Looking to Reopen? Your Guide to Navigating Filter Rating Requirements

Posted by Barry Kindt on

Although COVID-19 vaccinations are increasing, the possibility of contracting and having prolonged health issues due to COVID-19 is still a prevalent fear for many people. 

Because of this, the economy (especially small business owners) is continually struggling as customers who would typically shop in-store have not yet returned. With more businesses looking for better ways to protect their patrons and staff and give them peace of mind, many products are being released into the market with claims of effectively reducing the airborne transmission of COVID-19. Various health and safety organizations recommend upgrading your business’ air filters to ones that are rated at a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of level 13 or higher. MERV 13 filters are at least 90% effective when trapping air particles that are as small as 1.0 microns. COVID-19 can have a particle diameter of up to 1.4 microns, which is why a MERV 13 filter or higher is commonly recommended.

However, is a MERV 13 filter right for your system, and could it have more overall cons than pros?

The Added Stress to Your HVAC System

Due to the finer filter media in a MERV 13 filter, installing one into your unit can actually increase the load on your fan. This can result in a reduction of airflow, causing more harm than good. Many facilities have HVAC systems that have a MERV 8 or MERV 9 limitation. Should a business use a MERV 13 air filter in a unit that was not built to work with it, you could be contributing long-term damage to your system that can drastically shorten its lifespan.

And if your entire unit isn’t suffering from having an incorrect filter installed, your electric bill will. By placing a heavier load on your system’s fan, your entire system will require more power to run. 

One study shows that switching from a MERV 8 to MERV 13 filter for your HVAC system can increase your energy expenditure by $0.02 per square foot. While that may seem like a small number, when you begin to add up the square footage of your business, you can begin to see an increase of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in your energy bill and maintenance costs just by making the filter switch.

An Alternative to MERV 13 Filters

This is where a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can come into play. A HEPA filter far exceeded a MERV 13 filter’s capabilities prior to COVID-19 and has since pulled farther ahead in the race for “best filter” since the pandemic. 

All HEPA filters have a rating of MERV 17 or higher, will trap 99.97% air particles that are as small as 0.3 microns, and in some cases, will actually trap air particles even smaller. When looking at hospital rooms, you’ll most likely see a HEPA filter being used, catching viruses and bacteria that could otherwise harm a patient's health. 

However, you’ll find the same problems here that you would with a MERV 13 filter when it comes to cost. Many existing HVAC systems will need a standalone or portable HEPA air filtration system (like our Abatement Technologies Central Air Purifier series) with its own dedicated fan due to the airflow limitation the fine filter media creates in HVAC systems not designed with HEPA filters in mind. It’s also available with germicidal UV!

So, What's the Solution while Also Combating COVID-19?

Your HVAC system needs airflow to perform properly, and while MERV 13 and HEPA filters are more efficient at trapping COVID-19 particles than other filters, the effects on your overall system can be detrimental. To truly understand the best filter for your HVAC system, review your system’s user manual or consult a HVAC professional to understand your system’s air flow requirements.

Have a system that isn’t MERV rated? We can help! Contact us today and we’ll help you find a safe and effective solution for your system.