Are all HVAC air filters the same?

No, HVAC air filters vary in quality and size, and some have specifications that others don't. In most cases we recommend getting the filter your HVAC manufacturer recommends pairing with your equipment.

All filters are assigned MERV ratings, which go from 1–20. MERV is short for minimum efficiency reporting value.

A higher value indicates the filter can trap smaller particulates. This sounds outstanding, but a filter that catches finer dirt can clog more quickly, raising pressure on your system. If your unit isn’t designed to run with this kind of filter, it can restrict airflow and cause other troubles.

Unless you live in a medical facility, you likely don’t need a MERV ranking higher than 13. In fact, the majority of residential HVAC units are specifically engineered to operate with a filter with a MERV level below 13. Occasionally you will discover that good systems have been engineered to operate with a MERV level of 8 or 11.

All filters with a MERV ranking of 5 should trap most of the common triggers, such as pollen, pet dander and dust. Some filters claim to be able to catch mold spores, but we suggest having a professional remove mold as opposed to trying to mask the problem with a filter.

Sometimes the packaging demonstrates how frequently your filter should be exchanged. From what we’ve seen, the accordion-style filters last longer, and are worth the added cost.

Filters are made from differing materials, with single-use fiberglass filters being standard. Polyester and pleated filters trap more debris but may limit your unit’s airflow. Then there are HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters.

While you could want to use a HEPA filter, keep in mind that's like installing a MERV 16 filter in your heating and cooling equipment. It’s very unrealistic your equipment was made to handle that level of resistance. If you’re troubled by indoor air quality in Richmond, think over getting a HEPA-grade air filtration system. This equipment works in tandem with your HVAC system.