HVAC Air Filters Buyer's Guide | FirstEnergy Home
111 views | March 23, 2020

HVAC Air Filters: Buyer's Guide

Replacing the air filter for your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system helps keep the utility bill low and helps to maintain a level of comfort, to ensure the high-efficiency operation of your HVAC system

Central heating and air conditioning is a perk in most homeowners' eyes. Like all major systems, the homeowner must maintain the HVAC system to ensure it functions efficiently.

One of the most overlooked maintenance aspects of an HVAC system is its air filter. An air filter can remove impurities like pet dander, dust, or even bacteria from the air forced through the system.

Filters improve the air quality and help protect the HVAC system from being damaged. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, homeowners should check the filter every month and at a minimum, change the filter every three months.1

This HVAC air filters guide will cover the types of HVAC filters, their benefits, and the common questions surrounding them.

What Are The Different Types of HVAC Air Filters?

HVAC air filters come in several shapes and sizes and a variety of materials, each with a unique efficiency rating on the filter's ability to capture particles. It would be beneficial to know about each type before deciding.

Flat-Panel Filters

Flat-paneled HVAC air filters are the cheapest air filters on the market. Most if not all, traditional flat panel air filter models have fiberglass or polyester embedded on the framework.

They're easy to install but are not made of the highest quality material, allowing many dust particles to enter.

Pleated Filters

Disposable pleated filters utilize plastic or thick screens of cotton fibers to get rid of particles from the air. As compared to flat-panel filters, these filters have pleats to provide a larger surface area for filtration and catch more debris.

Even though its air filtration efficiency is relatively low, it can minimize fan noise and has less airflow resistance. The price point of pleated filters is slightly higher than flat-panel filters.

Electrostatic Filters

Electrostatically charged air filters catch more of the smaller air particles like smoke, bacteria, and pollen within their screens. These filters can either be flat or pleated and include reusable or disposable versions.

Washable Filters

Washable filters are also known as reusable HVAC air filters and come with either a flat-paneled or pleated design. They can be vacuumed or hosed down with water to remove dust accumulation.

These filters are more eco-friendly as compared to disposable filters. However, washable filters lose their electrostatic charge over time and consequently, their ability to trap smaller particles.

High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filters (HEPA)

The HEPA filter can consistently capture around 99.97% of air particles, generally 0.3 microns or larger. The United States Energy Department endorses this fact.2

Larger commercial properties and hospitals commonly use HEPA filters, where it's required to have clean air. Residential homes using HEPA filters are typical with individuals suffering from extreme allergies or a weak immune system.

What is a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) Rating?

All air filters have a rating per their ability to remove particles from the air, and the standard rating is known as the MERV rating. It reports an air filter's ability to trap larger particles between 0.3 and 10 microns.3

MERV has a rating scale from 1 to 20. The weaker the filter, the lower the rating. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers developed the rating system.

Some brands follow a different rating system, such as the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), recognized by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Energy Star uses this rating system to measure an air purifier's efficiency level.4

Benefits of an Air Filter

There are several advantages in using home air filters; however, there are three benefits that everyone ought to know.

Protection of the HVAC System

The number one reason for an HVAC system's malfunction or failure is maintenance. Believe it or not, dust is often the main culprit as it accumulates on vital parts of the unit.

Once dust reaches a high level, problems begin. These problems are preventable with regular maintenance. The easiest way to maintain an HVAC system and extend its life is to utilize a proper air filter.

Change the air filter at regular intervals (1 to 3 months). The unit will distribute proper airflow throughout the house and provide the HVAC system with a protective barrier against dirt and debris.

Overall Dust Reduction in the House

The air filter works extremely hard to reduce the indoor dust level by preventing dust from accumulating onto the unit.

HEPA filters have a larger surface and a significant capacity to trap dust. Pleated filters catch and hold dust, preventing it from blowing into the duct and back into the air.

It's tough to battle the dust settling on tables, bookshelves, and window treatments. Even though it's almost impossible to eliminate dust, an air filter can significantly reduce the amount.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Improvement

Indoor air quality is the last benefit of air filters. People generally spend most of their time indoors and accumulate a higher concentration of pollutants.

It's smart to have clean air in the place homeowners spend the most time. Consider a higher MERV rated filter if you're conscious about the IAQ or have family members with specific allergies, especially towards dust.

How To Know Which is the Best HVAC Air Filter

Understanding everyone's needs in the house should correlate with the MERV or CADR ratings of the chosen air filters. As mentioned earlier, family members who suffer from specific allergies or have pets should consider going with an air filter with a higher MERV or CADR rating.

The proper filter will reduce the number of allergens and particles in the air. However, be mindful not to go too far with the filters as specific HVAC systems may not be strong enough to push air into more restrictive filters that block the smallest particles.

An improper filter can reduce the airflow and cause house heating and cooling efficiency to drop. An overworked HVAC system can lead to expensive repair and hardware damage. Consult an HVAC technician to determine how healthy your model is.

Lastly, it's vital to take the correct measurements of the areas the HVAC system will be servicing; this will determine the filter size required.

How To Maintain an Air filter

The proper maintenance of air filters is replacing or washing them regularly. Filter maintenance isn't just crucial in providing clean air but also to keep the HVAC system to continue functioning correctly.

It's good to change air filters at least once a month, if not every season. Check the instructions for the HVAC units' filter maintenance guidelines.

Thanks to today's advancement in smart-home technology, it's possible to purchase smart filters like the 3M's Filtrete Smart Air Filters that monitor the airflow through sensors. These filters also send replacement notifications to a mobile device to alert that the filter needs changing.

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HVAC air filters are vital for heating and cooling systems. Regularly replacing the air filters will improve the IAQ by reducing allergens and dust. It may also be energy and cost-efficient. An old filter will reduce airflow, make the system work harder, and waste energy.5

Please check out the following links to other Learning Library articles to learn more.

© 2021 FirstEnergy Home

1 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Change your HVAC system filter. Retrieved from https://blog.epa.gov/tag/filter/
2U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. What is a HEPA filter? Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/what-hepa-filter-1
3U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. What is a MERV rating? Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/what-merv-rating-1
4Energy Star. ENERGY STAR Certified Air Purifiers (Cleaners). Retrieved fromhttps://www.energystar.gov/productfinder/product/certified-room-air-cleaners/results?page_number=4
5Energy Star. Heat and Cool Efficiently. Retrieved from https://www.energystar.gov/campaign/heating_cooling