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HVAC heating & cooling air supply & return register locations:
Air Conditioning (or Heating) Duct supply or return air register placement mistakes can increase cooling or heating costs, limit system capacity, and can even be unsafe.
This article describes the proper location and placement of air supply and air return registers in HVAC systems and addresses problems such as misplaced or missing air conditioning cool air supply or return air registers, improper cooling duct routing, cooling (or heating) air duct corrosion, and defective heating or cooling duct work.
This article is part of our series How to Inspect, Diagnose, & Repair the Air Conditioners or Heat Pumps.
LOCATION OF REGISTERS & DUCTS - Location of air conditioning return or supply outlets
Supply and return too close together
You don't have to be
an HVAC design engineer to see that in the photograph at page top and shown again here the air conditioning supply register is above and just
a few feet from the central air conditioning return grille.
Cool air delivered to this attic room
will mostly fall down to be simply drawn right back into the return.
Poor supply and return duct
locations like this can severely reduce the effectiveness of the cooling system and increase its
In this particular home the installer was confronted with a shoehorn retrofit
of the air handler and duct work into a sub-standard attic bedroom closet in an area where s/he
was not permitted to open cathedral ceilings nor to construct a delivery duct along the ceiling or
under the floors.
It was a costly to operate and poor performing air conditioning installation.
Location of Heating or Cooling Return Registers in Basements
The photograph above shows a basement door into which an installer cut two return air inlets to feed basement air
back to an air return located at the basement air handler.
As we discussed at INCREASING RETURN AIR,
this is a poor design that increases heating or cooling system operating costs.
In addition to that issue, placement of return air inlets in basements, depending on their location, risk other potential hazards including:
Carbon monoxide hazards: Return air registers too close to oil or gas fired equipment may draw combustion gases or carbon monoxide into the
air duct system, sending dangerous gases into the living space
Carbon monoxide production may be increased and heating fuel combustion incomplete at nearby heaters, water heaters, or even gas clothes dryers, if
the air handler is pulling return air from a confined space where combustion equipment is also located.
Air-starved equipment may not
only work improperly, but may be unsafe, producing dangerous carbon monoxide. We've also found this problem in basements where the
owner, attempting to improve basement air quality, ran powerful exhaust fans continuously.
Placement of Heating or Cooling Air Returns at Outside Walls
Heating or cooling return air duct systems which place the return register at outside building walls
may perform poorly.
heating authorities opine that more effective and economical design places
these registers on the interior walls - the outside walls and perimeter of
some rooms may be chilly even when the heat is operating.
Other Bad Locations for Air Registers
Our photo (left) shows an octopus furnace located in the basement of a pre-1900 home. All of the return air to this system is drawn from the un-heated basement floor - a "one-way" air movement heating design that increases heating costs as well as risking pick-up of dust, debris, or anything else undesirable from the basement area.
at UNSAFE DUCT OPENINGS we describe other air register location mistakes that can be dangerous, such as cutting a return air opening near heating equipment or in hazardous areas like a wet moldy crawl space.
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smoke damage and ducts - furnace still blowing smoke
(July 24, 2014) rachael kelly said:
Wehad smoke damage a couple of years ago and now after cleaning the walls smoke is still blown out from furnace causing more
Clearly your furnace needs repairs.
Question: will ceiling returns be adequate for house heating?
(Aug 8, 2014) Dave said:
I'm having my house rebuilt, I have 800 sq ft on first floor (using 3 ton unit) and 1200 sq ft on second floor(using 4 ton unit). They are only putting returns in my ceiling and none closer to the floor, my concern is more about heat and not so much AC...Will those returns in the ceiling heat my house? Doesn't heat rise?
My contractor states because of how the supports for the second floor were installed it is extremely dillicult to rn duct work down to the floor and that just the returns in the ceiling and oversized units will be sufficient to cool and heat the house. Any opinions? Thanks.
Yes Dave, warm air rises, cool air falls.
If your design priority is for heating, not cooling, you might prefer to place return registers either in floors or in walls close to floor level. You don't have to take the register all the way to the floor to make this improvement, just close to floor level.
I can't comment about the overall adequacy of the heating system or cooling system designs, lacking adequate information and possibly expertise. You'll want to have advice from an HVAC designer, engineer, or a similar expert.
Question: so where should air supply and return registers be located?
(Jan 4, 2015) Anonymous said:
this page shows where NOT to place registers. Where do you discuss correct or best placement?
Thanks Anon - good point. I'll work on the article above to add some "DO's". I suppose I avoided those details for a couple of reasons: many locations are OK except the DONT's we listed, but still where to place an air supply or return register for best operation varies by whether we are most interested in heating (place those registers low on a wall and in an unblocked location) or in cooling (those registers are optimally placed high on walls or in ceilings).
In many buildings there are reasons that the installer will use non-optimal locations including for duct systems that have to deliver both heated and cooled air in different seasons.
Still I'll collect and add some other suggestions.
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Thanks to Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, for assistance in technical review of the "Critical Defects"
section and for the photograph of the deteriorating gray Owens Corning flex duct in a hot attic. Mr. Cramer is a Florida home inspector and
home inspection educator.
Thanks to Jon Bolton, an ASHI, FABI, and otherwise certified Florida home inspector who provided photos of failing Goodman gray flex duct in a hot attic.
Air Diffusion Council, 1901 N. Roselle Road, Suite 800, Schaumburg, Illinois 60195, Tel: (847) 706-6750, Fax: (847) 706-6751 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.flexibleduct.org/ - "The ADC has produced the 4th Edition of the Flexible Duct Performance & Installation Standards (a 28-page manual) for use and reference by designers, architects, engineers, contractors, installers and users for evaluating, selecting, specifying and properly installing flexible duct in heating and air conditioning systems. Features covered in depth include: descriptions of typical styles, characteristics and requirements, testing, listing, reporting, certifying, packaging and product marking. Guidelines for proper installation are treated and illustrated in depth, featuring connections, splices and proper support methods for flexible duct. A single and uniform method of making end connections and splices is graphically presented for both non-metallic and metallic with plain ends." The printed manual is available in English only. Downloadable PDF is available in English and Spanish.
Owens Corning Duct Solutions - www.owenscorning.com/ductsolutions/ - provides current HVAC ductwork and duct insulating product descriptions and a dealer locator. Owens Corning Insulating Systems, LLC, One Owens Corning Parkway, Toledo, OH 43659 1-800-GET-PINK™
"Flexible Duct Media Fiberglas™ Insulation, Product Data Sheet", Owens Corning - see owenscorning.com/quietzone/pdfs/QZFlexible_DataSheet.pdf "Owens Corning Flexible Duct Media Insulation is a lightweight, flexible, resilient thermal and acoustical insulation made of
inorganic glass fibers bonded with a thermosetting resin."
"Air Conditioning & Refrigeration I & II", BOCES Education, Warren Hilliard (instructor), Poughkeepsie, New York, May - July 1982, [classroom notes from air conditioning and refrigeration maintenance and repair course attended by the website author]
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: email@example.com. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
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