How to Make a Decorative Air Return Vent Cover

DIY decorative air return cover tutorial

The phrase, “it’s all in the details”, comes to mind when I think of what sets a basic-builder’s home apart from homes built back in the early to mid 1900’s.

Details are like jewelry for a home.

Over the past five years, I’ve been slowly getting rid of anything that screams 1980’s and adding little touches to give our home vintage-classic charm.

Board and batten hallway with gallery shelves

Click here to see the rest of the board and batten hallway

I’ve been wanting to change out our hallway vent cover, but didn’t want to spend $500.00 for a custom cover like ones I’ve seen on the internet. With a few tools and some supplies from the local home improvement store, you can make a decorative air vent cover for about $40.00.

DIY air return cover


To see where I was inspired for this project, head on over to my original hallway design board.

The supplies:

1. 4″ wide boards. I used the same primed finger joint boards that I used for our gallery shelves.

2. Wood glue

3. Decorative metal radiator screen found at Lowes. Here’s the item number to help you find what you need. There were three different types of screens, but I the quatrefoil pattern was my favorite.

item number for aluminum radiator screen

4. A Kreg Jig and a face clamp. I bought mine through The kit comes with an instructional DVD to help you get started. It also includes a screw starter kit.

5. Staple gun

6. Power Drill

7. Miter Saw

If you’re unfamiliar with the Kreg Jig, here’s the link to a video from the super cute and talented, Ana White. If you put “Kreg Jig” in the search box on her website, you’ll come up with all sorts of projects that you can make with it.

The How-To:

Since our heating and cooling system has the filter built-in to the air handler, the frame I made only needed to encase the opening and hold the metal screen. I’ll show you in just a second how to make it hold a filter.

To make it easy to remove the frame, I countersunk the screw holes where it’s secured it to the studs and covered the holes with wooden buttons (also called screw hole plugs). If you need a frame that opens, you will need to secure it to the studs with hinges. Your best bet would be a piano hinge at the top of the frame so it lifts from the bottom.

Radiator screen vent cover

This was my first time using the Kreg Jig. I accidentally put my first set of holes too close to the inside corners. So, just over-look those. You’ll want to keep your holes closer to the center.

make a decorative air return cover

After you cut the boards to length, make pocket holes with the Kreg Jig. Secure the corners using wood glue and the screws that come with the kit. The face clamp is essential to keeping your corners squared and level when joining your boards.

Cut the metal screen the size of the opening plus two inches. I used my kitchen shears to cut the metal. The raw edges are sharp, so cover them with duct tape. Secure the screen with staples.

How to make a decorative air return cover

I had a reader email me and ask me how I could make the frame hold a filter, so after searching the home improvement store for something that works, this is what I came up with.

How to make a decorative air return vent cover.

The filter holders are made from 1″ corner brackets spaced about 6″ apart and attached to a 3/4″ square dowel rod.

DIY hvac air return cover tutorial

The square dowels are nailed down to the top and bottom of the frame so the filter can be slipped inside.

side view of the diy decorative air return cover

Thanks for all the sweet comments on the hallway! You guys keep me motivated to move on to the next project…plus the fact that my house looks like a construction zone. I’ve been working on the boy’s bathroom this week and can’t wait to show you how it’s all coming together! I’m also fitting in a few projects for our covered porch since it’s been so pretty outside.

If you want to check out all the projects that have gone into our hallway, just click on these links:

Hallway Design Board

Board & Batten Hallway Reveal

Gallery Shelves Tutorial

Monogrammed & Decoupaged Art That Hides the Doorbell

tricia tag


I’m linking this up to some of my favorite blogs such as:

The DIY Showoff
Uncommon Designs
By Stephanie Lynn
Savvy Southern Style
A Stroll Thru Life
Liz Marie Blog
A Blossoming Life

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  1. I love this project so much! Simple, yet such a difference to the feel of the space – amen to blurring those 80’s lines, sister! 🙂

  2. Looks amazing! It really is all in the details, such a difference! Great project.

  3. This is perfect – we have a similar situation in our 1989 home. We have a huge, odd-sized air return at the top of our stairs that wasn’t really even finished properly.

    I’ve been wanting to create a return cover that looks nicer, fits the ductwork properly and something we could add a filter to because it would be easier to change the one here, than the one on our air handler in the garage.


  4. Great idea! I haven’t seen anyone think of this before, but it’s actually a cute vent now! Thanks for sharing it at Monday Funday!

  5. Such a fabulous solution to such an ugly fixture. I love this. I would love for you to link to my Inspire Me Tuesday party still ongoing. This would definitely inspire others to change up their vents. Hugs, Marty

  6. I love this! Such a cute and clever idea to make something not so pretty looks beautiful! I would love if you would share this over at our blog hop!

  7. Such an upgrade from the yucky vent covers! Thanks for linking this up to Frugal Crafty Home!

  8. This is genius! I am totally going to do this! Thanks for the idea – I am pinning 🙂

  9. This turned out so great Tricia. So much prettier!

  10. Oh, Thank you! I’ve been looking online and all the door inserts etc. are over $400 which is not in my price range! I’m going to Lowe’s!

  11. wow, very cool!

  12. Fantastic! I actually bought those exact same quatrefoil panels months ago with the intention of doing a project like this, but have been agonizing over just how to make the frame. Searched the net and here you are! With the removal of a wall during my recent kitchen reno I now have 2 of those ugly returns staring at me in my new lovely kitchen. Thank you so much for this DIY post!

  13. I love the idea and was inspired by your lovely work. Hope you don’t mind me linking it on my blog.

    Thank you!

  14. This is the best but to save time you can also purchase the one from Must visit you all will love it..

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  28. Sheryl Earnhardt says:

    Quick question???? Did you paint the grill? I just made this today and you can see inside the duct work a little too much to my liking!!

  29. Great blog! I like your blog. your blog is so informative.

  30. Really impressed! Very informative blog.

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  32. This is such a terrific idea! I love it! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  33. Liked the ways to decorate. Have a look on varios types of vent n covers at Awesome ideas to have impressive look.

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  35. I love the cute cover that you made to cover your grates. Adding little details like this to your home can make all the difference, I have found. I would definitely do this tutorial in a heartbeat!

  36. heyy!!!

    indeed a very nice share…

    In our homes, ventilation helps to exhaust unwanted smells, water vapour and pollution, and replace them with fresh air, but we also need to control ventilation so that we can turn it on and off as we need it, and direct it where it is necessary.

    very simple and briefly explained ideas..and the images are also very beautiful..
    thank you so much for this share..

  37. Christin Conly says:

    Hello from Texas!

    Did you remove the existing cover from the wall or just install this over? My return is caulked in and has a metal frame already, so just installing a new wood frame over it will not sit flush with the wall. I’m hesitant to get a razor blade and cut out the existing caulking and frame because I don’t know what’s behind it, aka how large is the existing hole!


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