More HVAC return air flow is better than less.
Most people think of their HVAC system as something that blows warm and cold air around.
To get a really good return for your HVAC buck, it is very important to have balanced, and BETTER, return air flow. It's really a system of returning the air for reconditioning.
The large grills you may see on the walls or ceilings around the house are the returns, where the air gets drawn back to the HVAC unit to get reheated or recooled. A really effective system would be one where there are returns in many of the rooms in the house, instead of one large centrally-located one on each floor.
The big caveat to that statement would be having returns in the kitchen and bathrooms. That would be a no no.
Even more, if you were to install air return covers that have louvers that can be opened and closed you would get a really effective means of balancing temperatures in the house. During winter you would want the cool air to return more so than the warm air. In summer the reverse would be true - the idea would be to encourage more warm air to return and less of the cool. Balancing that air flow would be more easily accomplished with louvered grill covers.
So when I walk into a basement it is my habit to look for the HVAC air return.
This basement was finished by a homeowner sometime after the house was built.
Many indicators said it was not a professional job.
And when they finished this basement they decided they wanted a storage closet. But where they decided to create it they enclosed the basement air return!
I even had to remove some boxes there in order to be able to take this photo.
AN HVAC AIR RETURN HIDDEN IN A CLOSET BEHIND BOXES
AND A CLOSED DOOR IS ABSOLUTELY INEFFECTIVE.
Not only does this installation create an entire floor where no air is exchanged (which can affect everything from humidity to indoor air quality) but it creates a DISPARITY in the air that comes in and blows out of the system.
If ever you hear a whine or high-pitched sound when the furnace or AC is turned on, it is usually because the return ducts are not properly sized. That disparity causes the system to work overtime, as it struggles for air to condition, and reduces efficiency dramatically.
Such was the case in this house. When I turned on the AC to test it and heard the whine I knew we would find some sort of disparity. And you are looking at it!
My recommendation: things happen for reasons. An uncomfortable house is uncomfortable for reasons! Poor HVAC design, inadequate or poorly-placed insulation, lousy windows and doors - any or all of those things contribute to the indoor living environment. Rooms feel hot and cold - levels feel hot and cold. A home inspector can help to determine why those conditions might exist!
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC
Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.
Office (703) 330-6388 Cell (703) 585-7560