What is the Purpose of an AC Return Air Vent?

What is the Purpose of an AC Return Air Vent?

AC Return Air VentA properly functioning AC system is essential to a comfortable home. While many people know how to operate their AC system, few people know how it actually works.

You probably know that your home has a network of ducts behind its walls, but what exactly do they do? These ducts are connected to every room in your home, providing a pathway for air to cycle to and from your heating and cooling system. Your ductwork’s job would not be possible without the vents located throughout your home.

What is a return vent?

Return vents are a critical component of your AC system’s ductwork and are the vents, usually located on your home’s ceiling or walls, that do not have a control mechanism to open or shut their airflow. This is because these vents are for air intake, an essential part of your AC system.

It’s tempting to think that your air conditioning system simply blows conditioned air to the rooms in your home. But that’s only half the story; it’s also pulling the air from inside your home.

What does a return vent look like?

Return vents are openings to your ductwork that contain a covering typically made of metal with white grilles. See the above picture for reference. Return vents are usually larger than supply vents and do not have louvers to open or shut the grilles like a supply vent. You can identify your return vents by turning on your AC fan and holding your hand up to it. If you feel suction instead of air blowing from the vent, then it’s a return vent.

What is the purpose of a return air vent?

The main purpose of a return air vent is to maintain air circulation and allow air to return to your AC system to be heated or cooled. Your AC system works by recirculating the air in your home while also conditioning it. As the conditioned air is pumped into your home, the air that is already in your home needs a place to escape. Return air vents pull in the air so your AC system can pump out conditioned air.

This process removes dust and debris from your home. As air circulates in your home, it collects dust and debris. These air particles can harm your AC system and decrease your indoor air quality, which is why return air vents are often equipped with a changeable air filter. You should change your air filter on a regular basis to maintain the efficiency of your AC system.

A home that has return air vents in most rooms is the best setup, allowing for the best circulation and airflow. Alternatively, some homes might have one or two large return vents centrally located.

How many return air vents do I need?

In general, you only need one return air vent per room, but you may need additional air vents, or larger air vents, for larger rooms.

How many return air vents your specific home needs will depend on the size of your home, the size of your rooms, your HVAC system, the ductwork, and many other factors. It’s best to have an HVAC professional evaluate your home’s specific needs if your AC system leaves you feeling uncomfortable.

Put simply, if certain rooms in your house are too cold or too warm, they may not have enough return air vents or the vent openings may not be large enough. Your HVAC system will not lose efficiency from having too many return air vents, but at a certain point, additional return air vents won’t add any value.

What’s the difference between supply and return vents?

Your heating and cooling system is supposed to maintain a relatively balanced environment inside your ducts. This means the amount of air that your ducts blow out needs to be equal to the amount of air that’s being sucked back into them.

The supply air vents in your home blow conditioned air out into your rooms. This air travels from your AC system, through your air ducts, and out the supply vents. You can recognize your supply vents because you can feel conditioned air coming from them while your AC system runs. Supply air vents also have shutters that allow you to open and close the vents. While supply vents blow out conditioned air, return vents are just as important to your home’s overall comfort and a properly functioning AC system.

The return air vents in your home typically have a larger opening than the supply air vents and do not blow out air. Instead, return air vents suck the air from your rooms into your return ducts and back to your heating and cooling system. There are no shutters that allow you to close these vents. Return air vents also have air filters that prevent dust and other debris from entering your air ducts and circulating in your home. You need to replace your AC’s air filters regularly for optimal filtering AC performance.

How to Maximize Air Vent Performance

There are a few things you can do to ensure your supply and return vents do their job properly.

1. Do not close your vents. Avoid closing the vents in any of your rooms, even if you don’t use the rooms often. Closing vents can increase the pressure inside your ductwork and lead to problems in your ductwork. The added pressure inside your ducts will likely cause them to spring leaks, which increases your energy costs and decreases energy efficiency. In addition, it’ll shorten your AC system’s lifespan.

2. Do not block your vents. Keep in mind that you don’t have to close your vents to block airflow. You should never intentionally, or unintentionally, block your return vents with furniture or rugs. Blocked air vents can disrupt airflow just like closed vents. Your AC system will struggle to keep the air moving, and you’ll be paying more money to heat or cool your home at a slower rate. Leave your vents unobstructed by furniture or other coverings and you will help optimize airflow and maximize your home comfort.

3. Clean your vents. Air return vents should also be kept clear of dust and other debris. If your vents get too dirty, impurities can get sucked into your AC system, causing a buildup of dust and dirt that can be damaging to your AC system over time. When you don’t keep your vents clean, you and your family could be breathing polluted air at a higher rate. Regularly cleaning your return vents can also save you money on energy costs and expenses since your AC system will run more efficiently. You can clean your AC return vent with a vacuum, a cloth and some cleaner, or a wet rag.

4 Replies to “What is the Purpose of an AC Return Air Vent?”

  1. I’m looking to replace the air vent because the screws that hold it up are stripped and where can I find a replacement vent

    1. Yes it does, unless the doors have a large bottom gap away from the floor or the rooms are equipped with return air ducts (which are basically air intakes).

    2. It depends. If the return air vent is not located in the bedroom itself, then yes. If the bedroom has its own return air vent, closing the bedroom door will not affect air returning.

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