Ultimate Guide To Choosing the Right HVAC Air Filter for Your System

A homeowner replacing the HVAC air filter

In Halifax, Virginia, the summer heat is no joke especially, making a good HVAC system a must for staying comfy and healthy. But did you know that the real MVPs of these systems are the filters? They trap dust, pollen, and other pesky particles, so you breathe easy, and your system runs smoothly, cutting down on energy bills and extending your system's life.

Let's be honest though, picking the right HVAC filter can be a headache. There's a lot to choices, from washable filters, disposable ones, media filters, and even fancy electronic air cleaners. And then there are MERV ratings, those numbers that show how well a filter works. It's easy to get lost trying to figure out what's the best choice for your home. However, Solutions Heating & Cooling is here to fix all of your HVAC problems through valuable insights, tips, and premium AC maintenance services.  

Our guide will clear things up. We'll explain the different types of HVAC filters, break down MERV ratings, and give you tips to pick the best filter for your needs. By the end, you'll feel confident about keeping your home's air clean and your HVAC system in tip-top shape.

Understanding MERV Ratings

MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, and it’s a scale that tells you how good an air filter is at catching different-sized particles. Created by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), this rating helps you pick the right filter for your needs. The MERV scale goes from 1 to 20, with higher numbers meaning better filtration.

Breakdown of MERV Rating Scale (1-20)

Low MERV (1-4)

  • Description: These filters catch big particles like dust, lint, and pollen.
  • Usage: Great for basic air quality needs at home.
  • Example Particles: Carpet fibers, dust mites, and bits of bugs.

Medium MERV (5-8)

  • Description: These filters are better and can grab smaller particles, including mold spores and pet dander.
  • Usage: Perfect for homes with pets or mild allergy sufferers.
  • Example Particles: Mold spores, dust mite debris, and spray particles.

High MERV (9-16)

  • Description: These filters can capture tiny particles like bacteria, smoke, and fine dust.
  • Usage: Used in hospitals, offices, and homes where air quality is really important.
  • Example Particles: Bacteria, smoke, and fine dust particles.

HEPA Filters (MERV 17-20)

  • Description: HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are the best, catching particles as small as 0.3 microns.
  • Usage: Found in clean rooms, hospitals, and places needing the best air quality.
  • Example Particles: Smoke, tiny virus particles, and soot.

How to Choose the Right MERV Rating for Your Home

You can choose the right MERV rating depending on a few things:

  • Allergies and Health Concerns: If you or someone in your home has allergies or asthma, go for a higher MERV rating (9-12) to catch smaller allergens like pet dander and pollen. For severe allergies or respiratory issues, consider MERV 13-16.
  • Presence of Pets: If you have pets, aim for filters with at least a MERV 5-8 rating to grab pet hair and dander.
  • Local Air Quality: In areas with high pollution or wildfire smoke, higher MERV ratings (11-13) help filter out the bad stuff.
  • HVAC System Compatibility: Make sure your HVAC system can handle higher MERV filters. These can slow down airflow if your system isn’t built for them, making it less efficient and costlier to run. Check your HVAC manufacturer’s advice or ask one of our HVAC professionals to see what your system can take.
  • Maintenance and Replacement: Higher MERV filters might need changing more often because they catch more particles. Think about how much work you want to put into maintenance.

To truly know for sure whether the HVAC system can handle high MERV ratings, a duct static pressure test would need to be performed. Contact us for more information.

Understanding MERV ratings and considering your specific needs will help you choose the right HVAC filter, keeping your home’s air clean and your system running smoothly. If you’re in Halifax and still not sure what to pick, let our AC System Repair services make things easier for you!  

Types of HVAC Filters

Now let's take a quick look at various types of HVAC filters to help you better understand how to pick the right one for your system:  

1. Washable Filters

Washable filters, or reusable filters, can be cleaned and reused multiple times. Made from durable materials like aluminum or plastic, they can last for years with proper care.

Pros:

  • Cost-effective in the long run since they can be reused.
  • Environmentally friendly as they reduce waste.
  • Easy to clean with water and a mild detergent.

Cons:

  • Need regular cleaning to stay effective, which can be a hassle.
  • Lower MERV ratings (MERV 4-9), so they might not catch smaller particles.
  • Can grow mold and bacteria if not cleaned and dried properly.
  • Our experts have observed that they can become highly impacted after regular washings, and the filter life cycle is much shorter than anticipated.

Washable filters cut down on waste and have a lower environmental impact because you don't throw them away as often. Their MERV ratings range from 4 to 9.

2. Disposable Filters

Disposable filters are made for one-time use and need to be replaced regularly. They come in materials like fiberglass, polyester, and pleated paper.

Pros:

  • Convenient and easy to replace.
  • Come in various MERV ratings to meet different needs.
  • No maintenance—just toss and replace.

Cons:

  • Ongoing cost since they need replacing every 1-3 months.
  • More waste, so they impact the environment more.
  • Not as durable as washable filters.

Disposable filters are great for those who want low-maintenance options. They're efficient at catching particles based on their MERV rating, with ratings from 1 - 13. Many of our customers love saving money and cutting down on waste by only changing filters when needed, not on a fixed schedule. Want to know more? Ask us about Smart AC Maintenance.

3. Media Filters

Media filters, also called extended surface filters, have a deep pleated, paper-like material that gives them a larger surface area to trap particles. They offer better filtration than standard filters.

Media filters can catch particles as small as 0.3 microns, making them good for allergens, dust, and even some bacteria and viruses. They last longer and need replacing less often than standard filters. Even though they cost more initially, their longer life and better performance make them worth it. Typical MERV ratings for media filters are 11 to 13.

Related: The 7 Types of Air Filters Explained – Choose the Best One for Your Home

4. Electronic Air Cleaners

Electronic air cleaners use electrostatic precipitation to capture particles. They charge particles in the air and then collect them on oppositely charged plates or filters.

Pros:

  • Great at catching small particles like smoke and bacteria.
  • Reusable filters cut down on waste and replacement costs.
  • Can significantly improve overall air quality.

Cons:

  • Higher upfront cost compared to other filters.
  • Need regular cleaning to stay efficient.
  • May produce a bit of ozone, which can be a concern for some.

Air passes through an ionization section where particles get an electrical charge. These charged particles then stick to oppositely charged plates or filters that you can wash and reuse. Electronic air cleaners are very efficient at removing fine particles but need regular upkeep to perform their best. Our HVAC experts are always ready to save you time and pick whatever is best for your HVAC systems.  

Key Things to Consider When Choosing a Filter

1. Household Needs

Think about your household’s specific needs when choosing an HVAC filter. If anyone in your family has allergies or asthma, or if you have pets, you’ll need a filter that can capture small particles like pet dander, pollen, and dust mites. A higher MERV rating (9-12) is usually best for better air quality.

2 HVAC System Compatibility

Not every filter works with every HVAC system. Higher MERV filters can restrict airflow, which might make your system work harder if it’s not designed for them. Check your HVAC system’s specs or speak with one of our professionals to see the highest MERV rating your system can handle without losing efficiency.

3. Cost and Maintenance

Think about both the initial cost of the filter and how much it will cost to maintain over time. Washable filters might cost more upfront but can save you money because you can reuse them. Disposable filters are cheaper initially but need to be replaced more often, adding up over time. Media filters and electronic air cleaners also have different costs and maintenance needs, so consider how much time and money you’re willing to spend on filter maintenance.

4. Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of your filter choice matters as well. Washable filters create less waste since you can use them again and again. Disposable filters add to landfill waste because they’re a single-use item. Media filters and electronic air cleaners might also have environmental considerations based on their materials and energy use.

5. Air Quality Needs

If your household has allergies or respiratory issues, higher MERV ratings (13-16) can really improve air quality by capturing smaller particles like pollen, mold spores, and even some bacteria and viruses. These filters give better protection but might need a compatible HVAC system to handle the higher filtration.

6. Budget Considerations

Look at the costs of different filter types, thinking about both the upfront price and long-term savings. High-quality filters might cost more at first but can save money over time by making your system more efficient and reducing maintenance needs. Calculate how cost-effective filters are over their lifespan to make a smart choice.

7. Longevity and Replacement Frequency

The lifespan of filters varies. Washable filters are advertised to last for years, but our experts have observed that they don't last that long, or they become too impacted, and cause comfort and longevity issues with your HVAC system. Disposable filters need replacing every 1-3 months. Media filters usually last longer than standard ones but still need periodic replacement. Think about how often you’re willing to replace your filter and choose one that fits your schedule.

8. Maintenance Requirements

Consider how easy the filter is to maintain. Washable filters need regular cleaning, while disposable filters just need replacing. Media filters and electronic air cleaners might need occasional maintenance or professional servicing. Decide if you prefer doing the maintenance yourself or hiring a professional.

9. Availability and Sourcing

You can find high-quality filters from many sources. Buy them online for a wider selection and convenient delivery, or from local stores for immediate availability and to see products before buying. Make sure to buy from reputable sources to get genuine, high-quality filters.  

Want reasonable pricing for high-quality filters? Our Smart AC customers have the convenience of ordering good filters straight through the app with home delivery straight to their doors. The system is monitoring the filter quality and needs, so they know they don't have to change the filters more often than is needed.

Importance of Smart AC Maintenance Service

Did you know? Solutions Heating and Cooling offers smart AC maintenance that measures the functional remaining life of your air filter. Through a really convenient software app, you can be notified when you need to replace it. This saves you a good amount of time and money, as you no longer need to replace the filter based on a calendar schedule, but rather when it actually needs to be replaced. Call or text us for more information!

Tips for Maintaining Your HVAC Filters

Regular Inspection and Replacement Schedule

Regularly inspecting and replacing your HVAC filters is crucial for maintaining good air quality and system efficiency. Check your filters at least once a month, especially during peak seasons like summer and winter when your HVAC system is working hardest. Replace disposable filters every 1-3 months, depending on usage and filter type.

How to Clean Washable Filters

  1. Turn Off the System: Before removing the filter, make sure to turn off your HVAC system to prevent unfiltered air from circulating.
  2. Remove the Filter: Carefully take out the washable filter.
  3. Rinse with Water: Use a hose or tap water to rinse the filter. Avoid using high pressure, which can damage the filter.
  4. Use Mild Detergent: For a deeper clean, use a mild detergent to remove stubborn dirt and debris.
  5. Rinse Again: Thoroughly rinse off any soap residue.
  6. Dry Completely: Allow the filter to dry completely before reinstalling it to prevent mold and bacteria growth.

Related: How Often Do HVAC Systems Need Maintenance?

Signs That a Filter Needs Replacing

  • Visible Dirt and Debris: If the filter looks dirty and clogged, it's time to replace or clean it.
  • Reduced Airflow: If you notice weaker airflow from your vents, a dirty filter might be the culprit.
  • Increased Energy Bills: A sudden spike in energy costs can indicate your HVAC system is working harder due to a clogged filter.
  • Dust Accumulation: If you see more dust around your home, it might be a sign your filter isn't effectively capturing particles.

Related: 12 Ways To Cut Your HVAC Heating Bill In Virginia

Seasonal Considerations

  • Summer and Winter: These are the times when your HVAC system works the hardest, so ensure your filters are clean and effective.
  • Spring and Fall: These are good times to perform thorough maintenance checks in preparation for the upcoming heavy-use seasons.

Adjusting Maintenance Schedules Based on Seasonal Usage

  • Increase Frequency: During peak seasons, check your filters more frequently, perhaps bi-weekly, to ensure they are not clogged.
  • Adjust Based on Usage: If your system runs more often due to extreme weather, you may need to replace filters more frequently.

By following these tips, you can keep your HVAC system running efficiently, maintain good air quality in your home, and potentially extend the life of your system.

Ultimately, keeping the filter clean is the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do to extend the life of your heating and cooling system. Dirt and neglect are the number 1 killers of HVAC systems, so the importance of keeping your filter clean cannot be understated.

DIY vs. Professional Maintenance

Deciding whether to maintain your HVAC filters yourself or hire a professional comes down to weighing the pros and cons. Hiring a professional does have its perks. They bring expertise and experience to the table, ensuring your HVAC system is well-maintained. Professionals are thorough, often catching issues you might miss, which helps prevent bigger, costlier problems later.  

Plus, it’s convenient. It saves you time and effort, especially if you’re not comfortable with the nitty-gritty of HVAC maintenance. If you’re ready to have a certified HVAC professional inspect and replace the air filter or fix any other issue, give our professionals at Solutions Heating & Cooling a call at (434) 404-4461. We also provide emergency HVAC repair services so that all your cooling and heating issues can be addressed immediately!