Colton Deck

By: Colton Deck on September 16th, 2022

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What is a MERV Rating and Which is Best for You?

Heating | Air

Air filters come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. But another key feature of an air filter is its MERV rating. While shopping for an air filter can be a hassle, figuring out which MERV rating is best for you will bring more value to your HVAC system. 

We’ve dialed in HVAC systems around Southern California to suit homeowners' needs. From pet allergies to industrial pollutants in the air, every home’s needs are different. It only makes sense that each home’s air filter should reflect its environment. 

In this article, you’ll learn what a MERV rating is and which one is best for you and your family’s needs based on the environmental factors impacting your home. 

 

What is a MERV Rating? 

MERV ratings are a way to distinguish the performance between filters. MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values

This rating gauges an air filter’s ability to filter out particles measuring between .3 and 10 microns. In short, this is just a fancy way of saying the size of any given particle, like dust or auto fumes if you live on a busy street. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies filters with MERV ratings between 1 to 16, with each rating having a more successful capture rate. The higher the MERV rating, the better the filtration. 

Filters with a MERV rating of 8 are the most common for residential use, while MERV 13 and up are used in medical settings and homes with specific needs. 

For instance, a MERV 8 filter can capture particles measuring 1 to 3 microns less than or equal to 20%. For particles measuring 3 to 10 microns, you can expect them to capture about 70%. Going with a standard MERV 8 filter will give you protection against particles like mold and dust. 

A MERV 16 filter captures particles measuring .3 to 1 microns at less than or equal to 95%. Particles that measure 1 to 10 microns are successfully filtered less than or equal to 95% of the time. Running a MERV 16 can filter out smoke, auto fumes, and other irritants but is generally reserved for commercial use.

Which MERV rating is best for your home will depend on the environmental factors impacting your air quality. 

 

Which MERV rating is best for you?

If you’re on the hunt for a standard filter, MERV 8 is the most common rating for filters used in a residential setting. But you may have specific issues with your air quality that need something a bit more specialized. 

Be cautious, though. Not every HVAC system can handle higher MERV ratings. A higher MERV rating also means less airflow due to the density of the air filter. It’s best to check your owner’s manual for any limitations so that you don’t tank your system earlier than expected. 

Key factors that can impact which MERV rating is right for you include:

  • Pets
  • Family members with respiratory problems
  • Smoke
  • Industrial irritants

 

Pets

While a MERV 8 filter is the most common, it’s also effective against pet hair. Unfortunately, it won’t protect against pet dander, which requires something a bit stronger if you want to protect allergy sufferers from your fluffy friend. 

MERV 13 filters can catch pet dander and smaller irritants that other filters can’t and are the highest rating recommended for homes. That means those with allergies can breathe easier in your home with the help of a MERV 13 filter. Hooray! 

But pets aren’t the only reason to opt for a MERV 13, either. If you’re looking to protect your family, a MERV 13 can be helpful in other cases. 

 

Family Members with Respiratory Problems

Protecting your family is always top of mind, but in some cases, you must take extra precautions to ensure your family can live a healthy and comfortable life. This factor is why it is important to ensure your air filter can support those with respiratory issues like asthma. 

A MERV 8 filter will do the trick for homeowners with no preexisting conditions, but for sensitive groups, it’s not enough. Going with a MERV 13 filter can make a massive difference in your home's air quality. After all, the goal of any HVAC system is comfort!

Not only do MERV 13 filters help protect your family members with respiratory issues, but they can also protect against other dangers from within the household. 

 

Smoke

Smoke can mean a couple of different things in this context: tobacco smoke or environmental smoke, like fires. A MERV 13 filter is recommended to deal with smoke and help protect your household. 

These filters are ideal for areas where forest fires are abundant or where there is a smoker in the house. Because of the higher MERV rating, these filters are equipped to capture tar, which can attract pollutants, and additional irritants released from tobacco smoke. 

Likewise, smoke from burning wood is also filtered, ensuring better air quality throughout your home. These filters are game-changers during fire season. But the smoke from fires isn’t the only harmful environmental factor to consider. 

 

Industrial Irritants

If you live near a refinery or industrial district, there are likely all sorts of irritants entering your home. Whether it's construction sites or a refinery, a MERV 13 and up filter will offer your home greater filtration. 

Irritants like auto fumes can still make it past a standard MERV 8, which is why a filter with greater density is required to filter them out properly. Anything less, and your home may end up smelling like an industrial park.

While lesser-rated filters can weed out some irritants like cement and coal dust, they fail to catch things like auto fumes. 

 

What MERV rating is Best for You?

Now you know all about what a MERV rating is and the factors that can determine which is right for you. You’ll be able to make an informed decision, with the help of your owner’s manual, the next time you need to replace your filter. Be sure your HVAC system is compatible with your chosen filter before buying. 

We’ve swapped out many air filters over the year and strongly believe that different homes have different needs. With some homes being located smack dab in the middle of industrial parks and other homes requiring more filtration for health reasons, every home is different, even yours!

If you need help swapping out your air filter or need a consultation on what your next HVAC move should be, call us at (310) 853- 8690 or visit us on our HVAC services page to book a consultation with a technician. 

Now that you know all about MERV ratings, now is the perfect time to brush up on the many different types of HVAC filters. While some may look familiar, there are a few that might throw you for a loop and introduce you to new options for your home.