You’ve had issues with the AC for a few days now. Although it works, the airflow is very weak. As a result, you constantly experience cold and hot spots throughout the house and general discomfort. What could be wrong, and what you can you do about it?
What are the Main Causes of Weak Airflow from Vents in the House?
- Dirty/clogged filter
- A poorly installed duct system
- Leaky ducts
- not enough return air vents
- Oversized or undersized vents
Below we discuss the dangers of weak AC airflow, typical signs of weak airflow, and the common causes and solutions. So let’s jump right in.
How Strong should Air Come Out of HVAC Vents?
Unfortunately, there’s no one right answer as the “ideal” airflow depends on the HVAC system, your location, the prevailing weather, and many other factors.
However, the air coming out of your vents should be equal throughout the house. For instance, the bathroom fan should be able to move 50 cubic feet of air per minute. Otherwise, you don’t have sufficient airflow.
Why is Weak HVAC Airflow a Bad Thing?
Weak HVAC airflow can cause many air quality issues, impact the health of the air conditioning system, and even expose you and your family to health problems.
1. General Discomfort
Weak airflow is often characterized by hot and cold spots throughout the home. This means that some of the areas in your home will be cool, just as you want, while others will be hot because they aren’t getting enough cold air. For instance, one of the rooms may stay hot and sweaty, causing serious discomfort.
2. Poor indoor air quality
The air conditioner does a lot more than remove heat from your rooms. For instance, it’s also responsible for trapping airborne particles and thus removing pollens, dust, and debris from the air you breathe.
Unfortunately, a weak return airflow compromises the entire process, leaving the dangerous airborne particles floating in your indoor air.
3. Energy Inefficiency
A weak airflow means that AC is running but not cooling the house at the desired rate. The air conditioner continues to draw power (electricity) from your home’s supply without meeting your air cooling and heating targets. It’s one of the ways homeowners lose money to inefficient energy use.
4. Higher Power Bills
Energy inefficiency often results in unnecessarily high power bills. But more importantly, a malfunctioning air conditioner always works harder to compensate for inefficiency.
Unfortunately, working “harder” means it consumes more power than usual to meet your targets. This can lead to even higher power bills. And that’s before factoring in the resulting friction and overheating.
Finally, we depend on air conditioners (to a small degree) to maintain proper humidity levels during the summer. The air conditioning unit slowly removes excess moisture from home alongside the heat.
Therefore, a malfunctioning air conditioner unit with a weak airflow can compromise the moisture removal process, resulting in sweatier summers.
Signs of Weak HVAC Airflow
Given the grave consequences of weak HVAC airflow, you should spot signs of weak airflow early to remedy the problem before it causes bigger problems. The following are some signs to watch out for;
1. Hot and Cold Spots
The hallmark sign of weak air conditioner airflow is cold and hot spots. For instance, you may have weak airflow if the bedroom feels cool enough, but the kitchen is sweltering hot.
Alternatively, you may notice that areas close to the AC vents are cool enough, but those at the opposite end are hot.
2. Air Pressure Imbalance
Weak airflow sometimes results in scary (and expensive) negative pressure problems. Negative pressure is when the pressure inside your home is lower than the pressure outside.
It’s characterized by doors that close on their own, whistling or other strange noises, and extreme air drafts. Addressing the airflow issues can help achieve the correct static pressure.
3. AC is Blowing Hot Air
You may also have weak return airflow if your conditioner blows hot air. This is because supply air is merely return air minus the heat (removed during the cooling process).
Therefore, you cannot expect a strong supply airflow if the return airflow is weak. Even worse, very weak return air can cause AC freezing, resulting in warm/hot supply air.
4. Reduced Airflow/poor airflow from the AC vent
Finally, you should also diagnose your air conditioning system for weak airflow if you no longer get enough supply air. As we’ve seen, the supply air is return air minus the heat.
So, you’ll almost certainly experience a weaker supply airflow from the AC vent if the return airflow is weak.
Weak HVAC Airflow Problems: Causes and Solutions
The good news is that most causes of weak HVAC airflow are straightforward and easy to remedy. The following are 11 places to begin your troubleshooting.
1. Dirty Air Filters
You should first check your air conditioner filter(s). Filters trap a lot of dust during the summer, causing them to clog quickly. A clogged air filter can cause trouble, including weak airflow, by blocking direct airflow into the AC.
Fortunately, you can easily access AC air filters to check whether there’s clogging. The air filter is on the return air duct, often behind the return vent.
Solution: The most straightforward solution is to clean the filters or replace them regularly as the manufacturer requires.
2. Wrong Air Filters
The wrong filter size or grade can also cause weak airflow. In particular, filters with a very high Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating have very tiny pores.
Such restrictive air filters, though the healthiest, make it very difficult for air to pass through.
Solution: Make sure to purchase the right filters for your HVAC system. If you’re replacing a filter, check the old filter’s size and MERV rating and purchase a replacement with the same specifications.
3. Poorly Installed Air Conditioning System
We always advise against DIY-installing air conditioners because you may make small mistakes leading to issues such as weak airflow.
For instance, installing the unit in the wrong location means it may not get enough return air.
Solution: Always consider professional installation for the best outcome. You should only consider DIY installation if you have basic HVAC skills.
4. Blocked Vents
Blocked vents can easily block return air from entering the air conditioning cycle, resulting in a weak airflow. An AC vent can block for many reasons.
For instance, pollen, textile, pet hairs, and dust mite entering the vent can build up, causing partial blockage over time. The return vent can also block if you accidentally place furniture or other items over it.
Solution: Clean the return vent regularly to remove any dirt buildup. More importantly, ensure sufficient clearance between the vent and furniture.
5. Blocked, leaky, or undersized ductwork
Blocked and leaky HVAC ducts can result from many issues. For instance, an incorrectly set manual damper valve left in the wrong position can partially block the duct.
Similarly, a malfunctioned automatically controlled automatic damper can block the ducts. Or, you may have disconnected or broken ducts.
Solution: Call an HVAC technician to verify whether you have correctly sized ductwork. If so, schedule professional maintenance once a year to clean the ducts before the summer season begins.
6. Dirty Coils
Filthy condensing unit coils can cause air conditioner freezing, partially or completely blocking the air return system. The dirt buildup around the outdoor coils often results from worn or incorrect filters or poor maintenance.
Solution: Thoroughly clean the air conditioner’s outdoor unit at least once before the summer season arrives. If you notice freezing, call an HVAC technician.
7. Low Refrigerant Levels
Another common cause of air conditioner freezing is low refrigerant levels. Low refrigerant levels slow down the refrigeration cycle, often leading to frozen refrigerant coils and eventually a frozen AC.
Solution: Call an HVAC technician to diagnose leaks in your refrigerant lines or top the declining freon levels as appropriate.
8. Faulty Thermostat
A faulty thermostat may mistakenly instruct the air conditioner to slow down the cooling process. “Slowing down” the AC means reducing the amount of cool air coming from the supply vents.
Unfortunately, the AC can only reduce cold supply airflow by reducing return airflow. Or it may stop air coming into the AC.
Solution: Check your air conditioner thermostat to ensure it’s working correctly and set to the right temperatures.
9. The AC Blower is Dead or Not Working Properly
The AC blower’s main job is to create the airflow motion that draws hot/warm air from your rooms into the AC and forces conditioned/cooled air out of the AC and back into your rooms.
Now, imagine if the fan is compromised or dead. It wouldn’t be able to draw return air into the AC, or the return airflow would be very weak.
Solution: You can repair broken blower fans or replace dead ones. But, first, you need to troubleshoot the fan to determine the problem. Is it a dead motor? Are some of the blades broken? Is it just aged? If it’s dead, replace it. Otherwise, consider repairing the damage.
10. Limited Return Air Ducts/Vents
Finally, if you’re experiencing sustained weak return airflow issues, you should recheck whether you have enough return air ducts and vents.
Are some of your rooms hotter because they lack dedicated ducts and vents? Can you do with a few extra vents and ducts to serve the underserved sections of the room?
Solution: You need an HVAC technician to solve this problem. The technician will monitor airflow patterns throughout your home to identify poorly served areas and, in the end, determine whether you need extra vents and ducts and where such ducts/vents are needed.
How Do I Increase Airflow in my Vents?
After fixing the issues behind weak airflow in your home, you may want to take additional steps to increase airflow in your home. The following are a few practical tips to consider.
1. Clean your Vents
As we’ve seen, Blocked vents are one of the most common causes of weak airflow. Indeed, you may even end up with no cooling. So, make it a habit to clean your HVAC vents regularly.
We recommend inspecting and dusting them at least once a week. However, feel free to inspect them more regularly.
2. Clean the Duct System
Going long periods without cleaning the ductwork is asking for trouble. Debris from indoor and fresh outdoor air will accumulate in the ducts, eventually blocking them.
Insects, such as spiders, also regularly enter the ductwork during the off-season and build webs there. The animals may also die inside the ducts, accelerating the clogging process and causing weak or no airflow. So, you must clean the ducts regularly.
3. Check for Disconnected Duct Runs
Leaks in the ductwork can result from many issues. One of them is disconnected duct runs. Disconnections can result from natural expansion and contraction as the weather changes or as hot air (in winter), cold air (in the summer) flows from the heating or cooling system into your home.
Or it can result from natural wear or poor installation. Whichever the cause, you need to regularly probe the ductwork to catch and fix any separate sections.
4. Consider to Schedule Maintenance Services
Finally, you should also consider scheduling professional HVAC maintenance services once a year, ideally a month before summer.
HVAC professionals use this opportunity to thoroughly check the air conditioning system for faults and fine-tune the unit for optimal performance.
Weak air conditioning airflow isn’t an unusual problem. Although it shouldn’t be a very big concern if you install the air conditioner correctly, you may still run into a few cold and hot spots if the thermostat is acting up, your refrigerant level is low, or you have dirty coils or filters, among other issues.
The good news is that you can fix many issues with relative ease. However, don’t hesitate to contact an HVAC technician if the problem persists.