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December 4, 2009 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Furniture partially blocking a HVAC return - bad idea or really bad idea?

After a recent move to a new place, I find myself looking at the slightly-sub-optimal furniture layout in the living room and looking for alternatives. Ideally I'd like to switch some items around, but my currently-favoured layout would place a tall bookcase completely obscuring a HVAC return.

I don't have much experience with forced-air HVAC systems, so I have no idea how bad an idea this would be. Any inputs?

Additional information: The return is one of two in the property (it's a 12"x12" compared to the 24"x24" one upstairs), the property is a townhouse with a double-height area over the living room, so it's technically a contiguous space that's serviced by both returns - that said, the upstairs return is at the front of the house and the downstairs is at the back).

The bookcase would be one of several in a row, and all would stand off from the wall by 1-2", so we're not talking about sealing the area off. I am aware that changing the filter would be very difficult, but am I risking damage to the system or problems with heating or air conditioning by doing so?
posted by Nice Guy Mike to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
The lower level of your house will get dustier, your upper floor air return will get noisier, the load on the blower fan will go up, and it will be harder to balance the temperatures in the house. Whether any of those problems will be significant enough to cause you undue stress or the system to be damaged is a question to ask a good HVAC person who's looking at your system, but hopefully one will chime in here.
posted by davejay at 9:59 PM on December 4, 2009

Is the return on the floor on on the wall? If you mean put it directly over it on the floor, that's not a good idea, if it is on the wall and you can move the book case out from the wall a few inches, you're probably OK...

and, davejay's comment is spot on.
posted by HuronBob at 4:03 AM on December 5, 2009

Assuming the return is on the wall (as opposed to in the floor), you could cut out a section of the back of the bookcase, and not use that part of the bottom shelf.
posted by jon1270 at 4:08 AM on December 5, 2009

IANYHVACT but I believe 2" from the wall (assuming the return) is on the wall will be fine
posted by jmsta at 4:35 AM on December 5, 2009

Ditto jmsta.
posted by feelinggood at 5:17 AM on December 5, 2009

The upstairs return is more important; hot air rises. The downstairs won't even matter much if the upstairs is not somehow sealed from the downstairs. Anyway, you aren't even blocking the return entirely.
posted by caddis at 5:53 AM on December 5, 2009

Generate a bit of smoke and see if it readily goes into the return. They make tubes for this, but you can use your imagination about what kind of smoke, as long as it is a very small amount. This will show you the air flow.
posted by Danf at 8:26 AM on December 5, 2009

Sould be fine with a couple-inch gap, as jmsta says. Make sure after it's in place that you check with your hand while the blower is on that you're not drawing a huge sucking-sound vacuum all around the book cases. If not, you're not going to blow up the blower or anything. Note - you're going to need to clean behind it, though. All that air moving through that small space with lots of surface area is going to leave a dust buildup like you wouldn't believe.

Depending on how carefully the airflow in the room is designed, you might mess it up. You're relocating the intake from one place and essentially spreading it over the back perimeter of the bookshelves. Some of my buildings at work need downward air flow inside and the bookshelves would definitely be a no-no. It's unlikely that a residential place was designed with that kind of consideration, though.
posted by ctmf at 8:27 AM on December 5, 2009

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