How To Detail Cold Air Return Grills

Like bath fan covers, most residential cold air return grills look cheap and flimsy and can be a source of visual angst for any design conscious home owner. Cold air returns are critical to the operation of a home’s heating system, but from an architectural point of view, they can really miss the mark. They are often made of off-white plastic or thin metal and are mounted in visually inappropriate locations like above the line of the baseboards or in the middle of a wall.

The solution to this problem is to design the cold air returns so they become part of the trim work in your house and not leave their placement to the whim of the furnace installer. Most millwork and carpentry suppliers stock a wide variety of inexpensive wood or MDF-like cold air return grills. These grills come in a variety of styles ranging from modern to more traditional and easily integrate into the baseboards of any house. They can be stained or painted to match either the hardwood or the wall colors. They work best when they are slightly thicker in profile than the baseboards, creating a slight return from the grill to the trim. And, of course, they need to be easily removable for cleaning and maintenance.

  • Mikefilcor

    “everything old is new again”, the image attached are the old heat grilles I pulled out, they were “designed” into the wall where the 8″ high baseboards butted right into them

    these were for heat however not air return, but same “design” principle


  • Matthew North

    Hi Mike – something strange happened around the 1970′s (and was really driven home in the 1980′s and 1990′s)  where all the “hand craft” items in houses like vents covers, stairwell spindles, fireplace mantles etc. were replaced by mass produced, cheap alternatives much to the shock and horror of any design sensitive home owner! Your heat vents look like they are die-cast, decorative and heavy duty in quality. A lot of homeowners would love to have those today.