Changing the air filter on your HVAC system is extremely important. Forced air systems (AC) require unobstructed airflow to operate so when your filter is clean the unit works much easier. This in turn lowers your utility bills, enables your AC to have a longer lifespan, and even provides a more pure air supply into your home (or business).

Now that you know the fact that changing the filter truly is important in maintaining your Air Conditioner, the next phase of being a responsible homeowner is choosing the type of filter. Finding the right air filter is about much more than just selecting the correct size and it’s important to look beyond cost as well. Some homeowners might not even be aware that there were multiple options in air filters at all.

This blog by RCI is to help you learn about filters and select the right type of air filter that is best for you.

Different Types of HVAC Air Filters

The main reason that a variety of AC air filters exist is because some people require a purer breathing air. Those with bad allergies, illnesses, infants, and the elderly simply can’t afford to breathe in air that is filled with dust, debris, and dander.

If you have a lot of pets in your home you may also want to opt for a more protective air filter so the dust mites and hair don’t continually get lodged in your HVAC system. The main types of AC air filters include:

Fiberglass air filters

Fiberglass air filters are a very inexpensive option for homes without pets and for occupants that do not harbor any severe allergies. Fiberglass filters are throwaway pieces that provide results for stopping mostly larger airborne particles.

Polyester or pleated filters

Polyester or pleated filters are a bit more expensive, the polyester filters are very similar to fiberglass except for the fact that they excel better at stopping smaller airborne particles in addition to larger pieces of debris.

HEPA filters

HEPA filters are easily the best choice for the cleanest home air are High Efficiency Particle Arrestance (HEPA) filters. These are constructed of pleated filter paper and synthetic polyester fibers which combine to remove about 85 percent of airborne particles including mold spores. Of course these high performance disposable filters are also the most costly.

Washable Filters

Washable filters are a good option for homeowners that have a hard time justifying the high costs of air filters when they’re just going to be thrown away anyway. The solution is a washable type of filter which is constructed of a washable fiber and encased in an aluminum frame. These filters actually last 3-5 years and only require washing every three months.

Filter Performance and Cost

Like any home service, choosing the right filter will be a delicate balance between performance and cost. Of course any new filter must also be able to fit in your existing HVAC filter slot.

As far as performance, how effectively a filter can trap dirt is based on the MERV rating.

Here is breakdown of what filters are right for you based on their MERV rating and a few other details:


Fiberglass filters are the most affordable and can usually be purchased for less than $5. They require maintenance of changing the filter every three months (or sooner) and have a MERV rating of only 1-4. In actuality fiberglass filters do more to protect your HVAC system than they do to provide an improved air quality but if you’ve got a healthy breathing past they could be your ideal choice.


Pleated air filters are a bit more expensive than fiberglass at about $10-$15 per but the ROI comes in increased air quality with a MERV rating of 8-13. Pleated air filters capture about 45% of indoor air particles but they also don’t restrict air flow to the AC components. The product provides the best marriage of system performance, cost, and air quality. Must be changed monthly.


A $20 investment that lasts 3-5 years, washable air conditioning filters seem like an ideal product especially with MERV ratings of 10 or greater. Unfortunately they also require the maintenance of washing them every three months and might actually harbor mold and germs if installed when not fully dried or cleaned. These are a great product if you have easy access to your AC and the time dedicated to washing the filter.


If you’re especially sensitive to indoor allergens and dander then a HEPA filter probably is your best route to take. The product is more costly at $30-$40 for a one month filter but a MERV rating of 17-20 can be well worth it for those who find it difficult to breathe in their own homes.

AC Filter Selection Summary

When it comes to air filters you’ve got some decisions to make. Perhaps the best course of action is to try all four different types and see which gives you the best combination of indoor air quality but without affecting system performance. As always, give us a call if you’d like more help in getting pointed in the right direction of which air filter is best for you.

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