Reaching a healthy level of indoor air quality is an important aspect of living comfortably, and one of the best ways to do that is by understanding your filter’s MERV rating.

MERV is short for “Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value”. While the air filter is meant to control the amount of unwanted air particles entering your home, the MERV rating on your filter is meant to show you which filter is best fit for your home. The higher the MERV rating, the fewer particles and other contaminants will be allowed into your home.

At first, you may think that choosing the filter that allows the least amount of dirt, dust and other debris into your home is best, but that may not always be the case.

While the highest MERV ratings are the most effective for air quality, they could possibly harm your HVAC system. Finding the best filter for your needs is all about balance.

A higher MERV rating means a higher resistance, which means less airflow. When researching HVAC systems, airflow will come up a lot. That’s because it’s very important for the performance and longevity of your furnace or air handler. Airflow is also the key to a comfortable home.

If the MERV rating on your furnace is too high, it may force your furnace to work too hard and lead to unwarranted repairs. In addition, you may not get the air velocity required to reach all parts of your home, leaving inconsistencies in temperature.

A MERV rating of 13-16 is considered hospital level air quality, so it is unlikely your home needs any more than that. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, filters from the 7-13 range often have little difference from the higher MERV ratings, but they will allow your system to run much more efficiently.

What MERV rating you choose between 7 and 13 depends on what level of filtration you require. If your family has allergies or asthma, a higher MERV rating will be good for you. If your family doesn’t suffer from any breathing difficulties, a lower filter like a 7 will save you some money on your energy bill.