The start of a new year is a great time to begin making decisions that will increase your family’s comfort and safety. Keeping up with the routine maintenance requirements of your HVAC system is a relatively easy way to make a big difference and also minimize the need for costly heat pump repairs.
Since the efficiency and effectiveness of your heating and air conditioning system can affect your bottom line and comfort, it is helpful to understand the filter options available on the market today.
Like many central Virginia residents, you may just buy whatever is in stock and affordable at the nearby big box store because there are often so many filter choices. In this post, we’ll teach you how to choose an HVAC filter that meets your family’s air quality needs (comfort and safety) without breaking your budget!
What’s a MERV Rating?
First, you need to know that the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) scale rates filter efficiency, with 1 being the lowest and 20 the best. When you’re deciding on a filter you’ll want to find the sweet spot of the MERV rating, filter cost, and your family’s needs.
HVAC Filter Choices
Next, let’s take a look at the basic options for types of filters:
- Disposable fiberglass. The cheapest option, this is what you’ll find for a few bucks in most retail stores. A fiberglass filter will screen some dirt and debris from your furnace blower but, with a MERV rating of 1 or 2, it will do little to clean your air.
- Disposable pleated. Still relatively inexpensive, disposable pleated filters remove some small particles from the air. The pleated material provides more surface area for filtration. MERV ratings can range from around 5 all the way up to the low-teens, depending on the cost and thickness of the filter. Those with the higher ratings can rival some HEPA filters, but at a more economical cost; also, with less airflow resistance, these can have less wear and tear on your system.
- Electrostatic. These filters actively attract and trap small particles. Disposable electrostatic filters can retail for as little as $10 and are an economical option in standard sizes. Permanent electrostatic filters are actually slightly less effective than the disposable types, but they are a more environmentally friendly option since they lead to less waste.
- High-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA). HEPA filters can catch nearly 100% of air particles! These are highly effective at screening small particles but can come with a high cost. Expect to pay $100 per year or more for filter replacements. Converting to a HEPA filter will usually require professional installation. This type of filter is frequently used in medical buildings but may prove useful for consumers with severe allergies or other respiratory problems.
Balancing Budget with Air Quality
So, where does that leave you? Consider your budget and needs. If you’re a renter, not responsible for long-term HVAC costs, and you don’t have allergies or pets then you can probably get by with disposable fiberglass or disposable pleated filters. Since these filters don’t offer much protection to your HVAC system and can reduce its lifespan or maintenance costs, most consumers will want to start with the disposable pleated products.
If you have allergies or pets, it’s probably worth considering a disposable pleated filter with a high MERV rating or even one of the electrostatic filters. The high-efficiency or HEPA filters are less common in residential systems but can be a perfect choice when a family member suffers from allergies.
Alternate Options to HEPA filters
If you or a family member suffers from allergies or other respiratory problems, Fitch Services recommends these options over a HEPA filter. These products are installed in your home’s duct system to complement your existing HVAC filters. While the HVAC filter protects your unit from dust and debris, these products protect you and your family by filtering the air cycling back into your home.
You probably know you’re supposed to change the filter on your heating and air conditioning system regularly. But just how often is necessary?
Since all HVAC systems can accommodate a variety of filters, from low-priced one-inch flat fiberglass filters to advanced electronic air filters, HVAC manufacturers don’t provide much guidance about which type of filter to use. The key is to be sure the filter is changed as soon as it is dirty enough to restrict airflow; depending on the conditions in your home and the filter you choose, this could be as frequently as once a month!
For the first few months in a new home or after switching to a new type of filter, take a monthly peak at the filter. If it looks like it’s dirty, it’s time to replace or clean it!
Filters that trap more dust (those with higher MERV ratings) will need to be replaced more often than cheaper filters. Whichever filter you choose, avoid putting excess strain on your heating and cooling system by replacing your filters when they get dirty.
Finally, remember that filter cost is an important consideration but it’s not the only cost to consider when choosing a filter. A higher quality filter that is replaced frequently will reduce maintenance costs and extend the life of your system, making a more expensive filter a better long-term investment!