What Does an Air Conditioner Return Vent Do?

Trust the Air Unlimited Heating & Cooling team to service and maintain your AC system in Overland Park and the Liberty area. Call us at (816) 286-7258 to learn more. 

Air conditioning ductwork is essential to the system’s functionality, as it allows cold air to travel from the AC unit into each room. Unlike other components of AC systems, air ducts hide behind walls. For this reason, few people understand how these intricate pathways work or recognize when they need maintenance. 

Duct systems use two types of vents to deliver and retrieve air in each room. Both air conditioner return vents and supply vents are required to cycle the air through a house or building and maintain cool temperatures. If one of these vents isn’t working correctly, the entire system malfunctions. 

Is your AC system failing, and you suspect the return vent is the culprit? Consider some of our troubleshooting suggestions below. If that doesn’t work, call us to schedule AC service in Overland Park from Air Unlimited Heating & Cooling.

What Is a Return Vent?

An air conditioner return vent is responsible for air intake. It pulls air from the room and delivers it to the AC unit via the return duct before it’s cooled and recirculated throughout each space. 

In addition to cooling off your home or business, this process also filters the air by removing dirt, dust, debris, and other allergens, improving energy efficiency. The air conditioner return vent is fitted with a filter responsible for your indoor air quality. Its function is crucial for anyone who has severe allergies, asthma, or other respiratory conditions.

How to Recognize a Return Air Vent

A return vent differs from a supply vent in both appearance and functionality. Return vents are usually found on ceilings or walls and are larger than supply vents. Additionally, return air vents don’t have a lever to control airflow. 

To help determine what kind of duct a vent connects to, turn on the system fan and hold your hand or a piece of paper up to the vent. If you feel cool air blowing on your hand or the piece of paper blows away, it’s a supply vent. Supply vents connect to a supply duct and push cold air into rooms. 

On the other hand, a return vent gently draws the air from a room to be filtered and cooled again. When you put your hand or the paper up against a return vent, it should feel like a slight sucking sensation, or the paper will stay in place over the vent.

Signs Your Ducts Are Failing

If you suspect your HVAC ducts are clogged, leaking, or failing for another reason, look out for these signs:

  • Hot or cold spots
  • Uneven circulation
  • Irregular airflow
  • No airflow
  • Spikes in energy bills
  • Strange noises
  • Mold or mildew smells
  • Layers of dust appear soon after cleaning
  • Dust or dirt build-up around vents
  • Condensation on ducts or coils
  • Signs of pest infestation

Troubleshooting Air Conditioner Return Vent Issues

When your HVAC system is acting up, there are several ways you can troubleshoot the issue. There may be a simple reason the unit isn’t working properly that you can fix on your own.

Check for Furniture or Rugs Blocking Vents

Blocked air vents prevent air from entering or exiting the AC unit, breaking the circulation. If a return vent is unintentionally covered, it may reduce airflow coming from supply vents. Your system will also require more energy to maintain temperature settings, increasing your monthly bills. 

We suggest moving all couches, desks, rugs, and other bulky furniture away from your vents. Even if this wasn’t the cause of your overall issue, it’ll optimize airflow and keep your energy bills lower once the unit is back working at full capacity.

Keep Your HVAC Vents Open

While it may be tempting to close the supply vents in unused rooms, this tends to do more harm than good. The intended use of the lever on supply vents is to reduce or increase airflow, not to stop it completely. When these vents are closed, air pressure builds inside the ducts, potentially causing damage. 

Most often, added pressure creates cracks or holes in the ducts, allowing air to escape. Not only does this affect airflow and increase your energy bills, but it forces the system to work harder to meet your temperature settings. This issue is the most common reason HVAC systems fail to reach their expected lifespan.

Install More Air Conditioner Return Vents

Did you just have a brand new AC system installed? You may not have enough return vents to produce enough airflow. Generally, most rooms only require one return air vent, but various circumstances may benefit from adding another or increasing the size of the vent you have. 

If you’re experiencing airflow issues in a large room or open-concept areas, it’s likely the return vent can’t handle the job on its own. Other factors that impact the number of return vents include:

  • the size of your home or building
  • the type of HVAC system
  • the layout of the ductwork

Those who think this may be the issue should have a professional assess the situation to meet your specific needs better.

Change Your Filter

A clogged filter will not only block airflow but will impact your indoor air quality. If you notice a layer of dust build-up appear on your curtains or tabletop just days after you’ve cleaned them, you need to replace the filter. For most air conditioning systems, this is a simple and affordable task. 

You can find disposable filters at your local hardware store, and they cost just a few dollars. They take minutes to install, as you simply slide out the old filter and replace it with the new one. Some HVAC systems have reusable filters that you can hose off or wipe down with a damp cloth.

Call an Exterminator

If you notice signs of a pest infestation in addition to reduced airflow, your first move should be to call an exterminator. Unfortunately, even if the pest problem is taken care of, you may still have issues with your AC system. It’s likely the pests entered the ducts through cracks or holes in the ductwork and may have even created more while they were in there. 

After all signs of insects, rats, or mice are gone for good, you’ll need to contact an HVAC technician to assess the damage. The technician will probably need to repair several holes or leaks to improve airflow.

Clean the Vents

Clean both your air conditioner return vents and supply vents regularly, as dust or debris build-up will impact airflow. Return vents especially need to remain clean, as they will suck in any debris in the area along with the air. Not only does this impact your indoor air quality, but it can cause costly damage to the unit. 

By cleaning the vents regularly with a vacuum or damp cloth, your system will remain energy efficient and require fewer repairs down the line. Using your vacuum hose, you may also want to consider cleaning out the ducts—however, only a professional will have the proper equipment to clean the entire length of your ductwork.

Need Assistance? Call Air Unlimited Heating & Cooling

If your HVAC system is still giving you trouble, contact Air Unlimited Heating & Cooling to learn more about different heating and cooling products that may help. Call us today at (816) 286-7258 to schedule your appointment in the Overland Park and Liberty areas.