By now you’ve probably heard how important it is to change your home’s air filter on a regular basis. But when the time comes to replace it, does it really matter what kind of filter you choose? Aren’t all filters basically the same?
The short answer is, no, they’re not all the same. In fact, there are many different types of air filters available and choosing the right one can make a real difference in the lifespan of your HVAC system as well as the quality of the air in your home.
To understand the differences in the filters available, there’s a couple of things you need to know. First, all filters are rated using the MERV scale. Filters for residential use are generally rated from 1-13, with higher-rated filters being used in places like hospitals and laboratories. The higher the rating, the better the filter is at catching particles from the air. A MERV 2 filter will only catch the largest particles, doing the absolute minimum to keep your HVAC unit clean, while a MERV 10 filter will catch very small particles like pet dander, helping to clean the air in your home as well as protecting your HVAC.
Knowing that, you might think you should just get the highest MERV rating you can find for a price you can afford. But it’s not quite that simple. You see, the higher the MERV rating, the more the filter restricts air flow. If the air flow is restricted by the filter, then the HVAC unit has to work harder to pull air through it. This means that if your filter’s rating is too high for your particular system, it can cause the unit to burn out or the coils to freeze. Uh oh.
So, you need to pick a filter that fits your HVAC system, but you also want to get one that can handle the challenges of your home. People with pets, people with allergies, and especially people with pets who have allergies will generally want a higher-rated filter, while those who don’t have those challenges might choose a lower-rated and less expensive one.
The three main kinds of disposable filters available are fiberglass, pleated, and electrostatic. Fiberglass filters are the cheapest and have the lowest rating, generally MERV 2-3. They’ll do the basic job of protecting your HVAC system, but they won’t do much to clean your air. Pleated filters are slightly more expensive and have a MERV rating of about 6. They’ll catch some allergens, like mold spores, and work fairly well as long as they’re changed regularly. Finally, electrostatic filters, while the most expensive at about $10 each, generally have a MERV rating of 10 and can trap smaller particles like pet dander and other allergens.
Choosing an air filter may seem complicated, but taking the time to pick the right one (and replacing it regularly!) can make a big difference for your home.