MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. Developed in 1987 by ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning), the MERV system is a scale used to measure the effectiveness of air filters. With the MERV ratings system in place, consumers are able to easily compare the effectiveness of the different air filters available. Although there may be some differences in the material, quality and construction of air filters, the MERV system provides clarity in what level of filtration can be expected from an air filter with a specific MERV rating. This basically means that any MERV 8 rated air filter will filter the same as another with a MERV 8 rating.
Ranging from 1-16, MERV ratings score the performance level of a filter related to the removal of airborne particles from 0.3-10 microns in size. Used as the measurement for airborne particles, a micron is 1/1000th mm which is equal to 1/25,000ths of an inch. Typically, particles are visible to the human eye beginning around 20 microns; however, in the right conditions, it is sometimes possible to see particles as small as 10 microns. To put that into perspective, a dot (.) is just about 600 microns.
Comparing MERV Ratings
The table below shows a low-level comparison of MERV ratings. Check out our MERV Rating Comparison chart for a more in depth look at the differences.
|System Protection Level||Dust Control Level||Allergy Concern Level|
Buying Filters with High MERV Ratings
Logic would make it seem that you would want to buy a filter with the highest MERV rating possible, right? Oddly, that is not necessarily the case.
You now know that air filters with high MERV ratings means the filter is very effective in preventing harmful airborne particles from circulating throughout your home. However, a high MERV rating filter could also be overly effective which, in turn, can prevent the air itself from being to circulate. This is a bad thing and the result may be poorer air quality in your home. Also, if the air is unable to circulate due to more resistance, your HVAC is doing more work than it should be. The result is an inefficient HVAC system, high energy bills, and it can even lead to costly repairs in the long run.
What MERV Rating Should I Buy?
This really all depends upon your individual HVAC system, but for a typical home the ideal MERV rating would be between 8 and 13. The most important thing when choosing an air filter, regardless of MERV rating, is that is compatible with your HVAC system. You may think that selecting high MERV rating filters will remove more of the harmful particles from your home, but too high of a MERV rating could actually reduce the air quality of the air you breathe in your home. Filters with higher MERV ratings also have to be changed more frequently than those with a lower MERV rating.
Filters with MERV ratings higher than 16 are available, however, they are thicker and denser and your typical residential HVAC system cannot readily handle them. And, as stated before, they can actually interfere with the airflow by restricting it. This in turn could actually reduce the effectiveness of your heating and cooling systems and can even result in damage to the HVAC equipment. You should consult with an HVAC professional to make sure that your HVAC system can handle filters with MERV ratings higher than 16 before buying and installing one.
If you still want the filtration of a MERV 16 but your HVAC system can’t handle it, there are additional units that can be installed along with your HVAC system that are designed for air filtration and purification. These air cleaners can provide an additional step “on top” of the regular filtering, thus cleaning your air even further.
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