What Should You Know About Air Filters Before Buying Them?

Last Updated on January 24, 2024 by SampleBoard

When maintaining indoor air quality, selecting the right air filter is crucial. Air filters improve the air you breathe and protect your HVAC system from dust and dirt buildup. 

However, with various types, sizes, and efficiency ratings available, choosing the right air filter can seem overwhelming.

This quick guide aims to demystify air filters, helping you make an informed purchase.

Understanding Efficiency Ratings

Selecting an air filter with the appropriate efficiency rating is crucial for optimal air quality and system performance.

Understanding the different rating systems used to measure this efficiency is the first step in making an informed choice.

MERV and FPR Ratings

Two critical rating systems — MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) and FPR (Filter Performance Rating) — are used to measure the efficiency of home air filters

The MERV rating, established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioner Engineers (ASHRAE), is the industry standard.

It ranges from 1 to 20, with higher numbers indicating greater efficiency in trapping small particles.

Residential areas typically use filters with MERV 8 to MERV 13, while hospitals may use MERV 14 to MERV 20. 

In contrast, Home Depot's FPR system rates filters on a scale of 1 to 12, focusing on their ability to capture large and small particles​​.

Balancing Filtration and Airflow

While a higher MERV or FPR rating signifies better filtration, balancing this with your HVAC system's airflow requirements is essential. 

Overly efficient filters may restrict airflow, increasing energy use and strain on the HVAC system. Most residential settings find an optimal MERV rating between 8 and 13 or an equivalent FPR rating​​.

Variety in Materials and Functionality

Different materials offer distinct benefits:

  • Fiberglass or Polyester Filters are inexpensive, disposable options for capturing large particles like lint and dust.

  • Washable Filters can be cleaned and reused, needing replacement only every few years. They're effective in protecting the furnace motor and trapping larger particles.

  • Pleated Filters have a larger surface area, allowing these disposable filters to capture more particles.

  • Electrostatic Filters are available in both disposable and reusable options. These filters use charged fibers to capture small and large particles and have a larger surface area for more efficient particle trapping​​.

Sizing Matters

Nominal and actual sizes categorize air filters. The nominal size is an approximation rounded up to the nearest inch, while the actual size is the exact dimension of the filter.

In addition to length and width, air filters vary in thickness, typically ranging from less than one inch to up to six inches. 

Not every HVAC system can accommodate thicker filters, so it's important to check compatibility. Thicker filters with bigger pleats often have the advantage of less frequent replacements​​.

Maintenance and Replacement

Regular maintenance and timely replacement of air filters are fundamental for sustaining high indoor air quality and HVAC efficiency.

It's recommended to replace HVAC filters four to six times a year, depending on usage and environmental factors.

This practice not only ensures cleaner air and a healthier living environment but also contributes to your HVAC system's longevity and proper functioning.

Additionally, it's vital to ascertain if your HVAC system has specific filter requirements, as using the correct filter can significantly enhance system performance and prevent potential mechanical issues.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Understanding the nuances of air filters — from efficiency ratings to types and sizes — is essential for maintaining indoor air quality and protecting your HVAC system. 

By considering factors like MERV or FPR ratings, filter types, size, and maintenance requirements, you can select an air filter that not only purifies the air but also complements your home's HVAC system.

Remember, the right air filter is key to creating a healthy, comfortable living environment.

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