What exactly is an HVAC damper and how can it help make your home comfortable all year round?

Admittedly, this is one of the less popular parts of a heating and cooling system. The more popular ones include the compressor, air filter, vents, etc. But most homeowners probably do not know about dampers and its role in helping regulate the temperature in your property.

What is a damper?

For most people, controlling the flow of air requires a simple act of adjusting the vent in a particular room. It seems like the logical thing to do. If you want to slow the flow of air or stop it completely, you have to adjust the angle of the vent. While this works really well, it is not the most efficient way for you to control the air flow.

Apparently, HVAC systems are equipped with balancing dampers. These are simple mechanisms that can close parts of the duct system. It is different from the register – which is right where the duct meets the floor, ceiling, or wall. The damper is a lot closer to the central unit of your HVAC system – around 4 to 6 feet from the main duct trunk.

So if you close this, how different is it from closing a vent? Since it is closer to the center, it means you are closing down a part that is near the source of the air – whether it is hot or cold. This will force the system to redirect the air somewhere else in the house.

This means you get the right amount of hot air from the furnace or cold air from the AC during the right season. This makes the whole system more practical as it runs to make the temperature in your home comfortable.

How to adjust the HVAC damper?

First things first, how do you find this? Admittedly, this can sometimes be challenging. For instance, older homes might have dampers but it was already blocked by drywall after a renovation project. You might have to check the old blueprints to see where the dampers are. If you cannot find it or you have to tear down a wall to reach it, then you might have to resign yourself to adjusting the vents instead.

You should also note that there are homes that do not have a balancing damper. Sometimes, people think that it is more cost efficient to remove this from the whole system.

Then again, there are more considerate contractors that put a vent like an access panel over it. This covers the part of the duct system that has the damper while keeping it accessible. Just shine a light through the vents to try and find it. And once you find the damper, it gets easier from there.

Adjusting the balancing damper is like turning a lever to open or close it. To do that, you need to make sure you are really adjusting the dampers. You do not want to change the wrong part of the HVAC system. This is why you need to label the balancing dampers when you see it for the first time. Make sure to label where it all leads – e.g. Kitchen, Bedroom, etc. This can be tedious since you have to open and close the dampers and check which rooms do not have air flow. It helps to have someone help you out.

There are also HVAC models that have electronically controlled dampers. This will make your life a lot easier. It is costly, but more convenient since you can set it to automatically adjust.

Tips when adjusting the HVAC dampers

Once you have identified what dampers will affect certain parts of the room, it is time to figure out how to conduct the correct adjustments. You want to make sure that you know what to do to make hot or cold air flow through a particular room. Again, some labeling is in order.

There are two important rules that you need to remember here. First of all, cold air sinks and hot air rises. How does this affect the distribution of hot or cold air in your home?

This means the attic is the hottest part of the house while the basement is the coldest. What you can do is to close the dampers that lead to the lower levels of the house. That means the bulk of the flow of air will be in the upper levels. It will naturally find its way down. At least, this is true if you are cooling your house.

If you want to heat your home, you do the opposite. When the AC is off and you fire up the furnace, you want to adjust the dampers so you have less airflow in the upper floors. The heat will rise and the right temperature will be distributed well throughout the house.

In case you are implementing this for the first time, it might take a couple of days to determine if your adjustments are giving the desired effects. Do not change the dampers immediately because it usually takes a few days for the right temperature to be felt. See if the rooms you want to be hotter or colder are turning out as you want it to.

Seasonal adjustments

So far the tips provided earlier refer to adjustments you want to make during the summer and winter seasons. Make sure to put the necessary labels (e.g. summertime, wintertime, etc) on the damper. That way, adjusting these in the future will be easier.

But what about the spring and fall? How should the dampers be adjusted?

Obviously, you need to adjust the dampers when the season changes. It helps to put an alert on your calendar so you are reminded to make the necessary changes before the house gets too hot or cold. And if you label your dampers correctly, you will not feel confused as to how you should change it. Even if you change houses, your efforts will be appreciated by the new owners. That is one good deed that you can be proud of.