Installing This Stupid Dryer Vent Cover Counts as a Victory

dryer vent coverI spent the first thirty-five years of my life in rented dwellings. As a child, making holes in the wall was a major no-no. The adults were allowed to hang a few nails for photo display purposes, and for one calendar. Otherwise, I was informed countless times that the big bad rental management frowned upon holes. Wall holes were bad. The way I was told left me with the impression that if the maintenance men ever came inside to repair something and discovered holes in the wall, we’d all be in big trouble.

For the longest time I couldn’t nail my own photos or other display items to the wall, nor was I permitted even a tiny exception for thumbtacks or pushpins. The posters in my bedroom were affixed with Scotch tape that turned dusty and yellow over time, and frequently had to be augmented with even more tape as adhesion faded. After around fourth grade or so, when it was clear we weren’t moving anytime soon and the management really didn’t care that much, I was finally allowed to graduate to tacks and pins. The anti-hole conditioning never fully faded, though.

When my wife and I became first-time homeowners in 2007, I discovered that this lifelong admonition had become a mental block. She and my son had home improvement ideas a-plenty for the new place, now that we wouldn’t be beholden to the oppressive rental guidelines imposed by The MAN. Every time I heard a suggestion that required wall holes for anything except photo frames, I balked. Even though this is our house and our property, I still cringed inside at the very thought. After careful negotiations (i.e., when I tired of their justified badgering), I relented slightly and allowed my son to hang shelves in his room. He did a decent job with them, but every time I entered, I had to avert my gaze and avoid thinking about them.

In a later year, it was decided that the blinds left by the previous owners ought to be replaced with curtains. That, to my regret, would require a curtain rod. That, to my escalating dread, would require drilling holes in the wall for mounting the brackets to hold the rod. My research showed that extra-long nails were not an acceptable substitute. The courage it required for me to buy a drill, learn how to use it, drill the necessary holes (with manufacturer instructions in hand — I was leaving nothing to chance), and mount those curtains is quite the epic tale in my head. Even if it seems like nothing to you, the Viewers at Home, it was a considerable win against that blasted childhood mental block.

That pitiable block recently became an issue again. Today I think I conquered it at last. I think.

Quick lesson, for those who haven’t had to deal with this issue yet: If you own a home with a clothes dryer, it requires a long duct — usually metal and flexible — to permit air flow from the dryer to the outside via a vent in the wall. If air can’t escape your dryer, the dryer breaks down. If all that escaping hot air is vented inside the house, you can damage your home and in some cases cause a fire, which would be bad. Thus the air has to be escorted outside, and a dryer vent is necessary. The dryer vent also requires a cover to prevent weather damage and discourage small animal residency. Different kinds of dryer vent covers exist, the commonest being a four-inch square with three plastic flaps — called “louvers”, in repairmanspeak, a language in which I know just a few select phrases. When your dryer is on, air flows through the vent and pushes each little flap upward as it exits without incident.

Unfortunately, one of this season’s many blustery storms snapped the louvers on our dryer vent cover to pieces. The local hardware stores don’t sell individual louvers, so you have to replace the entire cover. Expecting the operation to be quick and painless, I went to Menards, selected a similar cover, returned home, dragged out a ladder, climbed up to the vent, used a screwdriver to remove the remains of the old cover, and prepared to install the new one.

Bad news: the holes didn’t align. The old cover was a perfect square. The new one was slightly rectangular. To the average repair-savvy male, this would mean new holes had to be drilled.

I agonized over this for a while. Instead I devised Plan B: I tried slamming the new cover onto the duct really, really hard and hoping it would stay secure and balanced as-is. It felt kind of snug and secure to me. The next day, a stray wind proved me wrong.

Plan C: drive a little further to Lowes instead of Menards and see if they had different dryer vent cover options. I bought a suitable candidate and proudly brought it home. Same issue: the holes didn’t match.

Plan D: slam a new cover onto the duct, but add thick strips of double-sided tape under the perimeter. Not that thin, transparent Scotch tape, but one of those cushiony 3M tape varieties. A couple days later, the weather mocked that solution as well.

Plan E: caulk instead of tape. To its credit, it outlasted the tape, but our Indiana weather showed no mercy.

Plan F: wiggling the cover so I could get at least one hole to match up and thereby fasten it with a single screw. I thought this would do the trick and the day was saved. Sure enough, I returned another day to verify my handiwork, only to find the cover and screw lying on the lawn, as if gremlins had visited and brought their own tools.

Plan G: driving even further to Home Depot to survey their options. They had even fewer than the other two stores. Apparently our former cover was produced in a one-of-a-kind size that’s now either obsolete or imaginary. I have no idea why exact duplicates of it no longer exist.

I throw myself upon the mercy of the court and freely admit that, had I allowed this farce to continue, Plan H would’ve been duct tape; Plan I would’ve involved boarding over the hole and asking my wife how she feels about clotheslines, or perhaps revisiting our former laundromat; and Plan J would’ve involved paying anyone else but me to do something about it.

With enormous reservations and no small amount of procrastinating, I concluded at long last that I needed to drill new holes and install one of the covers I’d already bought. This required buying a smaller drill bit than what came with the drill, picking a day when the ground was dried and firm enough to support the ladder (as opposed to the usual mudfest that side of the house becomes each winter), and summoning the courage to ignore that mental block.

The photo already spoiled the ending. It. Is. Finished.

I’m relieved that the accompanying angst has faded away. I’m happy that I even shelled out a little extra for the kind that includes the animal-proofing cover over the cover (we’ve had bird issues in the past). I’m mostly content with the results, except for some dried caulk I still need to chisel off the siding. I’m not sure how I feel about learning that drilling holes in the side of my house is actually pretty easy, once I stop freaking out about it. But at least now I know it can be done without grave repercussions. (Well…so far, so good, anyway.)

I’m not the only person on Earth with large gaps in my homeowner education, or the only one with dumb hangups like this, right?


12 responses

  1. It’s interesting how the small things we’ve been taught have been drilled into us to the point that the thought of breaking that rule causes us to panic without us actually examining the origin of the rule and reevaluating whether or not its still applicable. Glad you got it done! Good job 🙂


    • Thanks! I pride myself on my creative problem-solving skills, but it’s hard for me to accept that my home repair “problems” were all solved decades ago, and that those methods will largely be superior to my own own attempts at faking it.


  2. Go ahead, knock out a wall or two!!! Ha! My brother once nailed his clothes to the walls of his room. (in a rental house) He was maybe six or seven and had just discovered how to use a hammer. 🙂 My dad and I removed an entire side of the first house I bought to build an addition. FUN!


    • You’ve read my wife’s mind! One of our bathrooms is the size of a broom closet, and she dreams someday of knocking out the walls, adding several dozen square feet onto that side of the house, and creating the grandest master bathroom of them all. I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about all that destruction.

      On the other hand, I’d LOVE to have that extra elbow room…


  3. It’s messy and frustrating, but you’ll be oh so glad when it’s done. I hired professionals for framing, plumbing, electrical and such, but did all of the demolition and interior finish work like hanging sheet rock and painting myself. I borrowed $15,000 and doubled the size of my little house to include a laundry room, which it did not have. Plus a heat pump, new back deck and siding.Sold it for more than twice what I paid about a year later.
    Of course, this was more than 20 years ago.


  4. I’m laughing so much right now. If you could only see the number of shelves we have all over the house! I beg him to not only put them up but to make them for me for all my shells!!! He’s pretty easygoing, and uses those anchor things so it’s secure, but the drill is too heavy for me to use so it’s one of the things I have to wait for him to come home to do, so funny really, I have every wall in the house covered! Holes aren’t bad, I get that stuff to fill them in, and then paint. no problem!


  5. I know this is very much later than your article, but I feel your pain today. I am trying to replace a dryer/exhaust vent cover with a broken louver too and found out the same thing you did today that they come in many varieties and the 1st 2 stores I went to did not carry ones with matching screw holes. I pried off the old one which had screws that required about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes of work to get them out, including breaking off the old vent cover in pieces (it was brittle) to get at the screws better. I thought it would come off then, but no, it is apparently caulked on and screwed in as well (which begs the question, why did it even need the outer screws in the first place?!!). I am mid-project right now. I am hopeful that a cover I saw online at Lowe’s will be the right one. I will try again tomorrow.


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  8. have the same problem right now…4 diff vents and none of them match….my wife said put new holes in cover…these plastic vents are no good…laST HOUSE HAD METAL I LIVED THEIR FOR 30YRS…NO PROBLEM…ALSO I HAVE TO HAVE FLUSH COVER…THEY MUST HAVE CUT OFF THE VENT PART THAT WENT INTO HOUSE???


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