What Type of HVAC Air Filter Should I Use? (Plus 6 Types You Can Choose)
Putting in or inheriting an HVAC system is quite an undertaking. Figuring out what type of HVAC air filter you need can be equally as daunting if you haven’t had the opportunity to talk to a technician.
We’ve installed HVAC systems in homes across Southern California, and not every system uses the same filter. While some systems are tailored to the owner’s specifications, they sometimes defer to the technician, making it more challenging to recall which filter is suitable for their system.
There are plenty of filter types on the market, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all. Because of this, there’s no easy recommendation for what you should use. But we can sift through the options to give you a better picture of which one best suits your needs.
In this article, we’ll touch on:
- What type of filter you should be using
- Types of HVAC air filters
While there’s no satisfying answer to the first touchpoint, we’ll help you with some critical considerations before moving into the different filter types.
What Type of Air Filter Should You Be Using?
The long and short of which filter type you should use is “it depends.” There are different sizes of filters out there, but some may not fit your system.
Because the type of filter you use hangs on system compatibility, it’s best to pull your filter and measure its thickness and other dimensions. Once you have these measurements, picking a filter will become easier, and you won’t be flying in the dark.
After figuring out your measurements, you can factor in your preferences. Do you have an asthmatic family member that needs better air quality? Do you have mold or mildew woes? Do you only want to change your filter every three months, or do you not mind swapping a filter every month?
Airflow is also something to consider if you value efficiency and keep a close eye on your energy bills.
Above all, you’ll want to check your owner’s manual to see which filter type is right for your system. There’s wiggle room when it comes to MERV ratings, which measure a filter's ability to capture particles from 0.3 and 10 microns. The higher the rating, the better the filtration at the expense of airflow.
These are just a few examples of considerations that you might weigh when choosing a filter. Every home’s needs are different, so the filter you should use is the one that is compatible with your system while fulfilling your needs.
But let’s look at the various types of filters to get a better picture of what’s available.
6 Types of HVAC Filters
There are plenty of filter types out there, but not every filter will be compatible or ideal for your system. Size alone can rule out some filters like HEPA filters. Others can be add-on options your system may not even use.
Identifying your filter will go a long way in determining how to replace it and when to replace it. Checking out these filter types will also give you a better idea of the benefits of your system’s specific filter.
1. HEPA Filter
HEPA stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air filter. These are ideal for those with allergies since they can remove up to most irritants like pollen, dust, dander, smoke, and more.
HEPA filters catch 99.97% of particles entering the home, making them a good option for those with respiratory conditions and allergies since they provide hospital-grade protection.
In terms of lifespan, HEPA filters can last up to 6-12 months, depending on use. You can plan on replacing the filter at least twice a year, though. These filters are also more expensive than both fiberglass and pleated filters.
A pitfall with HEPA filters is that home HVAC systems are designed for thinner filters, typically around one inch thick. HVAC filters can be between 5-8 inches thick. The thickness means that unless your system is specially designed with a separate air filtration system, you likely won’t be able to get the benefits of a HEPA filter.\
2. UV Filter
A UV filter uses ultraviolet light to kill mold, bacteria, and viruses but offers nothing in the way of filtration when it comes to dirt, dust, and other irritants. These filters are typically a part of a filtration system and not the main attraction.
UV filters are also expensive to install and are an add-on. These are not considered necessary but can help keep your system free of bacteria and viruses to promote cleaner in-home air.
UV lamps can last between 9-14 months, so you'll need to check up on them around the 6-month mark to see how they’re holding up.
If you didn’t have a UV filter put in during the initial installation, you’d want to make an appointment with an HVAC technician so that they can find the optimal placement for the filter.
A UV filter is a great addition to an HVAC system, but you’ll still need a HEPA or pleated filter to weed out particulates.
3. Pleated Filter
Pleated filters protect against pollutants using cotton or polyester folds. Key benefits of pleated filters are their increased surface area, thanks to the folds, and greater airflow.
In terms of replacement, pleated filters can typically last from 3-6 months. Checking your filter monthly will help you dial in how often you’ll need to change out the filter. This also depends on environmental factors like pets and air pollutants.
Pleated air filters typically come in thicknesses of 1-6 inches, depending on the system.
4. Fiberglass Filter
Fiberglass filters are made of, well, fiberglass! These are some of the cheapest filters on the market and come in well under add-on alternatives like HEPA filters.
Unfortunately, being the cheapest option on the market doesn’t mean they’re the best. You’ll likely see no increase in interior air quality. On top of that, you’ll need to replace these every 30 days to keep your system running at its peak.
5. Electrostatic Filter
These filters use cotton and paper to generate static that attracts dust, dirt, and other irritants. A major benefit of electrostatic filters is that they are reusable, meaning you’ll just need to clean and reinstall them for years to come.
You can count on cleaning an electrostatic filter every 3-6 months. As usual, this timeframe depends on your environmental factors and usage. You may also hear electrostatic filters referred to as washable filters.
6. Media Filter
A media filter prevents poor airflow while filtering out pollutants, thanks to the greater surface area being thicker than traditional 1-inch filters. These filters are typically 4-5 inches thick.
On top of being thicker, media filters also provide the benefit of being changed out 1-2 times a year. Still, checking up on your filter between changes is a good practice to ensure your system isn’t inhibited.
What's the Right Air Filter for You?
After touching on what air filter is right for you and the various types of common air filters, you now have a better idea of which filter fits your system.
If you need your filter swapped out or need a tune-up and live in Los Angeles County, Orange County, or Ventura County, give us a call at (310) 853-8690 or visit our HVAC services page to book an appointment.
Determining your filter type also partially dictates when you should change your air filter. On top of regular replacement, we also recommend getting in touch with a specialist to schedule yearly maintenance to keep your HVAC system running smoothly and efficiently.