What Is a HEPA Furnace Filter and What Are Its Benefits?

What Is a HEPA Furnace Filter and What Are Its Benefits?
Bryan Carnahan
Residential Sales Professional

I am a Residential Sales Professional for Fire & Ice. I meet with hundreds of homeowners a year to assist them in their HVAC comfort needs.

About This Article

To clean your house of dirty air, install a HEPA filter, which not only offers health benefits, but will protect your investment in your HVAC.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but the inside of your home is probably filthy.

Not the floors or the furniture; it’s the air.

If you have dirty air ducts, and if you don’t have a superior air filtration system already installed, you are breathing in dust, mold spores, bacteria, pet dander, and particulates that can trigger asthma or worse.

It’s not your fault. Air is hard to clean.

For many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors. Scientific evidence has concluded that indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air -- even in the most polluted cities. Unless you have a job that keeps you outside, people spend approximately 90% percent of their time indoors.

In addition, people who get exposed to unhealthy air for the longest periods of time are often those most susceptible to its ill effects. Such groups include the elderly and the chronically ill, especially those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular disease.

Dirty air is unhealthy, but that’s not its only problem.

A person blowing their nose.

Dirty HVAC Filters

If you have a dirty one-inch filter working in conjunction with your HVAC, it may not be cleaning the air properly. Dirty air can get through your filter, where it then travels through the entirety of the furnace, sticking to the coils making them work harder. Which makes the unit work harder, which is costing you money.

There’s a good reason to keep the coil clean. The coil typically sits on the top or bottom of the furnace. If the coil is dirty, that dirt will coat the rest of the HVAC. The return air has to go through your furnace before it gets to the coil.

If a good filter keeps your coil clean, it’s keeping your furnace clean. The system will last longer and require less maintenance. If the system gets corroded, the fan is not going to spin as fast.  Ninety percent of the time, a dirty filter is the root cause of some sort of damage to the machinery.

The filter is shortening the life of your HVAC, which is no small investment.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can do something about it.

Putting a HEPA filter into your HVAC system is a great start.

With our experience with installations and service calls, we’ve seen firsthand how a dirty filter wears and tears on HVAC systems. WE’ve also seen how effective a good quality filter can be.

A technician installing a filter.

HEPA Filters Can Solve Multiple Problems

HEPA filters, which stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air (filter), are used in hospitals and vacuum cleaners. Modern airliners use HEPA filters to reduce the spread of airborne pathogens in recirculated air.

Don’t be fooled. Products that are marketed to be "HEPA-type," "HEPA-like," "HEPA-style" or "99% HEPA" do not satisfy the HEPA standard.

Filters meeting the HEPA standard must satisfy certain levels of efficiency. Common standards require that a HEPA air filter must remove from the air that passes through 99.97% (as measured by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the U.S. Department of Energy) of particles whose diameter is equal to 0.3 microns.

How big is a micron? 1 micron (1μ) = 1/1000 mm. For comparison, an average human hair has a diameter of 100 microns. Most humans cannot see anything smaller than 40 microns with the unaided eye.

HEPA filters can capture pollen, dirt, dust, moisture, bacteria, and even some viruses, including COVID-19.

Virus particles.

The HEPA filter is made from fiberglass or filter paper and is formed with mini folds to increase the filter surface.

Knowing the types of air filters available to you is the first step in knowing why a particular one might be worth investing in. We discuss the various types below, as well as the pros and cons associated with each.

First thing you need to know is that you’ll often see a MERV Rating, or Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, assigned to filters. The score is based on how efficiently they catch particles of varying sizes. Higher is generally better and will catch more and smaller particles.

One-Inch, Fiberglass Filters

These represent the cheapest option for airflow filtration in an HVAC system. They are made from fiberglass. The pros of these filters are obvious: They are the cheapest option.

But they are the least efficient, sometimes by a wide margin over other options. The cardboard backing reduces air flow.

Pleated Air Filters

A step up from basic filters are “pleated” filters, which are generally no thicker than one inch but are denser. They can be made from fiberglass or 100% synthetic media. These generally range from 6-9 MERV rating. While they’ll catch more particulates, the density of the material within a one-inch space creates airflow problems for the entire HVAC system.

Even when they’re brand new, they can often cause systems to have to work much harder to move air properly throughout your ductwork. This, in turn, results in more wear and tear on equipment.

At Fire & Ice, whether it’s a furnace installation or a full system, the package will include the Aprilaire Clean Air Filtration, which has a 4-inch HEPA filter. These range from MERV 11-16.

These have 25 feet of surface area, so instead of just that 16X25 inch filter, you’re going to have 25 square feet, and you will catch a lot more dirty air in your house. It has a 10-year clean coil guarantee, provided you’re replacing it as recommended. It’s 85-90% more efficient than one-inch filters.

Do HEPA Filters Work?

More particles are caught with HEPA filters, including:

  • Pollen
  • Mold spores
  • Bacteria
  • Pet dander
  • Dust

The Aprilaire allows more air and catches more junk because it has more surface area. Because it stays cleaner longer, it also lets more air in.The heating/cooling system is more efficient and will last longer.

Drawbacks of using HEPA Filters 

Higher cost. These pros/cons will be true across the price spectrum, but I also want to look at the pros and cons within different filter types.

Some of these have a carbon insert (which is rated MERV 13), which is effective at neutralizing cooking odors, pet odors, and similar smells.

You can even go as high as the filter rated at MERV 16, which is specially designed for asthma and allergy sufferers. It is the most effective option for removing cigarette smoke as well as viruses.

Common Air Contaminants

HVAC Filters Replacement

A standard MERV 11 or MERV 13 should be changed once a year, whereas a MERV 13 with the carbon insert and the MERV 16 will likely need to be replaced twice a year.

What I recommend for the once-a-year filters is to pull it out every six months and see what it looks like. Just because we can say it lasts for 12 months, if you never clean your ducts, and you have dogs, it’s going to get dirty real fast.

The next year, as it starts to get some of the existing dust and such out of the ductworks, it may last a year. But in the first year, more than likely, you should be at least looking at it after 6 months.

So when we talk about our “We do it right or we don’t do it” philosophy, we want to make sure that we have not only the customer’s comfort concerns in mind, but also if we’re about to put in a very good system installed properly, we have one problem. We can do our job properly, I can do my job properly; the customer has to replace the filter when it’s recommended.

Buy Your Filter

When we say a system will last 15-20 years, there’s the assumption that they're going to change their filters. A one-inch filter should be changed every one to two months; most people won’t do that.

If they’re not going to change their filter, I don't care how good the installation is, it’s not going to do what it’s supposed to do. But if we install one that needs to be replaced once a year, they are more likely to do that.

Reme Halo Air Purifier

The filter is not going to kill everything. But we can complement a HEPA filter with a Reme Halo Air Purifier.

The Halo works in a couple of different ways. The first is UV light. It also has a sibling version that uses LED light, but the principle is the same.

Reme Halo

The second thing it does is releases charged particles into your home that bond with particulates in your air, neutralizing them.

This has several health benefits:

  • It bonds with particles that cause odors.
  • The bonded particles are more easily caught in your system’s filtration. This means less dust, dirt, and grime throughout the home.
  • It has been proven to neutralize many viruses, including MRSA, Listeria, Norwalk, bird flu, and tuberculosis.

The Reme Halo Air Purifier has been extensively tested on the novel coronavirus and found to be 99.9% effective at neutralizing it. We’ve been installing this product for years, which already neutralizes many common flus and other diseases.

The cost for equipment and installation is $999. For many families with yearly flu concerns, or those who are elderly or immunocompromised, this is a steal, because it’s proactive protection against something that puts your family in danger and wrecks your overall health.

What Filters Won’t Do

Even the best filter will not prevent mold growth, nor will it rid your house of mold. To permanently remove the source of moldy odors, it is necessary to remove the mold itself with a cleanser. You will also need to eliminate the sources of moisture that allowed it to grow.

Next Steps:

In any case, it’s a question of what you want or need for your home and family, and what you’re willing to pay to get the greatest return on your investment. The higher-end products aren’t just empty money. There are tangible benefits associated with them, as we’ve discussed.

Like any HVAC decision, a HEPA filter is a significant investment. We realize that it won’t work for every budget or household. But we wouldn’t continue to offer it if we didn’t think it was worth the cost for any home owner concerned about their health and safety.

So if you’re in Central Ohio and are ready to install yours, or even just to have a conversation about the benefits of a Reme Halo, give us a call or click the button below to get started. We’re looking forward to helping you stay safe.

We also have a place where you can order your own filter, where you can search by brand or size, and have the filter delivered to your doorstep.

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