer vents," he said.
Sullivan explained that lint often gets trapped in the dryer vent that leads outside of the home, and, if not cleaned, causes the dryer to work double time to dry clothes, thus overworking the heating element inside the dryer and creating a potential fire hazard with the lint buildup.
Sullivan said The Dryer Buddy is installed onto the back of the clothes dryer, and then pulls out lint through a vortex vacuum, similar to a tornado.
A career salesman but fearless handyman, Sullivan said he discussed his concept with Dr. Farhad Ashrafzadeh, associate professor at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Western Kentucky University.
Ashrafzadeh, founder and director of the Center for Energy, said his department did not test The Dryer Buddy for safety or fire prevention; however, its configuration will help save energy.
"The safety claim is a really big claim and requires fact-based testing," the professor said. "But, energy savings is a simpler claim, and we can prove that one."
Ashrafzadeh explained that when lint blocks the duct, air flow will be reduced and restricted, causing the dryer to use more energy to do its job.
Although extensive tests have not been done at WKU, the professor said the product is a good idea and looks forward to more testing being done on it.
"I think it seems to be a promising concept, but we need to have some data," Ashrafzadeh said. "It needs to be a formal university project for us to get more data, but not having that data does not mean this is not real or viable product."
Sullivan said he received his patent for The Dryer Buddy in August 2015 and has been working with the Central Region Innovation and Commercialization Center in Bowling Green to connect with investors and mentors.
Lisa Boone with the CRICC said The Dryer Buddy is a great idea, and she can't wait to buy one of her own.
"The first time I talked to him, I immediately went and had mine inspected," Boone said. "There was lint all in there and I had to get some work done on it. I'm going to be one of the first in line to buy a Dryer Buddy because I think it's great that he's going to make it so easy that you push a button and it just blows (the lint) out."
Sullivan is now preparing to launch the product on the crowdsourcing platform IndieGogo to sell direct to consumers. The purchase price will be around $250, he said, and it will need to be installed using the provided instructions or by a dryer vent cleaning technician. His ultimate goal is for HVAC companies to be the dealers and installers.
"What we're about to do will totally disrupt the dryer vent cleaning industry," he said. "It's so simple, it just works, and you're not going to have to worry about a dryer fire happening because of lint buildup."
Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.