What Type of HVAC Filter Should I Use?
There is no shortage of options when it comes to HVAC air filters. They range in price, materials, and effectiveness. It’s easy to be overwhelmed in a sea of ratings and reviews. The quest to find a better air filter often leaves our customers with questions like, “Do I really need a HEPA filter,” and “What’s wrong with fiberglass?” Because of this, we’re breaking down the differences, pros, and cons of the seven most common air filters.
What Types of Air Filters Are There?
If we’re being honest, there are hundreds of air filters out there. For the sake of keeping everything on track and easy to understand, we’re sharing the 7 most common air filters:
- Fiberglass Filters
- Pleated Filters
- HEPA Filters
- UV Filters
- Electrostatic Filters
- Washable Filters
- Media Filters
Though the filters listed above do the same job, they’re incredibly different. The HVAC techs at Moore Home Services understand every home and every family has different and unique needs. Some homes have more animals and need extra pet dander protection, others have small children and need to filter dust and dirt. Our techs will assess your home, your needs, and help you pick a filter based on these criteria.
Another helpful tool for choosing the right air filter is the MERV (Minimum Efficient Reporting Value) rating system. Nearly all filters have a MERV rating based on how well a filter can trap indoor air pollutants. The rating system spans from 1 to 16 and the higher the number, the stronger the filter. For example:
- Filters with a MERV rating between 1 and 4 will catch things like pollen, dust mites, and carpet fibers.
- Filters rated between 5 and 8 will catch everything listed above, as well as mold spores and indoor air contaminates from things like fabric protector and hair spray.
- Any filters with a MERV rating between 9 and 12 can catch everything listed between ratings 1 through 8, and lead dust, humidifier dust, and pollution from auto emissions.
- And finally, filters with a rating of 13 to 16 will filter bacteria, tobacco smoke, sneeze particles and everything else listed above.
We’re starting our air filter list with the most commonly used filter, fiberglass. These filters can be bought for less than a dollar at almost any home improvement store. This is why they’re the type of filter we most often find in homes and businesses. However, fiberglass filters are the least effective on the market.
Like most things in this world, you get what you pay for. That’s especially true for fiberglass filters. Though the cost is cheap, that’s offset by the number of times you would need to change it. Some fiberglass filters need to be changed once per month. They also have a MERV rating between 2 and 4. With a rating that low, a standard fiberglass filter is unable to catch indoor air contaminates like dust, dander, and truly and other allergens.
At Moore Home Services, our favorite filter is the pleated filter. We prefer pleated filters for their effectiveness and cost. Depending on the material, pleated filters can effectively catch pollen, dust, pet dander, and mold while still being reasonably affordable. Pleated filters also only need to be changed twice per year: once before spring and once before winter.
Pleated filters can be made from cotton, paper, or polyester. The material is folded into pleats. These pleats are dense enough that they can ensnare indoor air contaminants as they pass through. Despite this, the MERV rating for your pleated filter will depend on the material it’s made of.
A pleated filter with a MERV rating of 8 can pull dust, pollen, and pet dander from your air. Whereas a pleated filter rated an 11 on the MERV scale can catch pollen, dust, pet dander, mold spores, smog and car fumes.
HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are so strong they don’t require a MERV rating. Instead, HEPA filters are in a class all their own. They’re so strong, HEPA filters are preferred by hospitals and medical settings.
A home with people who suffer from extreme asthma and allergies would greatly benefit from a HEPA air filter. Most homes don’t need this type of protection. Nevertheless, if you have a HEPA filter be sure to frequently vacuum, dust, and change bedding to help keep allergens at bay.
These filters are made of woven fiberglass strands. These strands are so dense they can pull even the smallest of contaminated particles from the air. You also need to be sure to have the filter changed at least twice a year. If left too long, HEPA filters can become a home for mold and bacteria spores.
Despite everything a HEPA filter can catch, it might not be an option for everyone. Some HVAC systems are too small for HEPA filters because of how strong they are – HEPA filters need to be big. The best way to know if your home can handle a HEPA filter is to ask your HVAC technician during your next tune-up.
UV filters are some of the most scientifically advanced air purifiers on the market. Just keep in mind, a UV air purifier needs an additional filter to truly clean your indoor air. The UV purification system and the air filter work together. UV lights for HVAC target viruses, bacteria, and other things that can make you sick. An air filter will catch, dust, dander, and allergens. Together, they make the ultimate air purification system.
During installation, UV air purifiers are placed right above the air filter. First, treated air will pass through the filter where larger particles are caught and prevented from getting into your home. Then that filtered air passes by the UV light. The UV light will “destroy” any smaller air contaminates so that when all is said and done, you’re breathing in the best quality air possible.
Electrostatic filters are interesting. They use static as a magnet to pull contaminates from your treated air. Electricity is used to give unwanted air particles a charge. As these charged particles pass through the filter, they stick to the filter itself leaving your family with clean air.
These filters are most effective in homes with small children or pets. Electrostatic filters can pull pet dander, dirt, and dust from any treated air. Also, electrostatic filters can be disposable or washable, it all depends on what you buy and your personal preference. Additionally, the MERV rating depends on the type of electrostatic filter you buy. It all depends on what material the filter is made from.
In Santa Rosa, we hear more people asking about sustainability. Fortunately, the HVAC industry is making advancements in sustainable and green practices. One of those advancements is washable filters. Despite this, we can’t talk about washable filters without bringing up their pros and cons.
Let’s start on a good note. Washable filters means less waste finds itself in a landfill. Also, despite its relatively higher price, the filter pays for itself in the long run. Some of the filters on this list need to be changed once every month, the washable filters just need a good scrubbing and drying when they get dirty. No extra costs or materials required.
The downside is that washable filters are not good in homes with allergy or asthma sufferers. These filters are made of materials that can’t catch particles like pet dander or pollen. Another important point is that the filter needs to be completely dry before you put it back in your system. Damp air filters can foster mold growth. Once that mold grows it can spread to your duct work and eventually find its way into your lungs.
One of the things that sets media filters apart is their thickness. Most of the filters on this list are an inch thick. On the other hand, media filters are around 8 inches thick. That extra 7 inches can give your family extra protection. Sometimes, higher rated MERV filters can cause reduced air flow or static pressure. You never need to worry about that with a media filter. Their density ensures better air quality and ultimate comfort.
Because media filters have a larger surface area, it means they can prevent dirt, dander, and other debris from entering you home. Though this all sounds great, there are a few drawbacks. One being that since media filters are so thick, they need to be installed by a professional. Another complaint we sometimes hear is that media filters can’t break down strong smells like cooking odors or wildfire smoke.
Wondering What Type of HVAC Filter Should I Use?
If so, it’s time to call the experts at Moore Home Services. We’ve been serving Northern California since 2009 so we know our way around an HVAC system. Our certified HVAC technicians will look at your system and determine which filter is right for your home and your family’s needs. If you are in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, or Marin county, book an appointment today! Simply call the number at the top of the screen or click here to schedule an appointment today.