Swapping your furnace filter is a regular part of home maintenance. But it’s often a forgettable task in the noise of our busy everyday lives. Unfortunately, ignoring your furnace filter leads to higher energy bills and reduces the lifespan of your HVAC system.
Whether you’re looking for a furnace filter replacement or an upgrade, there are a few things you should know before you buy. Although furnace filters are relatively inexpensive, using the wrong filter could damage your furnace and degrade your home’s air quality.
Save money and breathe easy with these five filter facts every homeowner should know.
1. There are Many Types of Furnace Filters
When it comes to buying a new furnace filter, there are more options than you might think. Fiberglass filters tend to be the cheapest — and least efficient — filters on the market.
If your HVAC system is new, a fiberglass filter probably came with it. You can identify a fiberglass filter by its blue color and spiderweb appearance. As a rule of thumb, you should replace these types of filters more frequently than their higher-quality counterparts.
Most furnace filters are pleated and disposable. They are capable of catching smaller pollutants, like allergens and bacteria. Some are even able to trap viruses and keep them out of your home’s air supply. The best furnace filters are pleated, and the cost of a pleated furnace filter tends to range from $20 to $50.
The last kind of common furnace filter, the washable filter, is a permanent option. The sturdiest of the bunch, these are usually made from aluminum or plastic. Although they are the most expensive, they have a lifespan of several years.
Do note that reusable furnace filters must be cleaned when you would normally swap out a disposable filter. Use water or vacuum then let it dry before placing it back in the furnace.
2. Focus on the Ratings
All filters are tested and given an air filtration rating. The most common filter rating is based on the minimum efficiency reporting value, abbreviated as the MERV. On a scale of 1 to 20, a higher MERV rating means the filter removes more particles from the air.
But don’t be too quick to immediately spring for a filter with a MERV rating of 20. More efficient filters have very small holes to remove particles. Since your HVAC has to pull the air through these tiny holes, filters with high MERV ratings can overburden your furnace.
The Environmental Protection Agency suggests furnace filters with a MERV rating of 13 or lower. Anything higher is liable to damage your HVAC system.
Just to make things fun (and complicated), some filter sellers have created their own ranking systems.
Home Depot created the Filter Performance Rating (FPR) which runs from 4 to 10. The similar Microparticle Performance Rating (MPR) is on a massive scale from 300 to 1900. Just like the MERV scale, a higher rating means it will filter out more air contaminants.
3. Some Furnace Filters Have Extra Features
Depending on your needs, you’ll want to be aware of some additional features of furnace filters before you search the market.
Electrostatic filters are a fairly popular option. They sound fancy, but no energy is involved. Through normal use, they’ll generate a small charge that helps them attract and trap more particles. If cigarette smoke or pet hair is a problem, consider an electrostatic filter.
Some furnace filters are anti-microbial. They’ll not only capture bacteria and viruses floating around in your home’s air, but they’ll also destroy them outright.
Does your home often have unwanted smells? Charcoal filters are an option. They behave just like regular furnace filters, but the charcoal helps neutralize unpleasant odors.
HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters can remove almost every particle from your home’s air. However, you should note that most HEPA filters are bulky and have high MERV ratings most residential systems cannot handle.
4. Furnace Filters Come in Many Dimensions
Since HVAC systems come in many different shapes and sizes, furnace filters do too. Before you buy a furnace filter, discover the size you need for your HVAC system. This is as easy as checking your furnace’s current filter.
A filter’s measurements are typically printed on one of its sides. Is the current furnace filter missing this information? Don’t fret — there are many other ways to measure air filters.
Most filters have a thickness of either one or four inches, depending on the size of the furnace. Height and length range from 10 to 30 inches.
5. It’s Not All About Air Quality
Furnace filters are often referred to as air filters. But that’s a misnomer at best. With all this talk about air particles and MERV ratings, you’d think their main purpose is to keep your air clean.
The reality is furnace filters have one job: Protect the HVAC unit. The fan inside your HVAC unit is susceptible to gunk, hair, and other air pollutants. Without a filter, your HVAC won’t continue operating for long.
If all this talk about air filtration systems is a bit too much to take in, then simply don’t worry about it. The fan inside your furnace won’t care if bacteria or viruses are in the air. Just make sure a decent furnace filter is in place so particles don’t begin to impact its performance.
It’s Time to Buy a Furnace Filter
We hope that these five tips will help you make an informed purchase. Furnace filters are complicated with all these features and ratings — but they don’t have to be.
If you’re ready to purchase a filter for your furnace, why not look at our inventory of furnace filters? Our filters have discounted prices — not quality. You can filter by dimensions for the easiest shopping experience around.