Filter Facts and Fiction: Untangling the Confusion Surrounding Filters

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Filter Facts and Fiction: Untangling the Confusion Surrounding Filters
Indoor air quality is a serious issue. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology figures that over half of all Americans test positive for at least one allergy and that over fifty percent of homes contain at least six detectable allergens. Allergens and other particles can also exacerbate other respiratory issues such as asthma. Over 14.6 million Americans currently have asthma according to the Centers for Disease Control. But what part do air filters play in air quality and do they play any part in the environmental footprint of homeowners?

Air filters do play a part in air quality.

Air filters alone do not do improve air quality to a large enough degree to keep people with vulnerable respiratory conditions from being affected by allergens in the house. That being said, they can play an important part in a more comprehensive air quality plan for a home.

For a comprehensive air quality plan:

  • Use medium- to high-efficiency air filters in HVAC intakes that will help remove airborne allergens and particles. Air filters will not, however, remove allergens that have settled on surfaces.
  • As much as possible, remove or reduce any known sources of pollution within the house.
  • Use dust mite covers on pillows and mattresses. No air-cleaning device can eliminate dust mites and their bi-products.
  • Ventilate your home with fresh air whenever possible. Fresh outdoor air will replenish the air inside and polluted air will be flushed outdoors.
  • Wash sheets frequently.
  • Remove carpet and replace with a hard surface. If carpet cannot be removed, use a high-quality vacuum and steam clean often.
  • Use exhaust fans frequently in bathrooms and kitchens to bring outdoor air inside and remove moisture.
  • Make sure pets are washed regularly.
  • Clean vacuum out frequently.
  • Dust and clean hard surfaces frequently.
  • Use a sturdy doormat and take off shoes at front door to stop toxins from entering the home.
  • Use plants to purify air. Consider trying an Andrea filter that fits over houseplants and increases the plants’ purification output. Plants that make good purifiers include Aloe Vera, Pathos, Spider Plants, Ficus, English Ivy, and Philodendron.
  • Use solid wood or alternative products to pressed wood that contains toxic formaldehyde fumes.
  • Make sure no one smokes inside.

Which filters are best?

  • Air filters for HVAC systems are graded on a MERV scale. MERV stands for the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value and is a measure of a filter’s worst-case efficiency performance. The higher the MERV rating, the more efficient the filter.
  • Flat air filters with a lower MERV rating do not do much to improve air quality, but they do protect the HVAC system from accumulating particles on fans, motors, and coils within the system.
  • Pleated filters with higher MERV ratings do help with air quality on airborne allergens, but as many particles of allergens are heavy they often settle on surfaces quickly rather than staying airborne and being trapped in a filter.
  • Change filters every three months or more often for allergy-sufferers.
  • Changing filters will help your HVAC system run more efficiently, cutting back on energy costs, HVAC maintenance, and improving the life-span of your HVAC system.

Other ways to keep your HVAC system running efficiently and reducing its energy needs:

  • Be sure to get yearly maintenance tune-ups for your unit to catch any inefficiencies or issues before they run down your unit or run up your energy usage.
  • Install a programmable thermostat so that an HVAC unit is not using excessive energy, especially when the house is empty.
  • Seal your ducts so that air is not escaping and making your unit work harder, aging the unit and making it less energy-efficient.
  • Use an energy-efficient HVAC unit.

Achieving indoor air quality – a worthy task?
If you are simply interested in keeping your HVAC unit running smoothly you certainly could get away with buying the cheapest filter and changing it every three months. But in the bigger scheme this may prove short-sighted.

The extra money spent on more efficient filters means not only extending the life of your HVAC unit, but decreasing the amount of airborne allergens and decreasing your energy usage and bills. The effort to keep your house clean and clear of other allergens is also well worth it. It’s the difference in the health of your family and the air that they breathe, not to mention in reducing the amount of energy your home requires and ensuring the longevity of your HVAC unit. In this case, health and energy savings go hand-in-hand.

George Rollins is a home enthusiast at, a site that has extensive information on brands and models of furnaces, boilers, air conditioners and heat pumps. FurnaceCompare also publishes consumer reviews and tips on choosing HVAC contractors. George has a passion for educating consumers on home improvements, as he feels that the right information can help consumers choose more wisely.