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Can I Eliminate My Cold Air Return?

Posted in: Updated: 31st October, 2023

By Nancy Clark

Remodeling can introduce all kinds of underlying—literally underneath the surface—issues. It’s the kind of issue that most HGTV makeover shows do not address these matters. And believe me, they crop up in dozens no matter how much a homeowner tries to plan ahead.

In a recent remodel of a kitchen the plan was to enlarge the closed in galley kitchen making it more of a great room space with the living room area. This is a small house, nearly definable as a Tiny House, with at 25’ x 25’ including a bedroom and bath too.

The point was to enlarge and aggrandize the bathroom and kitchen to appeal to the millennial buyer. Statistics show that millennials prefer homes that are already remodeled. They don’t want to tackle the remodel on their own. And this age group is particularly fond of luxury bathrooms and kitchens fit for a culinary artist.

In its first 60 years on the grid, the home being remodeled had a washer hookup in a bedroom closet and no dryer vent. In the ‘50s when the home was built, housewives (yes, they were called that back then) relied on clotheslines to dry clothes in the fresh air. We opened up a wall and eliminated a narrow closet adjacent to the former kitchen. The purpose was to extend the kitchen wall space, making the new kitchen floor plan into an L-shape to accommodate a combo washer/dryer (the newest rage in laundry appliances) in the run of kitchen cabinets. These combos are small sized, only 24” wide and 31” tall fitting perfectly under the kitchen counter. While these combos do need a traditional water source to operate, they work off of a 110 outlet, not requiring a 220.

When the appliances were installed, it became painfully obvious that a cold air return in the floor was now located directly in front of the refrigerator. My recommended solution: cover it up.

It seemed like a good idea on the surface. But then I did a little research. HVAC systems “inhale” and “exhale” the air around your home. The airflow in your home must be in balance in order to heat evenly and efficiently. So my furnace, which has plenty of places to “breathe” into the house needed a place to breathe out and this floor vent was it.

Cold air returns are what allow your furnace to “inhale” your home’s air. These registers are typically located low to the ground (if on the wall) otherwise on the floor. When warm air is delivered to a room, the existing cold air in that room is pushed into the cold air returns. Once inside your cold air returns, that air travels through your ductwork back to your furnace where it is filtered, heated and sent back to warm your home.

The experts at MileHi HVAC caution homeowners and DIY remodelers to NOT block cold air returns. In order to allow for proper air flow, the space around the cold air returns needs to be clear. Furniture over the return prevents the cold air return from doing its job.

Add more returns when needed. Unfortunately, many homes do not have the proper amount of air returns. The result of too few cold air returns includes stuffy rooms, uneven heating, high energy bills and unbalanced pressure. If you suspect that you don’t have enough cold air returns in your home, MileHi HVAC will analyze your home’s space and recommend additional cold air returns and supporting ductwork in locations that will correct airflow issues.

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