Types of Whole House Air Filters

Air filters and purifiers are designed to remove allergens from your home’s air. There are various types of air filters available, with some performing better than others. An air filter can be installed in your heating, ventilation, or air-conditioning system to clean the air throughout your home.
Today’s more tightly built homes keep the weather out, but they also keep contaminants in. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air we breathe indoors, where we spend up to 90% of our time, can be more polluted than city smog.

And the dirt you see is just the start. That dust on end tables and bookshelves is only a fraction of what’s in the air: an invisible mix of dust mites, pollen, dander, mold, and smoke that can be irritating to breathe and potentially harmful to your health The first line of defense against airborne contaminants is to keep your home clean and well ventilated. However, for some sensitive people, this may not be sufficient. This is where air filters come into play.

How do air filters in the home work?

Household air filters are classified into two types: media filters, which create a physical barrier that traps minute particles, and electronic filters, which attract and capture contaminants using a high-voltage charge.

A few hybrid air filters combine both methods, and some include activated carbon elements to combat odor. Learn about the various types of air purifiers listed below.
Air filters are typically either built into the heating and cooling system (whole house filters) or stand alone units that can be placed in individual rooms (portable filters with self-contained fans).

There are four types of whole-house air purifiers

The most efficient way to filter household air is to use the forced-air heating or central air-conditioning system in your home. The filters are installed in the return-air ductwork and trap particles as the air passes through.
Such systems are passive; as long as the fan is running, they continuously filter all of the air in your home. There are four types of whole-house purifiers.

1. Filters that are flat

If you have a forced-air furnace, you already have a basic air-filtration system in place: that matted-fiberglass filter that should be replaced once a month.
When it becomes clogged with dust, it stops working and overworks the furnace. In fact, those filters are intended to protect your furnace from large dust particles, and while they may keep surfaces in your home cleaner, they will not block the microscopic particles that are particularly irritating to lung tissue

Pleated filters, which pack more material into the same amount of space, are slightly more expensive but perform slightly better. By far the most effective pleated filters are electrostatically charged to attract allergens such as pollen and pet dander. They cost around $15 each and should be changed every two to three months.

2. Media extension filters

Consider an extended media filter to be a stack of furnace filters about 8 inches thick. These boxy units contain an accordion-style pile of filtration media, making them more effective than standard fiberglass filters.
Because the large filter holder must be plumbed into the ductwork, they require professional installation. The price, including installation, ranges from $400 to $600; the $40-to-$60 filters must be replaced every year.

3. Filters, electronic

These high-tech units, also known as electrostatic precipitators, are built into the ductwork. A high-voltage current charges particles as they pass through the air. At the other end of the unit, oppositely charged collector plates act like magnets, attracting particles.

Electronic filters perform particularly well on smoke particles that are too small to be trapped by media filters. According to one independent test, such filters performed about 30 times better than standard fiberglass filters. (Because performance is affected by a home’s blower and ductwork, there is no industry yardstick for measuring the effectiveness of whole house units.)


Electronic filters, unlike media filters, do not need to be replaced, but the aluminum collector plates must be cleaned in soapy water every few months. Ionization, the process of charging particles, may produce trace amounts of ozone, a lung irritant. Installing electronic filters costs $600 to $1,000 and requires a 120-volt electrical outlet.

4. Ultraviolet filters

People who are primarily concerned about germs should consider purchasing an ultraviolet filter. UV filters are typically built-in components that are sold as add-ons to a whole-house electronic precipitator (as in, $400 to $800).
Because ultraviolet light kills airborne bacteria and viruses, hospitals use UV air filters in tuberculosis wards. Of course, the bug must pass through the filter before it can be zapped; if someone sneezes in your face, UV technology will be useless.

Why would you use an air filter?

A vehicle’s engine air filter protects your engine against damage caused by dirt, dust, sand, and other impurities, but if it clogs up, your vehicle’s performance may suffer. The air that your car carries into the cabin is cleaned by a cabin air filter.

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