Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A better looking return air grille

Psst...I've done it again! Check out another DIY return air grille solution here.



Do you have a baseboard return air grille that looks like this?


Not especially attractive, right? I'm pretty sure ours was original to the house and I see it every time I walk in and out through the garage. When we started re-painting the inside of the house a few weeks ago, I took the grille off to paint behind it and decided that there was no way it was going back on.

I grabbed some sheet metal from Lowe's. The metal already had this cool pattern (which is called Union Jack) cut out of it.


I figured out how big to cut the metal (very scientific, as you can see above). I held the metal up to the intake and used my best judgement to cut the sheet using the tin snips pictured below. I cut two long narrow strips to cover the space.


Once I had the metal the right size, I took it out to the garage to prime and paint it the same color as our baseboards.

(FYI, I use Restoration Hardware's The Right White color matched in Sherwin-Williams ProClassic Semi-Gloss paint. I'd love to switch to a no-VOC trim paint, but that would mean re-painting all the trim in the house to guarantee that the sheen stays the same everywhere.)


To paint the metal, I used a 6" foam roller and laid the metal directly on the construction paper on the floor. If you're thinking about doing this, I'd highly recommend picking up the metal immediately after you paint it and then transfer it to some scrap wood to dry. If you let it dry on the paper, you might end up picking little bits of paper off the back of your metal. Don't ask how I know that. Let's just say I've got a feeling about it.

Once the metal was dry, I set it up against the intakes and then framed it in 1x2 pine. Our wall is pretty round, so framing the metal was not easy and required a good bit of caulk and drywall compound to get a seamless look.


Once it was sanded, caulked, and painted I gave it a coat of our white trim paint and then (finally) moved the furniture back. It's obviously not removable now so each time we re-paint we'll have to paint around it. (Pssst...there are tons of great ideas for how to make it removable down in the comments! Check it out if this is a concern for you.) I'll also have to be good about vacuuming it each time I vacuum the floor, to be sure I remove as much dust and pet hair as possible since I'm no longer able to remove it to vacuum behind it. I did that...um...once. The extra vacuuming is totally worth the charming grille, though, don't you think?

Do you have an ugly return air grille in a spot where you have to see it regularly? Is this a project you would consider for your home?

110 comments:

  1. that looks freakin awesome! nice job!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, thanks you guys! I like it, too. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. That looks so much better....I love it!! it looks so much better with the wall and the floor!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Cool! Ive been wondering what the name of that metal was. Well done:)
    Alyssa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad I could help! I should have gotten photos of all the different designs they have at Lowe's. I had a hard time deciding!

      Delete
  5. Cool! Ive been wondering what the name of that metal was. Well done:)
    Alyssa

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for the solution to my problem. Now I just have to figure out how to adapt it to my problem area, my high-traffic spot in my kitchen floor! Any futher suggestions? Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How big is the grill in your floor?

      Delete
    2. I am thinking just that. How can I adapt this for my UGLY kitchen floor register.

      Delete
    3. That's my problem too! Only in the walkway between two rooms. The grill in my floor is huge - about 24"x36". I've been trying to figure out a more attractive solution for this ugly spot!

      Delete
    4. I have no solution but I do remember growing up, one of the neighbors had a huge floor grill - for the heat of the wood stove to go upstairs. I always avoided walking on it - it felt kind of creepy. ;)

      You would have to make sure that whatever you used, it would be sturdy enough to hold the weight of... probably at least 300 pounds, just to be safe.

      Delete
    5. We got some wood heat vents from lumber liquidators to replace some of our ugly metal ones. They are seated into the opening and look much better. I don't know if they make anything that size, but you could check.

      Delete
  7. I love it! I have the giant square grill - and I don't want to fasten something permanent to it, but This is a great idea for what to use when building a new cover for it. Great work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you like it! You might be able to make it non-permanent with a countersink bit, screws, and wood plugs. Or, like the person below suggested, use velcro. What a great suggestion!

      Delete
    2. Hi, tammigirl! I love when I see a familiar face around the web :). I've also been looking at ways to deal with the lovely (and I say that sarcastically) air returns we have in our homes.

      Delete
    3. You could counter sink a long piano hinge into the plaster and wood frame then it could flip up out of the way for cleaning

      Delete
  8. Awesome Idea! Why not use velcro on the corner to attach so it may be removed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a great idea -- I hadn't thought of it. My only concern would be that if your walls aren't straight (like that wall in the photos is pretty warped) then you'll have some gapping between the frame and the wall. But for people who don't live above old silver mines like I do (crazy, I know -- we have tons of settling issues) then maybe that would work perfectly.

      The other option I thought of today was to build the frame away from the wall and then use a countersink bit to drill holes into the face of it, attach it to the wall with screws in those holes, and then use removable wood plugs to fill the holes. It would be harder to get off than velcro, but not totally permanent. Thanks so much for the suggestion!!

      Delete
    2. I'm late to the conversation.... but as I am thinking of how to make mine removeable the thought struck me that if I used velcro then the 2 yr old foster child would be able to remove it and my hole would be big enough for him to fall into... just a thought.

      Delete
    3. I do like this idea!.... How ever return air grille's are sized for a specific amount of air. And if you restrict the air at the return it may cause the unit to go off on limit for heat and freeze up for air conditioning.... Just be aware

      Delete
  9. What an amazing idea. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wow, what a transformation! Looks fantastic and the instructions are great. Think I'll tackle this before Xmas. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome! If you do, I'd love to see photos! Check back in with a link to photos if you think of it. :)

      Delete
  11. Looks great. I have that same inspiration picture pinned! I'll have to figure out how to make mine accessible, though - there's an air filter behind it that requires changing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a good idea -- I should probably have a filter in mine! There are a couple suggestions in the comments above for making it accessible. One person suggested velcro (smart!) and I thought of screwing it in from the front with countersunk screws and wood plugs. Good luck! If you do it, I'd love to see a photo!

      Delete
  12. This is an awesome idea! I so need to do this with my return air grills. They are so ugly! I too have warped walls so I feel your pain. To make it so that they are removable, what if you framed the wall with wood and then also framed the piece of metal separately so that it was the same size as the wall frame? Then you could just velcro the grated frame to the top of the wall frame. That may help with the wall issues. The grate may stick out a little bit but no more than the original return air grill would have.
    Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a fantastic idea!!! Even if you built the first frame separately (so it would be plumb) and then caulked around it, and then built the second frame with the metal in it...and used 1/2" lumber instead of 3/4" for the part that is permanently in the wall...

      Lots of great ideas here!

      Delete
  13. What a great idea! I'm totally going to do this!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Great idea...love it. now to go measure my basement, the air ducts are getting a makeover...oh yeah! :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I DIG this! Thanks for sharing your tips, I have a few unsightly air vents that need help :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. This looks beautiful! You made it look perfect, even with warped walls :) I want to know your opinion on something: I thought about doing this but my boyfriend said I would be covering up too much of the vent and preventing air flow. Do you think you're losing any efficiency or do you think it's pretty equal to standard covers? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm...that's a good question. I haven't noticed a difference with our furnace. I suppose there is slightly less surface area on a standard cover (so more space for air to pass), but I don't think it's enough to compromise efficiency. I'm not an expert, though!

      Delete
    2. Ideally you'd want to pick a metal with the same free area as the original grille. It looks like this particular sheet has less that 50% free area (which is a good number to shoot for) plus your frame looks larger than the original, this decreasing your free area even more. You won't really notice a drop in your efficiency, but noise may be problem due to an increase in air velocity. If you don't notice an increase in noise you should be all set.

      Delete
  17. YES YES YES!!!!!! I too have the orginal updated return air vent pinned too! But we have 2 of these ugly floor ones next to each other on 2 different walls. This is perfect!!! Thank you so much for the new idea & I can't wait to check out all the patterns of the metal although I do like the union jack.

    ReplyDelete
  18. This is the greatest idea ever! I hate my vent covers! Thanks for the inspiration!
    Jo-Anna

    ReplyDelete
  19. We have a big square one similar to the original pin, and man is that thing ugly - it's old & mangled! I love this idea - yours looks so nice! I just need to make a removable version since we have to take ours off every time we replace the air filter (although I'm sure I could make it easier to put back on than our mangled one!)

    http://homevolution.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe try hinges with magnetic closure. Just an idea. Good luck.

      Delete
  20. This is so brilliant and just what I needed! I did some gorgeous board and batten trimwork last year and there is a hideous grill right in the middle of it! Totally detracts from my lovely mouldings. This is such a great solution! I am so doing this!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Totally awesome, and I will be copy catting. There is a vent covering the plumbing access to my spa tub. The access happens to make a sore spot in the master suite. This inspiration would make such an beautiful difference!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great! That is a perfect use for something like this!

      Delete
  22. What a great idea. Must do something like this.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Love it! I am going to make a removable version (I like to be able to clean the mountains of pet hair out of the return)
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Smart. I can't wait to see it! Leave a link if you get a chance.

      Delete
  24. I like the way you write, thanks for the idea

    ReplyDelete
  25. This is *beautiful*, but is there really no filter??!! I so love it, but you really need to look into whether you are supposed to have a filter. My dad worked in HVAC, and you could be ruining your system with dust that will settle and clog your system. Just trying to save you a HUGE headache!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We do have a filter, but it is on our furnace, not in the wall. This intake is about 12 or 15 feet from the furnace, then hits a big filter, then the furnace. The intake was inspected last year when we redid the basement (actually, the inspector made me seal the other side of the wall because the intake used to be double-sided) and the inspector didn't say anything about a filter. Thoughts?

      Delete
    2. Why did they have you seal the other side? Mine is double sided, just wondering if I could/should do that too :

      Delete
    3. Apparently it is against code. I didn't understand his explanation (and still don't), but he was quite adamant that it had to be sealed. So I got the cardboard stuff with the foil on both sides, nailed it to the studs and sealed the nail holes with this goopy duct sealer that the inspector told me to get. He was satisfied with my work so it passed inspection!

      Delete
    4. I too have a double side, the wall that separates the 2 bedrooms, so I would have to close 1 off?

      Delete
  26. great idea & a nice look! an option to make it removable would be create the wooden frame for the metal cover, then attach peel & stick magnets to the back of the frame. attach the attracting magnet to the wall & there you go! i've used the magnets on a roll type & they are very thin so it would not stand our from the wall at all. i'm going to try this for my floor & ceiling returns (i don't have wall ones) & post back if it works. but nicely done!

    ReplyDelete
  27. I wonder if you could simply take your original metal grill, cut out the inside leaving just the frame, add the union jack metal to the inside or that, paint all, and replace as usual. It would make it easier to remove and replace filters if necessary, and the whole process might be simpler, assuming you had the right metal cutting tools handy. I haven't tried this, but usually the metal for those grills is pretty lightweight stuff. Seems like it could be cut easily. Anyone tried that idea? I really love the idea of sprucing up the look of the whole grille!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great idea! I bet for someone with the right tools (and know-how) that would be a cinch. Maybe a jigsaw with a metal cutting bit? And a file? So smart!

      Delete
    2. Oh, I like that idea. A Dremel would make that so easy.

      Delete
  28. Done and Done!! Thanks so much for this idea! We totally did it to our ugly air return.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I'm thinking this just got added to the To Do list (and pretty near the top!). I'll be sure to link back if I use as inspiration for blog fodder. Thanks! ~ Dee @ deeconstructed.com

    ReplyDelete
  30. you should manufacture these and sell them. You could make a fortune!

    ReplyDelete
  31. We live in a very old farmhouse and we have very ugly grates I don't mind their style, but they've been dented and painted and probably kicked so many times that they're just flat out ugly. I may take heart and try this project, thanks to your initiative!!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Like everyone else here, I love this. Our air return is in the ceiling, but I think replacing it would still be an aesthetic upgrade. Hmmm...let me think about this.
    *blink* *blink blink*
    Yep. I like it. It's just made the official To Do list. :)
    -Brittney
    http://smartgirlstyle.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  33. Thank you and great job on this post! Ahhh, I finally know how to replace our old "non-standard size" intake cover. Happy Holidays *<:-)

    ReplyDelete
  34. Love this! My returns have always looked so ugly!

    ReplyDelete
  35. I love this idea! I have a heat grate in the floor of my kitchen and it had to be removed because the metal tines broke off from getting stepped on. I need help in solving this problem. Do you think this would work for a floor application?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Rin. This metal is too thin for a floor -- I would look into some of the stronger, decorative registers available at Lowe's and Home Depot. Good luck!

      Delete
  36. I love this idea so much, that I went to Lowes and they didn't have it! Do you kknow where else I can get it???

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Our Home Depot carries the same stuff, but in different sizes. I hope you can find it!

      Delete
    2. Hobby Lobby has it in several varieties. Make sure you download their 40% off coupon on your phone or print one off their website.

      Delete
    3. Hobby Lobby has it in several varieties. Make sure you download their 40% off coupon on your phone or print one off their website.

      Delete
  37. Just a thought...you could probably attach the metal to the framing and then just screw that to the wall like the older grills, that way you could still remove if needed and vacuum behind it. It will not be caulked and smooth against the wall, but you will still have access if necessary. LOVE this idea!!

    ReplyDelete
  38. Looks really nice. I'm with Joseph, pre-drill a hole and screw it on like the original. You can paint the head of the screw if you don't leave it white. My thought was that the louvers are usually installed so you don't see behind it. With some of the decorative patterns you might need to paint the recessed area all black or all white so you aren't seeing the unfinished area in the wall or the ducting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the idea of painting the inside black. Great thought!

      If I could have built a frame and screwed it on in one piece, I would have. But my wall is so warped that was definitely not possible. I had to piece it together so it would curve with the wall. :) And then caulk. And caulk. And caulk some more...

      Delete
  39. Has anyone tried this or knows if it affects your HVAC system at all?

    ReplyDelete
  40. Funny, we had an ugly bathroom fan cover, and I went to IKEA and bought one of their lacy metal shelf units, drilled a couple of holes, and viola! White, pretty, and inexpensive.

    Love your grille! That's a great idea for our hallway, which has quite a large return.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Here is another plus to what you have done. Your kids (if you have them and especially boys) can't put papers or other small thin objects in the return. I'm so glad I saw this.

    ReplyDelete
  42. You said that you cant remove the vent cover after you do this. What happens if you need to remove it to clean your vents or hide money?

    ReplyDelete
  43. Here's an idea for making the grill nonpermanent--attach the same hardware that is used to keep a kitchen cabinet closed, there are many different types, all inexpensive. Just look inside your own cabinets. If could place one in each corner to hold the cover in place you could easily pop it in and out for cleaning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ahh, yeah...like magnetic catches. They wouldn't work on my wall b/c it is so warped, unless I made two frames, one with the grille and one without. But they'd be great for a straight wall!

      Great idea! Thanks for sharing.

      Delete
  44. I have an intake grill in the floor (old house). It had a rusty metal grate over it that hurt our feet, so I finally bought a black, wrought iron looking rubber door mat to put over it. Works like a charm and doesn't block the air flow.

    ReplyDelete
  45. I hate the big ugly vent grill so to do something removable is on my to-do list... especially since my toddler has tried sticking her tiny fingers in there and gets stuck. Thanks!!!

    ReplyDelete
  46. Wish I'd found this a year ago! Looks amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  47. what about a grill up towards the top of your wall in direct view of anyone that walks into the room? Should we paint it the same color as the wall?
    Also wondering of the direction of airflow. All grates we have now, the air flows from top to bottom. The grate you used just flows out.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Please tell me about the turquoise piece next to the beautified return air grill. :)

    ReplyDelete
  49. There are some potential long term downsides to this solution:

    1. From a typical standing or sitting height, one looks straight inside the vent ducting behind it. the angled louvers of the original grille provide some "hiding" of what is behind it. What is back there is usually not pretty.

    2. Cleaning this surface is a "bite me" job as all the sharp edges of the pattern will catch on anything (brush, cloth, sponge, etc.) that is used to wipe off the oily dust and residues. This is a particularly bad problem if the grill is in a kitchen or bathroom space.

    3. Actual airflow through this new patterned grill may not be as good as the original.

    4. If the intake grill also holds a filter behind it, that filter will be very visible from the room, particularly when sitting down.

    I am not trying to rain on anyone's parade but sometimes function trumps form and this may be one of them for most people. Good luck to those that try this. Hope it works for you in the long run.

    Having mentioned all this I still think it is more pleasing to look at the surface than the original grill.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Bud. Yeah, I thought about the louvers of the original grill hiding what's behind the grille better than this one. Other than one 2x4, which I should have painted black, I actually don't see anything through this.

      And cleaning it has been easy -- just a quick sweep with the vacuum hose whenever I'm doing the floor. Cat and dog hair seems to get sucked up against it but comes off really easily. I just cleaned the screen on the fan above my stove last night and know what you mean about oily residue! I'm glad this grille is away from the kitchen.

      I still wonder about the airflow, but we haven't had any problems with the furnace this winter, and our utility bills haven't changed so I take that as a good sign. :)

      I think some of the removable suggestions above are great for people who want to try it out and see whether it works for them. It's working even better than I expected for us.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Hillary

      Delete
  50. I saw your post and thought it was so genius that I created my own return vent. Our return vents are at the top of walls all over the house and are bent, ugly, and are terrible dust and dirt collectors! You could see through them and see all the pipes and vents too. My new vent fits perfectly and you cannot see through it. I do not anticipate any differences in air flow either. I can remove them at any time because I used the same screws that held up the old vent. I would like to make them throughout my home, but I'd like to find sheet metal at a lower cost. Any suggestions?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay! Kelly, that's so fantastic! I'd love to see a photo if you can upload one somewhere and post the link, or send me one at hillary dot dickman at gmail.com.

      I think someone said that Hobby Lobby has the same (or similar) kinds of sheet metal? With the 40% off one item coupon, you might get a good deal. Also, I've seen them at both HD and Lowe's, but in different sizes -- that might make a difference for you. Other than that (and buying online somewhere), I've got nothin'.

      Keep in touch -- I'd love to hear how the rest of the vents go!

      Hillary

      Delete
  51. I love this! I have been looking for a good EASY tutorial that used a decorative material like the sheet metal (I could have sworn about a year ago, I found plastic sheets at home depot with similar designs).

    Since reading this, I am thinking about making a removable one too. My walls are decently flush, so I'm thinking not velcro, but those picture hanging command strips?!? And maybe liquid nails to glue the 1x2 wood to the sheet metal.

    Was there any particular reason why you didn't glue the 1x2's on to the sheet metal first, and THEN do all the painting at once? Wondering if you painted the items separately for a reason...

    Thanks!!!

    ReplyDelete
  52. What a great idea! I definitely want to try this to at least two of my returns!

    ReplyDelete
  53. My return air grilles look exactly like your before picture. I have gone to every home store around to find replacements, but they don't make those sizes anymore. I could custom order them for $$$. I refurbished mine, and they look good, but I would love to do something like this to give them a more modern look. I'm not crazy about the Union Jack design, but I'm sure other patterns are out there.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Why not just totally cover it up? I mean, what harm could that do?...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is where the air goes in to the HVAC system to be heated or cooled. Can't really cover it up.

      Delete
  55. Why not put some wood framing on the inside so it would just slide in and out?

    ReplyDelete
  56. Great informative post. I get more information from this. That information is so helpful to us.Will be visit again on your website.

    Sheet metal cutters

    ReplyDelete
  57. Just a thought, why not use a hinge on each side & velcro on the other side, then it wouldn't be removeable, but it would be accessible. If you do the hinge on the top thrn it would just pull up to open & easyily close

    ReplyDelete
  58. Great Post ...Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.Ac Repair Southwest Houston Tx are really helpful service for getting the right brand at the right time. It can be available in a hotel,home and workplace anywhere.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Just found this on pinterest ~ I have been looking for a something to do for my ugly vents ~ this is PERFECT!

    ReplyDelete
  60. This really makes a difference. It is so pretty! Any advice for vents that are right at picture hanging height in the stairwell?

    ReplyDelete
  61. Great job it looks awesome. My only concern is that it is not moveable. I'm pretty sure you will run into issues when you get your furnace cleaned, if I recall when my was last done they removed the vents for cleaning the air return. I would recommend just screwing it into the wall. Just wondering if you could make a seamless look by making it custom fit the wall and then attach it? Don't get me wrong, I totally love the idea. I also have those ugly vent covers and I want so badly to get rid of them. Let me know what you think.

    ReplyDelete
  62. I do like this idea!.... How ever return air grille's are sized for a specific amount of air. And if you restrict the air at the return it may cause the unit to go off on limit for heat and freeze up for air conditioning.... Just be aware

    ReplyDelete
  63. I LOVE your idea and I'm going to do that in our dining room and living room this weekend!! Thank you for Sharing your project with us DIYers :-)

    ReplyDelete
  64. As much as I love this, I need this to be removable because I get my air ducts cleaned annually.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Check out the comments! There are lots of ideas there for how to make it removable. If my wall were flat instead of curved, I would have made mine removable, too.

      Delete
  65. An unbelievable blog. This blog will indisputably be definitely recommended to my friends as well.
    bubblegum casting

    ReplyDelete
  66. This is absolutely great idea. Another way to do this is cut on the grills out of the original air grills, then glue the new design inside the frame of the original air grill. And you're back to normal.

    ReplyDelete
  67. Hi guys, when I am actually willing of reading these blog post to be updated regularly. It offers fastidious stuff.
    bubblegum casting reviews

    ReplyDelete
  68. I’m definitely coming again to see these articles and blogs.
    bubblegum casting reviews

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for reading! I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say.