Building a Custom Return Air Vent Grille

The Design Challenge

How do you place a return air vent for the heating and cooling system without making it look bad? Our solution: build a custom return air vent grille.

On a recent project, the framing over kitchen ceiling was done with manufactured trusses. In addition, our clients didn’t want to look at an ugly return air grille on their kitchen ceiling. An area which would be both highly visible and potentially problematic for the lighting layout.

To remedy the aesthetic concerns, we decided to place the return air vent on a wall in the Great Room where the vaulted ceiling and kitchen meet. This location is only visible from one room and one direction, but it contained a beefy girder truss, which required an off center and odd shaped opening for the vent.

custom made return air grill

With the location sorted out, we thought it would look way better to build a custom wood grille rather than use a standard metal HVAC vent cover. One designed to match the adjacent tongue and groove ceiling as well as the other millwork details in the house- especially the beautiful handrails.

Designing The Custom Return Air Vent Grille

We considered a couple design options. One was to follow the vaulted ceiling line and the other was to make it rectangular.

Our client chose rectangular. 

We centered the panel on the vault. Using the hardwood grilles found throughout the house as inspiration, we made the slats ½” wide x ¾” deep. 

Building The Custom return air vent Grille

Jerell, our special projects ninja, was the man for the job. After reviewing the design and taking measurements he headed to the woodshop.

First, he jointed and planed the wood to the correct thickness.

Then, he used the table saw with a dado stack and half lap jig to cut notches in the pieces so no nails would be visible.

building the custom return air vent

The section over the vent was made removable and held in place with magnets for easy cleaning. We made the two fixed sections by rabbeting the outside frame so that we could insert a ¼” mdf panel behind the slats.

The panel was painted a matte black to hide the drywall and make the fir slats pop. We finished the fir with 3 coats of clear lacquer. The new vent was attached to the wall with finish nails and a little construction adhesive.

Wrapping Up

Our team loves designing and building creative solutions to challenges that arise during remodeling projects. This was a nice way to add a custom touch to a feature that is usually an afterthought – and we had a ton of fun doing it!


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