Cold Air Coming from Returns

There’s nothing quite as uncomfortable as a drafty home, especially during the cold winter months. If you’ve noticed cold air seeping into your living space through the air returns, you’re not alone. Many homeowners experience this issue, and it can make your home feel chilly and unwelcoming. In this blog post, we’ll explore the causes of cold air coming from returns and offer some practical solutions to help you keep your home cozy and energy-efficient.

Understanding the Problem


Negative Air Pressure: When your HVAC system operates, it can create negative air pressure in your home. This pressure difference can draw in cold outside air through gaps and cracks around the air returns.

Insufficient Insulation: Poorly insulated ductwork or air returns can allow cold outdoor air to infiltrate your home, making it feel drafty.

Leaky Ducts: Over time, ductwork can develop leaks and holes, allowing cold air to enter the system and be distributed throughout your home.

Poorly Sealed Returns: If the air returns themselves are not properly sealed or insulated, they can become a significant source of drafts.

Now that we know why cold air might be coming from your returns, let’s explore some effective solutions to address this issue.

Solutions for Drafty Air Returns

Seal and Insulate Air Returns: Combat drafts from air returns effectively by properly sealing and insulating them. Achieve this through the use of foam board insulation, weatherstripping, or professional sealing materials. Make sure to seal any gaps or cracks around the returns as well.

Check for Duct Leaks: If you suspect that your ductwork is leaking, it’s essential to address these issues promptly. You can use specialized duct sealant or hire a professional HVAC technician to assess and repair any leaks.

Install Dampers: Dampers are devices that can be added to your air returns to control the airflow. By adjusting the damper settings, you can reduce the amount of cold air entering your home during the winter months.

Balance the HVAC System: Ensure that your HVAC system is properly balanced to prevent negative air pressure. A professional HVAC technician can help you achieve the right balance between supply and return air.

Use Draft Stoppers: For a temporary fix, consider using draft stoppers or draft snakes to block cold air from entering your living space through the air returns.

Regular Maintenance: To prevent future issues with drafty air returns, schedule regular maintenance for your HVAC system. This will help identify and address any problems before they become major concerns.

Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Equipment: If your HVAC system is old and inefficient, it may contribute to drafts and high energy bills. Consider upgrading to a more energy-efficient system, which can provide better temperature control and reduce drafts.

Add Insulation to the Attic and Walls: Insulating your home’s attic and walls can help maintain a consistent indoor temperature. When your home is well-insulated, there’s less reliance on the HVAC system, reducing the potential for drafts.

Install Storm Windows and Doors: If drafts are a recurring problem, especially around windows and doors, consider installing storm windows and doors. These provide an additional layer of insulation and can significantly reduce heat loss.

Seek Professional Assistance: While some of the above solutions can be implemented as DIY projects, it’s often a good idea to consult with HVAC professionals and insulation experts. They can perform thorough assessments of your home’s energy efficiency and recommend the most effective solutions tailored to your specific needs.

Monitor and Adjust: After implementing the necessary changes to address drafts, monitor your home’s comfort level and energy consumption. Adjustments may be needed to fine-tune your HVAC system or insulation to achieve optimal results.

Explore Government Rebates and Incentives: Depending on your location, there may be government rebates or incentives available for energy-efficient home improvements. Check with local authorities and utility companies to see if you qualify for any financial assistance when making energy-saving upgrades.

Consider Window Treatments: Thick curtains, blinds, or insulated window coverings can help reduce heat loss through windows. These treatments act as an additional barrier against drafts, especially during colder months.

Use Area Rugs and Door Draft Stoppers: Area rugs can provide insulation for floors, making rooms feel cozier. Additionally, draft stoppers placed at the bottom of exterior doors can prevent cold air from seeping in.

Conduct a Home Energy Audit: If you’re serious about improving your home’s energy efficiency and eliminating drafts, consider a professional home energy audit. During an energy audit, experts use specialized equipment to pinpoint areas of energy loss and draftiness, helping you prioritize the most impactful improvements.

Maintain Proper Humidity Levels: Maintaining the right indoor humidity levels can make your home feel warmer. Using a humidifier during the winter months can help prevent dry air, which can make you feel colder, even at higher temperatures.

Explore Zoning Systems: Zoning systems allow you to control the temperature in different areas or rooms of your home independently. Adjust the settings for specific zones to concentrate warm air where it’s needed most and reduce drafts in less-used areas.

Use Portable Heaters Wisely: Portable space heaters can be used to supplement your home’s heating, but use them cautiously. Make sure they are in good working condition and follow safety guidelines to prevent accidents or fire hazards.

Educate Yourself About Energy Efficiency: Learning more about energy-efficient practices and technologies can help you make informed decisions about your home’s heating and insulation. There are many online resources and government programs that offer guidance on improving energy efficiency.

Stay Consistent with Maintenance: Regularly cleaning or replacing HVAC filters, sealing gaps and cracks, and performing maintenance tasks can prevent drafts from reoccurring. Make maintenance a part of your seasonal home care routine.

Common Causes of Cold Air Coming from Returns

CauseDescriptionSolutionPreventionCost Estimate ($)
Damaged DuctsCracks or holes in ductwork allow cold air in.Seal or replace damaged ducts.Regular duct inspections.200 – 500
Incorrect Vent SettingsRegisters set to “open” can pull in cold air.Adjust vent settings as needed.Educate occupants.0
Poor InsulationLack of insulation in return ducts or walls.Insulate ducts and surrounding areas.Inspect insulation.300 – 1,000
Blocked VentsObstructed return vents restrict airflow.Clear obstructions from vents.Regular vent checks.0
HVAC Equipment IssuesMalfunctioning components in the HVAC system.Schedule HVAC maintenance/repairs.Regular HVAC checks.Varies

Temperature Differential Across Returns

RoomReturn Temperature (°F)Supply Temperature (°F)Temperature Differential (°F)
Living Room68724
Bedroom 165705
Home Office66715
Basement Recreation60644
Dining Room69734
Bedroom 264695

Impact of Cold Air from Returns on Energy Consumption

MonthAverage Energy Usage (kWh)Impact of Cold Air (kWh)Additional Cost ($)

HVAC System Performance Metrics

MetricValueIdeal ValueAction RequiredNotes
Air Filter CleanlinessModerateCleanReplace or clean air filter.Dirty filters can reduce airflow.
Duct Leakage15%<5%Seal ductwork.Leakage results in air loss.
Thermostat Settings72°FAdjustableAdjust for comfort and efficiency.Lower settings may increase costs.
Airflow BalanceBalancedBalancedAdjust dampers or vents as needed.Imbalanced airflow can cause issues.
Insulation QualityAdequateHigh-qualityUpgrade insulation if necessary.Poor insulation affects efficiency.

Homeowner Checklist for Addressing Cold Air from Returns

StepAction ItemDescription
1Check for draftsInspect returns for drafts and air leakage.
2Adjust vent settingsEnsure supply and return vents are balanced.
3Insulate return ducts and wallsAdd insulation to return ducts and surrounding areas.
4Clear obstructionsRemove obstructions from return vents.
5Schedule HVAC maintenance/repairsArrange professional HVAC service if needed.
6Check air filterReplace or clean air filters regularly.
7Seal ductworkSeal any cracks or holes in ducts.
8Adjust thermostat settingsOptimize thermostat settings for energy efficiency.
9Monitor energy usageTrack energy consumption to gauge improvements.
10Consider insulation upgrade if necessaryConsult an expert if insulation is inadequate.


In conclusion, addressing cold air coming from air returns and drafts in your home requires a combination of proactive measures, DIY solutions, professional assistance, and smart energy choices. By taking the time to identify and resolve the root causes of drafts, you can create a more comfortable, energy-efficient, and enjoyable living space for you and your family. Remember that while some of these improvements may require an upfront investment, they can lead to long-term savings on your energy bills and contribute to a greener, more sustainable future.

Cold Air Coming from Returns

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