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Should Return Air Vents Face Up or Down? (Explained)

Our households are designed in a way to ensure our utmost comfort and to maintain an ambient temperature. This is achieved by HVAC systems in our house which intake air to cool or heat them according to our needs. 

To allow HVAC systems to properly continue this cycle, return air vents are vital to suck the room’s air into the HVAC system. This abstract discusses the configuration of the return air vents.

Return air vents face up or down

In winter, leave the lower registers open and top ones closed – since cold air is heavy, the registers will draw in cold air and leave the hot air. During summer, you need to close the lower registers and open the top registers to allow hot air to be sucked in – leaving the cold air behind.

Return air vents are vents that suck the air from each room in your house and send them to your HVAC. These vents are necessary to keep a continuous circulation of air in your house. 

They are also important since HVAC systems increase a room’s air pressure by supplying additional air into the room – which the return vents are responsible for removing.

Your house also needs to have a sufficient number of return vents, if there is only one return vent – you need to ensure proper air circulation by keeping doors and windows open as well as keep obstacles out of the way of return vents. 

However, the best option is to install additional return vents to avoid the hassle.

Return vents are adjusted in such a way throughout your home to best optimize the airflow and keep the temperature of the air comfortable for you. These return vents also help reduce energy cost by selectively sucking out the air out of the room. 

Since hot air is lighter and cold air is heavier, hot air rises and cold air falls down – this property is used by the return vent to circulate air during summer and winter. 

During winter, the cold air needs to be removed from the room and leave the hot air in the room – this is done by keeping the lower registers open and top registers closed. 

During summer, the opposite is done in order to keep the cold air in the room while drawing out the hot air.

Which way do return air vents go?

The air in your house requires circulation in order to maintain an ambient temperature with the help of your HVAC. The return registers are responsible for allowing proper circulation of air in your house while minimizing energy losses. 

This makes both the summer and winters comfortable for you while keeping the utility bills low.

The return air vents make use of the properties of air – hot air rises and cold air falls down. This means during winter, you want to keep the hot air in and cold air out – this is achieved by keeping the lower return vents open and closing the top ones. 

And for summer, you would want to keep the cold air while removing the hot air – which is achieved by keeping the top return vents open and the lower ones closed.

How to determine the direction for cold air return grilles?

There are several methods you can use to determine the direction for cold air return grilles, some of those methods are listed below:

If you wish to not see the other side of the wall:

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about the direction of the louvers in cold air return grilles is that they affect the direction of airflow. 

In reality, they do not play any role in the airflow and would have the same effect whether the louvers are aligned as it is or upside down. 

However, if the louvers are facing down – you can see through the vents and the other side of the wall would be visible. 

If you do not want that to happen, you would need to unscrew the return grille and flip it to make the louvers facing upwards and then screw them back into their place. 

If the louvers are facing upside down:

If you want to keep the return grille be see-through, it would be best to keep the return grille louvers to be facing downwards. But one annoying issue is that the walls are too contrasting in color – which can be fixed by painting the wall black.

Which return vents should be open?

Return air vents are a necessary part of our house since it plays a vital role in air circulation as well as regulating the temperature of each of our rooms. However, we should not keep all the return vents open at all times since that will lead to additional energy costs. 

The return vents must be configured in such a way that it keeps the hot air in your room during winter and keeps the cold air during summer.

This is done by taking advantage of the properties of air which separates hot air from cold and by keeping certain return vents open while keeping others closed. Thus, in summer we need to get rid of the hot air and since hot air rises upwards – keep the top return vent open. 

And in winter, you can get rid of the cold air by keeping the lower return vent open as cold air falls down.

How do I know if my return air is working?

Since keeping a proper air circulation in your house is important to maintain an optimal room temperature, you need to make sure that your return air is working – otherwise your HVAC would not be able to work at the highest efficiency. 

One way to test whether your return vent is working is to take a tissue paper and while the HVAC system is running – dangle it around six inches away from any of the return vents

The tissue paper should be gently sucked towards the vent – you can further confirm it by pressing the paper against the vent. The tissue would fall off if the return vent is not working or has a blockage somewhere.

Another subtle sign of a non-working return vent is the formation of hot and cold spots around the house. If the air circulation is not properly done, your house would have different temperatures at different spots.

How to install air return vent?

Below described are the steps for installing a return air vent:

Mark the spots for the vents :

Each room apart from the bathroom should have a spot for at least one return vent. Mark the location where you want the return duct and then cut a hole in the drywall to put the return air grille. 

Make sure the hole is sized appropriately according to grille size and through that hole, cut a hole through the floor into the basement ceiling joist space. Repeat this for all the spots you have marked for your return vent.

Place the panning :

Once the holes have been drilled, go to your basement and install the return vent panning back towards the furnace. Place the panning below the ceiling joists and then bend them up to attach them to the floor which would close the space off. 

Seal the installed vents :

Next, you need to install the return vent perpendicular to the joist and run it in a way to cover all the holes. In order to match the holes in the panning, you need to cut holes at the top of the return vents as well. 

S-slips and drive cleats are used to connect the return vents together and make a tight seal to the bottom of the ceiling joist. 

Make connections to the furnace :

Afterwards, in order to attach the next vent to the furnace, you need to cut a hole at the bottom of the return vent and attach it to the furnace. You need to cut another hole to the side of the furnace that is similar in size to the filter rack and then connect it to the furnace.

Install air filters and register covers :

Lastly, install the HVAC filter in the filter racks and when that’s done – close off all the seams and joints of the vents with an appropriate sealant. You may also choose to use a duct wrap in order to further reduce energy losses and keep the bills lower. 

Make sure all the screws of the return vents have been tightly placed and sealed.

Final Thoughts

In the winter, keep the lower registers open and the top ones closed; because cold air is heavy, the registers will draw in cold air while leaving hot air. During the summer, close the lower registers and open the top registers to allow hot air to be drawn in while leaving cold air behind.