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How to Install a Wall Return Air Grille

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How to install or replace a wall return air grille

Let’s start with understanding how and what the air grille is attaching to. Interior walls are mainly, if not all, framed with 2×4 material. Unlike exterior walls which have grown over the years to 2×6 to allow extra insulation. The wall stud spacing will vary from 12″ or 16″ depending on the age of the home and local building codes. A return air vent boot will be attached to the wall studs via tabs(ears), or direct to the wall stud.

Examples: Using a typical 6×10 return air duct boot

1) Walls framed 12″ at center – the ductwork runs straight up the middle of the wall then attaches securely via tabs on both sides. There should be minimal or no flex in the tabs when screwing the air grille on.

Return Air Duct Boot Double Sided Tabs

Return Air Duct Boot Double Sided Tabs

2) Walls framed 16″ on center – the ductwork cradles the side of a wall stud, but then has a long tab on the other side. This type of installation is what could cause that spongy feeling when trying to fit the air grille screw on the tab side. As you can see the sheet metal is very thin, and the longer the tab, the more flex present.

Return Air Duct Boot Single Sided Tab

Return Air Duct Boot Single Sided Tab

Removing and Installing a Wall Return Air Grille

Step 1 – Remove the original air return grille by unscrewing the fastener screws . (i) Painted edges may be acting as a seal. Use a utility knife, razor blade, or similar to cut around the perimeter.

Note: Wall repair may be needed if the new grille doesn’t cover any cosmetic wall damage that may occur.

Cutting Painted Edges of a Wall Air Grille

Cutting Painted Edges of a Wall Air Grille

Step 2 – Measure the actual duct boot opening for accurate air grille size. (i) Air grilles and register covers are labeled by the duct boot opening size and not by outside diameter of the grille or register. (ii) You could also take the existing grille with you to the store and do a match.

How-to Measure for a Return Air Grille

How-to Measure for a Return Air Grille

Step 3 – When installing the return air grille you want to make sure you have the louvers facing the right way to be effective in pulling in air, and hiding the duct boot behind for a better visual appearance. Note: The closer the grille location is too eye level the easier to see through the louvers even if the grille is installed properly.

NOTE: An easy way to understand proper grille positioning is looking at the louvers and how they would pull air in the most efficient and effective way. The wide mouth opening should face the ceiling when mounted high, and facing the floor when mounted low.
  • Return air grille mounted high near the ceiling: The top of each louvers should be closest to the grille face with the bottom of each louver slanted inward.
Wall Return Air Grille Position Near Ceiling

Wall Return Air Grille Position Near Ceiling

  • Return air grille mounted low near the floor: The bottom of each louvers should be closest to the grille face with the top of each louver slanted inward.
Wall Return Air Grille Position Near Ceiling

Wall Return Air Grille Position Near Floor

Air Grille Installation Repairs and Tips

  • The age of the grille, and brand of grille, can cause variations in size and screw hole placement when replacing an air grille.
  • If  the existing mounting holes don’t line up you may have enough room to create new holes by moving the grille up or down, but be careful that you are not too close to the existing holes and make one big hole.
  • If the air grille screw will be screwing into a wall stud you’re best off drilling a pilot hole first. The coating on the screws can easily be stripped off if the screw is torqued too much. You can check this by tapping or slight pushing on the interior side of the air boot to feel for a solid object. You may also be able to visible see a wall stud is present.
  • Be careful not to over-tighten and strip the air grille screws when screwing into the sheet metal tabs.
  • The air grille screw is not grabbing anything? (i) The sheet metal hole is stripped. (ii) The duct boot tab may have broken off.
  • Stripped screw hole? (i) Try a bigger diameter or longer screw. Your local home improvement store will sell different variations with a painted finish. You can switch to a phillips pan head screw instead of a hex head screw if that’s all that is available with a painted head. (ii) Try a plastic wall anchor and screw combination in the wall facia (drywall, plaster, etc.) for securing the air grille.
10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Pete

    March 19, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    I started this process for my bedroom above the door frame. once I cut thru the drywall, i noticed a brick wall in between that and the other side of the wall. what is the best way to cut thru that? or is that not recommended?

    • Editorial Staff

      March 19, 2016 at 7:47 pm

      Hi Pete,
      Without personally seeing and knowing the build of your home, I don’t feel comfortable advising on removing anything involving structure.

  2. mark

    July 27, 2015 at 2:58 am

    when using a ventilation system and supplying air into a room through a grille at high level, should the grille face up or down?

    • Editorial Staff

      July 27, 2015 at 8:41 am

      Hi Mark,
      Some will argue that it doesn’t matter, but if you look at the images in the articles, a standard louver air grille should have the louvers large opening facing upwards.

      • mark

        July 27, 2015 at 9:21 am

        Denny,

        It is a supply grille I asked the question of, and do you have a reason why the louvres should face upwards.

        Many thanks

      • Editorial Staff

        July 27, 2015 at 4:13 pm

        Mark,
        Per the article: 1) Visual appeal, you avoid seeing directly into the unappealing duct boot. 2) Aids in pulling stale hot air near the ceiling for circulation purposes. Think of it like a wide vacuum nozzle.

      • mark

        July 28, 2015 at 2:24 am

        Denny,

        How would you advise on how to avoid staining to ceilings from grilles facing upwards?

        Many thanks

      • Editorial Staff

        July 28, 2015 at 7:10 am

        Mark,
        Not sure I quite follow? Are you asking about dirty air being pulled across the ceiling…into the vent…and leaving staining behind?

      • mark

        July 28, 2015 at 8:37 am

        Denny,

        Sorry to be a pain but I didn’t have all the information.
        This is a bedroom with en suite shower room and the shower room has extract and the bedroom has an supply vent above the entry door (with louvres facing upwards) close to the ceiling which is causing staining to the ceiling.
        My question is whether the louvres can face downwards without causing any issues with the system?

        Many thanks

      • Editorial Staff

        July 28, 2015 at 9:59 am

        Mark,
        Without seeing the layout in person, I think this may be one of those “can’t be avoided” scenarios. Similar to how the edges of carpet get dirty and stained from the way air moves about in a home. Ever notice how dust and debris are larger along baseboards. Just one of those things where only more frequent cleaning can minimize the effects.

        Back to your air grille. You shouldn’t have any airflow issues by flipping one grille around in a system, but only time will tell if it actually helps eliminate staining. Might want to consider a high quality washable paint instead.

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