A Better Looking Return Air Grille

Return air grille before and after. Great tutorial from The Friendly Home | friendly-home.net

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 at my local hardware store. It can also be found online. 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.

IMG_1747Once 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 1×2 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.

return air grille after

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?

We will be happy to see your thoughts

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