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furniture placement and air return vents

Furniture Placement and Air Return Vents: Decorating with Good Ventilation

The urge to redecorate can overcome you at any moment. Just got a new end table? Time to re-arrange the entire living room to make it work. Inherited a China cabinet that you will never use, but accepted it anyways because someone else in the family insists it’s an heirloom? That will cost you a day of carefully shuffling furniture until you can have a walking path through the dining room again. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager trying out a new bedroom layout or if you’re determined to decorate the foyer despite not being entirely certain what a foyer is, it’s important to be mindful of furniture placement and air return vents. 

There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to furniture arrangement, and I don’t just mean trying to pivot the new couch up a flight of stairs. Furniture comes in all shapes and sizes, and each piece added, removed, or rearranged can alter one aspect of your home you may not have considered: your air quality. The placement of furniture can impact your Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system without you even realizing it!  


Return to the Basics

When deciding on furniture placement, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. There’s the flow of how people enter and exit the room, where the best lighting is, the comfort of who will be using the room, and the aesthetics of the room as a whole. This process is important to creating a welcoming space. However, something that should always be top of mind is furniture placement and air return vents.

Air return vents are large intake ducts, covered by a metal grill. There will be at least one on each floor of your home, maybe more, and they will typically be located low on the wall or on the floor. These air return vents pull air from your living spaces back into the ductwork of your HVAC system. There, the air is heated, cooled, and even cleaned or set to a preferred humidity again before going back into your home. 

Air return vents are a crucial part of any HVAC system. When it comes to furniture, a larger piece like a recliner, cabinet, or couch placed in front of a turn may harm your HVAC system’s performance. When an air return vent is blocked the system has to work harder than usual to process the air in your home and can suffer damage. 


Give It Some Space

So how much space does an air return vent need to work properly? Home Inspection Insider explains that an air return vent needs 6-12 inches of space in front of it, and recommends that you do not put large, bulky furniture like couches and bookshelves in front of an air return vent. Even with proper space, a big, flat piece of furniture can still restrict air flow enough to stop the flow of air back into your HVAC system. Open or backless shelving may be placed in front of an air return vent, but do not drape any fabric on the shelves as that can get pulled against the vent due to the flow of air. 

Air return vents in the floor also need clearance to work right. Make sure that furniture like dressers, nightstands, and other pieces that could cover the vent are placed over it. When placing a run in the room, they should not overlap the vent. Again, these also need at least 6-12 inches of clearance and would work best if left totally open. 


Camouflage with Caution

Air return vents are not particularly attractive or interesting parts of a home, but they are a necessity. Although you may be tempted to cover an “ugly” air vent with artwork or slide a piece of furniture in front of it to hide the vent, there are other ways to incorporate this necessary duct work into your home’s décor.

One thing to consider is changing out the air return vent’s cover. Most air return vents are installed with a hinged metal grill placed over them. This allows access to the vent so the air filter can be regularly changed. The cover might not meet your style standards, but there are options! Prefabricated vent covers made with aesthetic appeal are available that you can explore. You could also go the DIY route and make one of your own. The only must-do when it comes to giving an air return vent a new look is that the new cover has to allow air to freely enter the vent and give you access to change the filter. If you don’t want to replace the current cover, remove and paint it to better match your interior color scheme. 


Couched in Good Sense

While it may become a point of frustration when it comes to redecoration, allowing your home’s air return vents the proper space to function will spare you a lot of trouble down the road. If you take the time to plan out a room’s furniture placement, you will find a solution that suits both you and your HVAC system’s sensibilities. Keep large, bulky furniture away from air return vents and consider replacing or painting the vent cover to update a room without harming your HVAC system. Open-backed pieces of furniture may be options to place in front of an air return vent, so long as they do not obstruct airflow when objects are placed on them.

It’s up to you when it comes to furniture placement and air return vents, but go forward with a thought for your footstools, a consideration for the couch, and a reminder to heed your HVAC system’s needs. 

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