7 Steps to Solve Home Airflow Problems

cool air

We heat and cool our home to keep our family comfortable. With some homes, maintaining a consistent temperature within each room of the home can prove to be difficult. Some home airflow problems are easy to remedy, others require a more comprehensive approach. Solving home airflow problems can provide many benefits for indoor air quality, energy efficiency, and home comfort. Below are seven common problems and solutions to improving your home airflow.

Leaky Air Ducts

Repairing leaky air ducts is the single best thing a homeowner can do to solve airflow problems within a home.  When constructed, air ducts are sleeved and screwed into one another to deliver and draw air throughout the home.  In most ventilation systems, the joined sections are not air tight allowing for conditioned air to escape or be drawn from unintended areas.  Seal the joints of your air ducts with an approved mastic or sealant and you will realize a noticeable and immediate improvement to your homes airflow problems.

Distance from the Furnace and Air Conditioner

As the furnace or air conditioning system is in operation, it blows and draws air through a series of air ducts to condition each space of the home.  While there is a strong force of air pressure as the air is blown from the furnace or air conditioner, the strength of the airflow dissipates as it reaches the outer extremities of the ventilation system.  More often than not this airflow problem relates to poor design in the architecture of the home or poor installation practices of the HVAC system.  In some occasions, modifications can be made to the ventilation system to provide a greater volume of air with less restriction.  In most cases the most efficient and cost effective solution is to install zones within the ventilation system which are dampers that regulate air flow.

Lack of Return Air

Proper airflow within a home is always related to the circulation of air flow.  Your home relies on supply air vents which blow conditioned air into the home, and return air vents which draw the air back to the furnace or air conditioner.    A lack of return air vents decreases the circulation of airflow within a home, adding additional return vents in areas with limited airflow will improve a homes air circulation.

Dirty Fan Blower

Within the furnace or air conditioner cabinet there is a fan-blower which distributes the air. Overtime dust and debris builds on the fan blower blades reducing its ability to sheer and distribute the air.  By routinely cleaning the furnace on an annual basis you can improve your homes airflow.

Clogged Air Conditioner Coil

If you have air conditioning, located above your furnace cabinet  is an evaporative coil which is made up of tiny fins that absorb heat and cool the air. Overtime dust and debris builds up within the coil fins reducing the amount of airflow that the furnace can distribute. By routinely cleaning the evaporative coils on an annual basis you can improve your homes airflow.

Improperly Sized Heating and Cooling Equipment

Prior to installation, a HVAC load calculation is performed to determine the amount of heating and cooling BTU’s are required to effectively condition the temperature of the home.  If the HVAC system is under-sized or over-sized it will create home airflow problems.  An experienced HVAC technician can provide an HVAC load calculation to make sure that the HVAC is sized properly for the home.

Disconnected & Crushed Air Ducts

If there is no airflow or very limited airflow it may be related to a disconnected or crushed air duct.  Disconnected or crushed air ducts occur from faulty installation.  Remove the air vent register and inspect the ventilation line with a flashlight and mirror.  If the ventilation line is disconnected and is within an area that can be reached, refasten the ducting together with sheetmetal screws and seal the joint.  If the ducting is crushed, remove the crushed ducting piece and replace it.  There are occasions where the duct disconnection cannot be seen, in this scenario you will need the ventilation line to be scoped with a fiber-optic camera to determine the location of the disconnection and the best options to gain access for its repair.

How Do Air Ducts Get Dirty

Compared to years ago when we heated our homes with wood or coal, a modern day heating system is a marvel of efficiency, reliability and convenience, but just like the old time systems these new systems get dirty and need to be cleaned and maintained.

How does an HVAC system Work?

Now you might be thinking “We keep a really clean home, shouldn’t out ducting heating and cooling system be clean to?”   To answer that question we have to start by looking at how you’re heating and cooling system works.  Think of your homes heating and cooling system as the lungs of your home.  The system pulls air from the rooms of your home through the return ductwork, and then the air passes through the filter before reaching the air handler or furnace where it is heated or cooled depending on the season.  Once the air is heated or cooled, it is blown through the supply ductwork and back into your home.  Some of the components of the furnace are used only during heating, others only during cooling, and others operate all the time.  Although the air is filtered, the fact is that filters cannot remove all the contaminants from the air, the system will get dirty through normal use.

HVAC components that get dirty:

  • Return air ducts
  • Filters
  • Blower
  • Heat Exchanger
  • Cooling coils
  • Supply ductwork

Where Does Dust Come From?

So where does dust come from?  Consider that up to forty pounds of dust is created each year from in the average six room home, this normal household dust is unavoidable as it is created by everyday living.  Every time we open the door, walk across carpeting, scratch out dry skin, or unroll paper towels we contribute to airborne dust.  Of course pets and dust emitting activities such as remodeling make the problem worse.  In fact, it’s not uncommon to find construction dust in a homes heating and cooling system years after the house was built.  On average, this contaminated air recirculates throughout your home five to seven times per day.  Why does it matter? This can develop into a serious problem.  The build up of these contaminants on components such as blowers and cooling coils can lead not only to unhealthy air for your family to breathe, but also to higher energy bills.  These contaminants can cause your system to work harder and run longer shortening the life of your equipment.  Perhaps most importantly the heating and air conditioning system needs to be cleaned to provide the thermal comfort you expect.

How Do You Inspect the Heating and Cooling System?

So how clean is the heating and cooling system in your home?  Here is a quick way to check.  Remove a vent cover and use a mirror and flashlight to look inside.  Or use a small digital camera to take a picture of the inside of your duct.  If your ducts are dirty it is time to have your air ducts cleaned.  Periodic air duct cleaning keeps your homes heating and cooling system clean and operating at peak efficiency.

Planning for Air Conditioning Installation

If you are planning on installing an air conditioner before the weather heats up, it is important to have the air ducts cleaned before the air conditioner is installed.  Having the air ducts cleaned before the air conditioning is installed will prevent numerous avoidable problems from occurring.

Prevent a Dust Out

When central air conditioners are installed, numerous modifications are made to the furnace cabinet and supply trunk line.  Trunk lines are the main intake and distribution lines of an HVAC system.  Because of the volume of air that is circulated through trunk lines, they are often the dirtiest points of a ventilation system.  Modifications to the trunk lines disrupt and loosen debris on the walls of the trunk lines.  If the air duct are not cleaned prior to installation there is a high probability of drawing debris into your newly installed HVAC components or blowing the loosened dust and debris within your home.

Prevent Fouled Air Conditioning Coils

Home central air conditioning systems draw air from the return air vents; and blow the air through evaporative coils located above the furnace to chill the air.  To a large degree, the energy efficiency of an air conditioner is dependent on the cleanliness of the evaporative coil. When evaporative coils become fouled, they cause a number of problems:

  • Decrease heat transfer: Evaporative coils are made of tiny fins designed to absorb the heat from the air, when dirt or debris enters the coil fins, it acts as an insulator preventing efficient heat transfer.
  • Decrease airflow: Debris can build within the coil face preventing air to freely flow through the coil.  Fouled air conditioning coils negatively affect your HVAC system during the heating season as well.
  • Clogged drain pans: As evaporative air conditioner coils absorb heat from the air, they condensate moisture which flows from the air conditioning system through a drain pan.  Moisture and debris clogs the drain of the air conditioner.
  • Coil Freeze: Loosened debris within the air ducts causes air filters to load prematurely, and fouls evaporative air conditioner coils. Coils typically freeze and fail due to low air flow.

Plan and Prepare

When planning your air conditioner installation, budget air duct cleaning in your installation cost.  Coordinate the air duct cleaning to be performed before the installation of the air conditioner.  Clean air ducts will provide numerous long term benefits.