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Community and Q&A

Open return air system

user-884554 | Posted in Mechanicals on

A year ago I purchased a 7 year old home. In the year that I have owned it, it has constantly been full of dust with my families complaining of constant “allergies”. Additionally, the utiliy bills have been high regardless of season. I have an unfinshed mechanical room in the finished basement in which the combustion appliances are located.

The return air system is the type that utilizes floor joist and wall cavities as part of the return system. While doing some ladder work recently in the room, I noticed that there are at least two areas on the top of the main return duct that are left wide open. In one of the open spaces, I can look directly up an open wall cavity and see the return air grill in one of the rooms on the main floor. Obviously the system is not closed and is sucking contaminants into the return air system.

I also have some concerns about negative pressurization in the mechanical room. I have already had a water heater failure and a significant “repair” bill for the furnace.

I believe that the “fix” to the return duct is fairly straightforward, but shouldn’t there be some responsibility for this directed to the seller of the home, the inspector who signed off on it prior to my purchase or even the original HVAC contractor and builder since the system was never completed, much less completed properly?

Thanks, “Dusty”

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Your question is a legal question, not a building science question. Maybe there are some legal Q&A pages on the Web where you can post your question.

    In addition to hiring a contractor to install return-air ductwork in your house, I suggest you hire a home-performance contractor to conduct a blower-door test and to assess your home's insulation.

  2. user-884554 | | #2

    Martin, I wasn't looking for legal advice. Just wondering as to how it could have just been left totally open when it is so obvious. I can fix it myself. By the way, I have been in the insulation business for 45+ years and am in the process of sealing and reinsulating my attic...including backing kneewalls and blocking open floor systems. I have one of those ever troublesome "bonus" rooms above the garage that is largely useless without being properly retrofitted. Original owner actually installed an additional window unit drawing from and venting into the attic!!!! What a fix, huh?

  3. davidmeiland | | #3

    Did you have a home inspection done prior to purchasing?

  4. Riversong | | #4


    The earliest "central heat" furnaces here in New England used a large (perhaps 3' or 4' square) return grill on the 1st floor and the return air path for the 2nd floor was the stairwell.

    It seems what you have is a dramatic improvement.

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