What Is a HEPA Filter?
The acronym HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air and is a type of air filter. They were initially commercialized in the 1950s with the term HEPA becoming a registered trademark and later a generic term for high efficiency filters. The acronym can also stand for:
- High Efficiency Particulate Absorber Filter
- High Efficiency Particulate Arresting Filter
- High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance Filter
In order to qualify as HEPA, a filter must meet the requirements set by the United States Department of Energy. These qualifications state that for a filter to qualify, it must remove 99.97% of particles that are greater than or equal to 0.3 µm (macrometer) in size.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has further rating classifications for HEPA filters relating to their local and total retention capabilities. The NIOSH categories regarding local retention are:
H13 > 99.75%
H14 > 99.975%
U15 > 99.9975%
U16 > 99.99975%
U17 > 99.9999%
HEPA Filters Uses
Today HEPA filters are used in many commercial applications, but they mainly used for medical purposes, and in high-tech industries like aerospace and integrated circuit manufacturing, as well as in both the automobile and aircraft industries. There are also HEPA filters used in water purification systems; however, in these applications the term HEPA air filter is moot as the filters are used for the removal of contaminates found in water and not the air.
There are products out there that will use terms such as “HEPA-type”, “HEPA-like”, “HEPA-style” or “99% HEPA” on their marketing materials but these do not, in fact, meet the requirements to qualify and they most likely have not been tested in independent laboratories.
HEPA Filters for Home Air Conditioning Use
It is uncommon and generally not recommended to use a HEPA air filter in a traditional home HVAC system. There are some homes that have been built to accommodate their use, however, a typical home air conditioning system would require costly modifications in order to handle the installation of a true HEPA system. The whole Air Conditioning system would need to be redesigned the typical home AC system’s duct work and air-handler would not be able to handle the increased air flow resistance of a HEPA filter. Not to mention the cost and size of HEPA filters would be exorbitant. The good thing is that if you want a highly effective filter for your home, the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) reports that AC filters with a 7 – 13 MERV rating are as “likely to be nearly as effective as true HEPA filters”.
The HEPA Filter For Home Use: The Bottom Line
With all of the false advertising out there, many people may think they have or can have a HEPA filter in their home. Unfortunately, there is no inexpensive or easy way to have actual HEPA filtration in the home as it is more than just an air filter, it’s an entire system. There is a particular configuration needed to run the system and the buildings they’re installed in have to have a positive-pressure seal. You’ll know this is installed when you hear a whooshing sound as the doors are open and closed, like in a hospital.
HEPA filters are also made to order in a sterile lab and individually tested for each customer. There are numerous other variables that come into play before production can even begin, such as factory testing requirements, media capacity, frame materials, gaskets and sealants. There is no HEPA filter created that can be sent by regular ground mail; each one must be sent with a private carrier. Their cost is well out of range for home use as well with each filter costing anywhere between $200 to over $1000, plus freight. For all these reasons, it is apparent that HEPA filters are not intended for home use. Although not impossible to have a HEPA system in your home, it is a specific and cost-prohibitive option that is not easily accomplished unless your home is built from the ground up and constructed under HEPA requirements.
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