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Home Air Filter Buying Guide

Written by: Justin Micheal

Published on:

air filter buying guide

To improve your family’s air quality and health, it may be time to check out the different types of home air filters.

There are many different brands, models, and ratings on the market, so choosing one can be tricky.

In this air filter buying guide, we will cover the most common types of air filters and how they work. By the end of reading this guide, you will know how to choose the best air filters for your home.

1. Determine Your Air Filter Type

Find your current air filter that needs replacing to find:

  • The model or serial number
  • Filter rating
  • Size

Sometimes your air filters might be so dirty that the information has worn off. In that case, you will need to find the recommended filter size and rating for your heating and cooling system.

Most air filters that need frequent replacement are HVAC filters, furnace filters, return air vent filters, and even your air conditioning unit may have a filter.

These home air filter types usually fall into one of the six categories below. Not all of them will be available or needed for your purposes, but you should know the differences before you end up buying the wrong type of filter.

HVAC Furnace Filter

Fiberglass Air Filters: Fiberglass filters are well suited to protecting your HVAC system from contaminants but won’t do much to protect your lungs. These filters are generally inexpensive but filter only 2% of submicron particles.

Pleated Filters: The depth of the pleats is a pretty good indication of the quality of the filtration available; the more profound the pleat, the better the capture. Thin pleats will clear up to 11% of submicron particles, and deep pleats will capture up to 25%.

HEPA Filters: A HEPA filter is your best option if you want something that can capture small particles 3 microns or larger, like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and other airborne particles. These disposable filters are often a little more expensive, but worth it if it gives you cleaner air to breathe.

Electrostatic Filter: Electrostatic filters are built of electrostatically charged materials and can capture up to 49% of submicron particles.

Electronic Air Filters: Electronic filters move air through an electrostatically charged grid for a removal rate of more than 90%. It’s important to note that electronic filters need a power source and require detailed maintenance to avoid failure.

Washable / Reusable Air Filters: These filters must be taken out and hosed off before reinstalling them. They can be sprayed with a sticky substance to make it easier for them to capture more particles. Still, the filter’s ability only offers a 6% capture of the submicron particles in your home.

2. Do You Need A Better Filter Rating To Improve Your Indoor Air Quality?

There are many filter performance rating systems, but only MERV is nationally regulated. It’s the standard we prefer.

The others are systems created by companies and big brands. While they also conform to regulations, creating their own systems seems to be more of a marketing ploy than anything else.

What Is The MERV Rating? (Preferred Rating System)

MERV is Nationally regulated.

MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) is a rating scale that measures how effective an air filter is at capturing particles. The higher the rating, the more efficient it will be to trap particles and remove particulate matter from your home’s indoor environment.

For example, MERV 11 will remove up to 89% of particulates from the air at a four times better rate than an un-rated filter for particles 3.0 – 10 microns in size. A higher MERV rating will be able to capture much smaller particles.

Filters with higher MERV ratings are necessary for homes with pets, allergies or asthma, smoke exposure, and certain types of pollution.

One way to find out what’s in your air is to use an air quality particle counter. This device will measure the number of particles in your home’s indoor environment and tells you what types of particulate matter are present, such as dust, pet dander, or pollen.

What Is The MPR Rating?

MPR is independently regulated.

MPR stands for microparticle performance rating and was designed by 3M.

It gauges how well air filters trap particles in the size range most likely to trigger allergies or asthma problems.

The higher the rating, the more airborne contaminants will be filtered out of your air.

For example, using our previous example of MERV 11 translates into 1000 to 1200 MPR. You will have to read further details on your purchased air filter to see exactly what it is designed to remove from your air.

What Is The FPR Rating?

FPR is independently regulated.

The FPR rating stands for Filter Performance Rating and designed by Home Depot. For whatever reason, Home Depot decided to abandon the MERV rating for its own system.

Using our example, MERV 11 / MPR 1000-1200 would be an FPR of 7, which is not the best, but can still remove common air quality issues like mold spores, pollen, and dust.

3. Buy An Extra Air Filter To Keep On Hand

Opting for the cheapest air filters isn’t always the best choice. After all, you want to be sure that it will remove most airborne contaminants and improve your indoor air quality.

If it’s within your budget, consider buying an extra air filter to keep on hand. It’ll save you from having to worry about running out of filters next time you need to change one during your routine home maintenance checklist.

Why Do You Need An Air Filter?

You need an air filter in your home because it removes unwanted particles and air pollutants in your home that you would otherwise breathe in.

The Filtration Process

air filter particle flow direction

Most filters work by first passing air through a filter that traps large particles such as hair and lint that could clog your system.

The second stage of filtration is activated charcoal or other special material to capture smaller air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), bacteria, viruses, and mold spores.

A HEPA filter will help remove typical allergens and small particles such as pollen, pet dander, and larger particles such as household dust.

How Long Does An Air Filter Last?

dirty air filter

A new filter, such as your furnace filter, will last one to three months before a replacement is needed.

Depending on the size of your air duct system and how much time you spend in other rooms with the windows closed, a dirty filter may be creeping up quicker than any guidelines state.

The Importance Of A Clean Air Filter

The filter on your HVAC system captures dust and allergens from the air. These filters can also capture other contaminants that get swept into air returns, such as pet hair that restrict airflow.

You can also add filters to your HVAC unit that will pick up and neutralize the odor of tobacco smoke.

A forgotten or overlooked filter can also heavily impact the functioning of your furnace or air conditioner.

Air can’t move smoothly through a clogged filter, and older units have been known to pull overloaded filters into the blower mechanism, causing a catastrophic failure to the system.

When determining how often to change the HVAC filter, remember that a small investment in filters requires much less cash than a large investment in furnace repair and replacement.

Set a date and change your air filter regularly!