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Make Sure You Don’t Block Cold Air Returns

When purchasing a home heating system, you compare the specs and requirements for all of the various models ahead of time. This helps you buy the right system in the first place. But, maintaining a system at peak efficiency once it’s become part of your home and daily living pattern requires a more unique approach.

You can simply observe, for instance, how the air supply is functioning, but how do you make sure the cold air returns are working at maximum efficiency? A good balance between air supply and air return must be maintained to keep units running properly and air pressure neutralized inside the home.

Follow these guidelines for the proper operation and maintenance of your cold air returns:

1. Do not block the return registers: Every HVAC unit needs freely flowing intake air to run through the heating system. Too little air coming in and the unit will have to work harder to pull air from leaks or other openings. Clear away any furniture, rugs, curtains or bulky items sitting on top of the returns so your airflow is not obstructed.

2. Maintain properly spaced returns: Chances are your ductwork was designed to spread evenly throughout your home. However, if you choose to keep some rooms closed most of the time you may be unwittingly restricting your return air flow as well. You may need to have additional cold air returns installed in open areas. Do not rely solely on door undercuts as they are beneficial but not entirely sufficient for proper air return from closed rooms.

3. Keep the dust down: Vacuuming the cold air returns on schedule can help keep your ducts and air handler clean. Check and replace your filters on a monthly schedule to maintain air-flow efficiency.

4. Observe the outcome: If one room is hard to heat when the air supply is working and the return register is not blocked, you may need to increase or decrease the size or your return duct. This will balance the pressure needed for your system to deliver more of the unconditioned air into the furnace.

Our goal is to help educate our customers about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems). For more information, click here to download our free Home Comfort Resource guide.


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