One of the most important parts of your HVAC system is the air filter. The air coming into your furnace or indoor AC unit first flows through the filter to prevent dust and other particles from getting inside and damaging or clogging up the various components. The type of air filter you choose can have a major impact on the effectiveness of your HVAC system and also the air quality in your home, so it’s important to think carefully about which type of filter you choose. In this article, we’ll compare disposable and reusable air filters and also show you how to know which filter is the best choice for your home.

Pros and Cons of Disposable and Reusable Air Filters

Disposable and reusable air filters can work equally as well at preventing dust and airborne debris from circulating through your HVAC system. Either type can also potentially filter out smaller airborne particles and allergens like pollen, mold spores, dust mites, etc. How well any type of air filter works depends entirely on how efficient it is at trapping larger and smaller particles. Almost any filter you choose will trap the majority of larger particles like dust, pet hair and lint. If you want to also filter out smaller particles, you’ll need to choose a more efficient, higher-rated filter.

If you were to compare a disposable and reusable filter with the same MERV rating, both would work equally as well. This means the choice of which type of filter you use is mostly a matter of price vs. convenience. Disposable filters cost much less upfront, but a reusable filter will usually be the cheaper option in the long term. The reason we say usually is that it depends on the quality of the reusable filter you choose.

Many manufacturers claim that their washable or reusable filters will last a lifetime, but this simply isn’t true. A high-quality reusable filter will usually last for five to 10 years before you need to replace it, but some reusable filters are poorly made and may only last two to three years.

You always need to wash or change your HVAC air filter at least every three months or no less than four times a year. If your reusable filter lasted for five years, it would be the equivalent of using at least 20 disposable filters. If you’re comparing filters with the same efficiency rating, one reusable filter will typically cost about the same as a five-pack of disposable filters. This means that a reusable filter would typically save you between $100 and $200 over five years.

While a reusable filter will usually cost less, there is no doubt that disposable filters are far more convenient. If you opt for a reusable filter, you need to make sure that you’re always washing it thoroughly. Most manufacturers recommend first using a special filter cleaning spray and then letting it soak in for a few minutes to loosen up all of the debris. You then need to rinse the filter by running water through it until it is completely clean and no debris remains. Once the filter is clean, you need to let it completely dry out before you put it back in place.

You should never run your heating or air conditioning without a filter in place. For this reason, we recommend that you buy two filters if you decide to go with a reusable filter. This way you can just keep switching between the two so that you don’t need to shut your HVAC system off while washing the filter and waiting for it to dry.

Air Filter Efficiency Ratings

No matter whether you decide to go with a reusable filter or disposable filters, the main thing to focus on is the filter’s efficiency rating. Although some manufacturers and retailers have their own proprietary rating scales, the majority of filters are rated using the MERV scale. MERV measures how well the filter traps both larger and smaller particles.

The MERV scale technically goes from 1 to 20. However, anything from MERV 16 to 20 is considered a HEPA filter and cannot be used in a residential HVAC system. If you want to use a HEPA filter, you will need to add a whole-home HEPA filtration system onto your HVAC system.

MERV 1 to 4 filters are not efficient enough to protect your HVAC system from damage and should only be used in window or portable air conditioners. Residential HVAC air filters generally range from MERV 6 to MERV 12 or 13.

A MERV 6 filter will be the least expensive option, but it will mostly only filter out dust, lint and other larger particles. It may also trap some pollen, but the vast majority of smaller particles like pet dander and mold spores will pass straight through it. MERV 8 filters are more efficient and will capture the majority of pollen and mold spores. A MERV 10 or 11 filter will also filter out lots of smaller particles like pet dander as well as smoke, exhaust fumes and other airborne pollutants. MERV 12 or 13 filters are even more efficient and can remove bacteria and viruses from the air.

How to Choose the Best Air Filter for Your Home

Which MERV rating you choose depends largely on how much you want to spend on filters and how concerned you are about filtering out allergens and pollutants. If you or anyone in your household suffers from allergies, asthma or other respiratory issues, you definitely want to opt for a higher MERV rating. However, we would generally never recommend going with anything more efficient than MERV 10 or 11 without first consulting with an HVAC technician.

The reason is that higher-efficiency filters can greatly restrict the airflow in your HVAC system, as many residential blowers aren’t powerful enough to draw air through them. If you choose too efficient of a filter, it will basically have the same effect as running your HVAC system with an extremely dirty, clogged filter.

Restricted airflow is one of the biggest issues that can impact the effectiveness and energy efficiency of your heating and air conditioning. If your air filter is too efficient and too restrictive, it will lead to very little warm or cool air coming out of your vents. This means your HVAC system will take far longer to heat or cool your home and cause your energy bills to be much higher.

If the airflow is too restricted, your AC system will often have issues where it keeps freezing. This happens because the filter prevents the blower from pulling sufficient warm air in. Whenever there isn’t enough warm air continually flowing over the AC evaporator coil, the refrigerant in the coil won’t absorb much heat. This results in the refrigerant and the coil remaining much colder, which leads to condensation on the coil starting to freeze.

If your home has a furnace, a higher MERV filter can also easily cause it to overheat. If the blower can’t draw enough cool air through the filter, the temperature of the heat exchanger will quickly rise to the point that it overheats and triggers the limit switch forcing the furnace to shut down. Overheating can be an extremely serious problem since it could damage the furnace’s wiring and electrical components. Restricted airflow can also cause the blower to overheat, which can damage its motor or lead to it burning out.

If you need any air conditioning, heating or indoor air quality service in the Tampa Bay area, Comfort All-Stars has you covered. Our certified technicians provide expert HVAC repairs, maintenance and installation services, and we also install a range of indoor air quality systems including HEPA filters. If you have any questions about which air filter is the best option for your home or need any HVAC or electrical service, give us a call today.

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