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Old 07-17-2012, 06:24 AM   #1
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Insufficient return air + duct odor


Hey there-

I own a 1960's colonial house (~1700 sq ft, has Trane XE 1200 that was installed in around 1997, I am not the original owner and don't have size info) and have questions about my central air

First, if you were to visualize my house from the street, my fireplace would be on the left most side of the house (next to the garage) and the furnace would be in the basement on the opposite end of the house.

Second, as far as the vent layout is concerned, on the second floor, there are total of six supply vents (the standard rectangular grill with what I guess to be 6" ducts and one return (again, with standard 6" grill, but instead of using a duct, it simply straddles framing cavity with certain areas blocked off that leads to a very large plenum.


On the first floor, there are total of seven supply vents (same size as the second floor ones) and 4 returns (using 6" ducts).


What I noticed is that on the first floor, all 4 of these returns on located near the furnace ("right" side of the house), and there are none on the "left" or fireplace side.

My problem is that whenever the furnace blower kicks in (for either the air conditioning or heating), I notice:
  • my basement door being pulled shut, if left open
  • a slight odor that I can best describe as a charcoal or smoke smell that lingers throughout the house. Since no one smokes in our family, my guess is that the air is being pulled from the fireplace (though, previous owners, both husband and wife, were 2 pack a day smokers each so I am sure there are residual smoke particles imbedded in drywalls).

I think this is an indication that my return air ducts are not providing sufficient air back to the furnace?

Since this would possibly pull in undesirable air from the surrounding I would like to fix it ASAP. So my questions are:
  • Is this something a DIYer can do properly or do I need to call in a professional?
  • If it can be done by a DIYer, how would I go about adding a new one?
  • How many returns? What size? Where to attach new return ducts to the main return?
Thanks

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Old 07-17-2012, 10:17 AM   #2
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Insufficient return air + duct odor


Call the Man.

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Old 07-17-2012, 12:02 PM   #3
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Insufficient return air + duct odor


Agreed - this is really not something a DIY'er can do.

Returns are speced ans sized based on many different factors, and there's really no way to determine the size and layout with a site visit (and of course we can't do that).

If you don't have a trusted HVAC contractor already, ask friends and neighbors for recommendations. You're not in a panic situation, so you can spend a little time finding the right contractor.
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Old 07-17-2012, 01:56 PM   #4
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Insufficient return air + duct odor


may have insufficient return, and may also have a leaking supply duct that is putting your house into a negative pressure.
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Old 07-17-2012, 07:45 PM   #5
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Insufficient return air + duct odor


Thanks for the replies thus far.

One question I want to emphasize is that all of the return vents are on the right side of the house (where the furnace blower is located in the basement).

Is this a normal setup? Wouldn't it make more sense to at least have couple of returns on the far side of the main return duct?

I know for sure there is a leaky supply vent in the basement (that will be another project / posting) so I will address that in the near future, but is there a harm in putting in a small 6" return vent that will tap into the end section of the main return to see if it improves? I am asking for your opinion on this one because for some reason, there is a supply vent that was disconnected long time ago.

If needed, I can post some pictures and dimensions of the return / supply ducts as well.

I may just end up calling in a pro but I would like to tackle it myself, if at all possible.
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Old 07-17-2012, 10:09 PM   #6
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Insufficient return air + duct odor


They cut corners whee ever they can sometimes. So returns on the furnace end only isn't real unusual.
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Old 07-18-2012, 03:53 AM   #7
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Insufficient return air + duct odor


IMO there are too many factors going on here to accurately assess in an online forum, but if you could post GOOD pictures along with duct sizes/lengths, and the specs of the equipment, we might be able to give you a better idea.

As far as I'm concerned, you really can't have too much return air in a residential building. In general, returns should be centrally located in the house unless you've got return ducts in every room. From what you've described (i.e. 4 6" returns, and another return built utilizing joist spaces) and the symptoms you describe (i.e. door closing, odors, etc) I'd have to think you don't have enough return, but if I was going to run a return I'd not waste my time on a 6" return. Make it at least 10 or 12". Or, better yet, have a professional come in and design the system correctly for you. You'd have to pay for the design, of course, but at least you'd know it's right (and you could run the ducts yourself, if you have the time and inclination).
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Old 07-18-2012, 11:44 AM   #8
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Insufficient return air + duct odor


Thanks and I will take you up on that offer.

It will take couple days for me to gather all the info and post.

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