Entryway and Hallway Decorating & DIY Home Improvement

DIY Custom Wood Air Return Vent Cover, Part 1

Okay, so I admit…air return vents just are not exactly the most exciting topic. But if you have an HVAC system in your house, then you’ve got at least one air return vent. Are you fortunate enough to have yours in a hallway? In the ceiling of your stairwell? If so, then count your blessings. My air return vent is front and center, just underneath the HVAC unit closet, which can be seen directly from the front door. (These condos were designed in the early 80s, and there are more than a few undesirable design issues like this.)

So since mine is front and center, it at least needs to look attractive…something like this…

Wood air return vent cover by Worth Home Products, via Venting Direct, starting at $118

Well, let me assure you, mine looks nothing like that…at least not yet.  Are you ready to see mine in its current state?  You might not want to proceed if you’re alone…in a dark room.  Because I can assure you, this is scary!

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Here’s my front-and-center air return vent…


Sadly, you’re not having a nightmare.  This is reality.  Is that not the most disgusting sight?

Okay, here’s the deal.  The vent itself is most assuredly original to the condo, so it’s almost 30 years old.  And its doubtful that it’s seen a coat of paint since its original debut.  The gross dark areas that you see…that’s not dirt. It’s where the paint has worn away, and I don’t really know how that came to be.  Thirty years of scrubbing and vacuuming perhaps? Sure, we’ll go with that.    The dark brown at the bottom…that’s floor paint from when I painted my concrete floors.  I wasn’t careful at all because I had planned to replace the vent immediately.  That never happened.  (More on that in a bit.)

The baseboards look disgusting because of a major A/C leak that we had that damaged the wall and the baseboards. Replacing them has been on my “to do” list for quite some time now.


Okay, so I know what you’re thinking.  Kristi, why don’t you just take the vent and give it a good coat of spray paint?

Well, I should have.  But every time I thought of doing that, I convinced myself that it would be a waste of time (and spray paint) to paint this worn, ugly, bent, beat up vent because I was just going to replace it!  And believe me, I’ve searched high and low for a standard metal vent to replace it.  Sadly, I can’t find this size anywhere, and I’ve looked at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and online.  It’s just not a standard size anymore.

So then I thought I’d really like to have a pretty wood vent.  But I ran into the same problem.  I just can’t find the size I need anywhere.  Not to mention the fact that those pretty wood vents are expensive!  The one above starts at $118, and I’ve seen them as much as $330.  But again, it doesn’t even matter, because the size I need is simply not available.  I would have to have one custom made, and there’s no telling how expensive that would be!

So I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands. Does that fancy wood vent remind you of anything? Perhaps…a shutter?


I picked up this shutter from ReStore a few days ago for $10, and it will soon be my new return air vent. Can you picture it?

Yesterday evening, I decided that I’ve put this off long enough, so I got to work.  First, I had to remove the ugly vent, the damaged baseboards, and the moulding underneath the HVAC closet.  (I’ll warn you, it gets worse before it gets better.)


You can see how damaged the wall is at the bottom.  Yuck!  I asked a contractor about it, and he assured me that as long as the drywall has no more moisture in it, no mold, and the damaged areas can be covered with baseboards, then there’s no need to replace the drywall.  So, I press on.

After laying the rest of the tile by the wall, it was time to get started on my new vent.  I used my miter saw to cut the shutter down to the correct height…


(Sorry for the bad pictures!  It was completely dark outside when I was working on this, and I was working by the light of one single light bulb in my front porch light.)

Next I removed the bottom three slats…


And added a piece of the frame wood that I cut from one of the sides of the shutter…


With the help of lots of wood glue and my really long clamp, it’s actually starting to look like a vent cover!


That’s where I left things last night.  Obviously there’s still lots of work to be done.  What do you think?  Will the result be what I’m hoping for?  I guess we’ll all see tomorrow!  Stay tuned for my completed custom wood air return vent.



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