Freon lines in return air plenum

I would like to know what others think about having electrical wiring, freon lines, ect. in a return air plenum/chase. Seems that the majority of HVAC systems that sit on top of a platform in a closet allmost always have wiring and such in the plenum.
Although I have read articles that these conditions should be reported because of having possible hazardous matarials in the plenum.
I know that some areas will not allow you to do this.:smiley:

Any comments would be appreciated.

You are correct.
No utility should pass through an air duct system.
HVAC systems have priority to all other trades and there should be no conflict with the duct systems.

Huh? Where’d that come from?

So if the plumber was there first, and his drainage pipe is blocking the path of the air duct, the pipe should be moved so the air duct can go on?

Most codes will allow penetration of the return side only (not the warms sie supply) by some trades as long as no joints, connections are made inside the duct. Its best to speak to the local inspectors on a case by case basis

I guess when I beat the plumber to the job and he knocks down one of my duct to run his pipe he must unaware of the rule.

Normally HVAC takes the back seat, we have more leeway then most trades. When we do not that’s when the job Forman decides who gets the location in question

James, as I’m sure you are aware the TREC SOP currently requires Texas HI’s to report as 'In Need of Repair" a return chase plenum that is not free of improper and hazardous conditions, such as gas pipes, sewer vents, refrigerant piping or electrical wiring (TREC 535.229.Q.7). Now, that may change with the new proposed SOP and Commentary but that’s what is required right now.

Hello Micheal, its good to see you on the site. Yes Micheal, I am aware of that Texas SOP requires us to report this condition. That is what brought this question up because it seems like every home I inspect with HVAC units on a platform, even homes that are 2 years old I will find freon lines in the return air chase.
How come the city inspector isn’t hitting them on this.
Here is a house built 2006. Near Lakeway. Observe freon lines and waste pipe in chase. Sorry picture is a Little sorry, but if you look inside of return air you will see freon lines going down into slab.
The second picture, the home is only 2 years old and has freon lines, condensate lines electrical wiring, and water heater in plenum.
Texas SOP says to report this as in need of repair. Should the city inspectors be writing this up?
How would you fix this situation? Run lines into attic?:roll:

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The 1st photo shows a fairly common method around here doesn’t it? The 2nd two photos are definitely troublesome though. At least the water heater is electric, if it were gas then it would be a no-brainer. I don’t know the specific code re: return air chase materials (IRC M1602 doesn’t indicate any prohibited materials). Maybe someone else can point us in the right direction or it may be that the TX SOP simply specifies this as a safety item not supported by a code, I don’t know. That may be why city inspectors are not calling it out. Also, Lakeway is not in the Austin ETJ I don’t think, so Austin city inspectors don’t even go there do they? I’m not sure if they have their own AHJ inspectors either. I’ll have to look into that.


1st: The plumber should not be there first! If so, they should have a copy of the mechanical plans and keep out of the way.

This is not a “CODE” as most mechanical codes (res.) are non-existant. This is how things are “supposed to be done”.

If the HVAC contractor is installing his duct system and there is a pipe in the way, he is not allowed to build this duct system around that pipe. The proper procedure is to have the pipe moved before the duct is installed.

Because of the vulnerability of HVAC duct design, the air duct system has precedence over plumbing, electrical or any other utility service.

As for any penetration through an air duct system, especially the return air duct system, these penitrations are vulnerable points where air infiltration may occur, causing undesirable gases such as radon and other pollutants such as mold and fungus to be entrained into the air supply system and distributed throughout the house.

These penitrations also will violate fire code as the penitrations break the fire barrier.

And again, (as always) it makes no nevermind what the “code” is because we are not here to enforce or interpret any municipal code.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, one profession rarely knows what the other profession is doing, or how their work interferes/interacts with each other. Cross-training would help, but cross-training is considered down time in today’s businesses, meaning that one does not get paid for cross training. Send them yo-yos out to do what they’re getting paid to do. To hec with other professions.

I’m presuming that, by “around that pipe,” you mean “not enclosing that pipe.” There would be nothing wrong with actually going around the pipe, would there? Isn’t that why flexible ducts were invented?

You’ve got a lot of educating to do with those other professions, then, apparently.

RR, This is what I was taught where I went to school. But, as you said “in today’s world” I guess education is not part of it. !!
My father had to work as a journeyman before he could be a contractor. Like the OJT requirements so many of us are opposing in this profession.

“one profession rarely knows what the other profession is doing”

That is what the lead construction supervisor is there for.?
That is what the “General Contractor” is "supposed to control.

By “around that pipe,” I mean that the HVAC contractor should not allow anything to pass through his duct. There IS something wrong with “going around”. Every 45-90 degree fitting has pressure drop that must be calculated into the duct design. Before I do any of that design, I’d just pull out my sawz-all and get it out of the way.

“You’ve got a lot of educating to do with those other professions, then, apparently.”
As I posted, the education is the responsibility of the general contractor not the individual sub-contractors.

Just because it is done that way all the time is not reason to assume it is OK. However, I feel that as a home inspector, there is no reason to try to change the world. For example, putting two or more natural wires under the same buss bar terminal screw is not right, but is done in 99% of new construction. Until I can show that there is a definite deficiency (overheated circuit ect…), all I do is state the facts as I saw them. I do not call in a sparky to repair it. If there is a gas pipe through the return duct/plenum and there is no fitting to leak, and that the duct is sealed around the pipe and Radon Testing shows no elevated Radon levels being drawn into the duct and distributed throughout the house, than I’s say just report the pipe in there and go about your business.

Yeah, theoretically. And back in Texas many years ago. Here? Ha! They sit around their air conditioned office bitching and complaining about no sex last night, how Cincinnati was robbed of a tournament bid, how Tennesse women should have been a #1 seed instead of LSU, how the Chargers should have kept Drew Brews, debating if Roger Clemens will pitch or retire, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum. Here the lead construction supervisor and the general contractor aren’t worth a hill of beans, unless one is looking to create some interesting winds.

I would say most are not writting this up as in need of repair.
I wish they would stop this type of installation. I am starting to hear voices in my head. HA, Ha.

Thanks for everyones help.

Is a metal duct treated the same as a wood framed accessible return air cavity? I find everything from soup to nuts running through return air cavities. The most benign thing I’ve found running through an actual duct is a “Rat” and the occasional “Cable Feed”, both would be noted in the report.

In Ohio for the moment the return is treated the same metal or “panned” joists used for return. And for the moment as long as the penetration through the duct has no connection inside the duct it is “overlooked” with in reason for example, house electrical wires, thermostat wires ok, sewage drain not ok.

However this is because we have no standard code over the state but in July of this year that will change and the entire state will fall under a single HVAC code. Local city’s can clarify the code but can not write or change code.

They will be using a combination of six sources for the code ICC, Energy conservation act etc.

I would call this out on the report if for no other reason then CYA

[FONT=Arial]*Return air duct has electrical wires running within, while this is common practice in may areas it can be a concern in the event of an electrical fire or if the need for repairs arises, Recommend consultation with a licensed professional prior to closing. *[/FONT]

[FONT=Arial]Or somthing similer to CYA[/FONT]