Air Filters and Home Depots Dirty Little Secret

Do you buy air filters for you house?  What am I saying… of course you do. Just about everyone does.

Are you over paying for air filters?

You probably are.   I did.  For 7 years I overpaid.

Then last year I found a place to buy them online that’s much cheaper.  And this year when I went to do some research for this article I discovered that some companies within the air filter industry are trying to pull a fast one on YOU!

air filter tips and discounts

Look – I’m not a conspiracy nut or something like that.  I’m just a Dad who has a family to support and a house to keep up.  I take out the trash and I change the filters – these are some of my best contributions to the house.  That… and my insane knowledge of how to hook up electronics.

I know this is my basement finishing website but I thought you guys would appreciate hearing my story and getting less expensive filters (of the same quality).

First, let’s start with why I’m angry at Home Depot.

MERV vs FPR

At some point last year Home Depot stopped selling filters that list their MERV rating.  Instead they use a rating call FPR.  It doesn’t matter what these stand for what matters is the MERV is a universal industry rating and FPR is a made up rating by the manufacturer.

I talked with Sanjay, at my Home Depot in Reston VA,  for about 30 minutes about this and he said he didn’t know about MERV ratings and couldn’t tell me what the equivalent FPR would be.

Really Sanjay…?   Well that’s shocking!

Especially since you are self-proclaimed filter department guru here at the HD.

I’m mad at HD because without the MERV rating it’s very difficult to compare their pricing with the pricing online or at other retailers.

Get Furnace Filters at 50% Off

Let me get to the guts here.  A MERV 8 “equivalent” filter at Home Depot is between an FPR 7 and FPR 9. The price is around $10.97 per filter.  A MERV 8 rated filter where I buy my filters is $6.99. And if you buy 12 or more during an order (which I recommend) then the price drops to $5.99.  (all pricing was as of Jan. 2013)

The price is the same regardless of filter size – that’s the same at Home Depot or online.

I buy my air filters at www.rememberthefilter.com.

Orders over $29 get free shipping. Return shipping is also free, if for some reason you get the wrong size or just have a problem.

Air filters full box

Here’s my stack of filters (3 years worth). The kids are into the game MineCraft. Charlotte’s pretending to be a creeper. Kids love boxes!

Order an Entire Box

If you’re trying to find time to finish your basement or anything in life for that matter you need to MAKE time where you can.

Buying air filters is a waste of time.  You have to remember the size, go to the store, find the right brand and do this 3 or 4 times a year.

Instead you should go online, order a full box of filters  (there are 12 in a box).  Now your set for at least 3 years. You get the discount and the free shipping.

You’re going to buy filters, no matter what, so you might as well save time and money.

MERV 8, The Only MERV for ME

Use MERV 8.  You don’t need anything higher (and more expensive) to protect your HVAC.  If you have allergies, try a higher rating, but if you don’t notice a difference (fewer symptoms) go back to 8. Try a dedicated air filter appliance instead.

Don’t believe the hype of FPR.  It’s strictly a marketing plow.  I’m not saying Home Depot filters (Honeywell and Rheem) are bad.  I just think they’re mis-leading and over priced.

By the way, the brand I buy is called ‘NaturalAire‘.  But it really doesn’t matter – the MERV rating is what matters.

You can buy the next level down from MERV 8 but most of the websites I investigated and A/C guys I talked to said going lower than 8 could harm your HVAC unit.  From what I can tell FPR 4 at the HD is a level below MERV 8.

A Few Thoughts on Air Filter Life

All of the standard home air filters are rated for 90 days.  Regardless of rating they are all set to work for about 90 days.

But! Not just any 90 days. 

If it’s spring or fall and you’re not running the air very much then your filter can go longer.  It’s just sitting there it’s not collecting dust and junk.

To really know when you need to change it you need to look at it.  Does it look grey to dark grey?  Probably time to change it. If it’s not greyish then don’t change it, even if it as been 90 days.

Of course, the opposite can be true.  We had a long haired grey cat (R.I.P. “Mouse”) and our filters needed to be replaced every 60 days or so during the heavy winter months.

Oh, and don’t delay changing it because you want to save money.  An A/C unit with a dirty filter uses more electricity to pull the air through – I did the math (yes, I’m a big nerd) you’re losing more money by not changing it.

3 Tips to make Filter Changing the Ultimate fun

air filter knife

I use this knife for other things, but above all its my air filter knife.

I now have about 12 years of house ownership experience.  So I like to think I know a thing or two about how to do shit around the house (pardon my language, but I’m old).  Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way.

1. Dedicate a knife just for filter changing.   Here’s mine.  I use it to cut open the plastic wrapping, prior open the latch on the grate and sometimes pry out the filter if it’s really stuck in there.

2. Protect your carpet by using the plastic or paper from the new filter to hold the dirty filters until your done. I have 3 to replace upstairs, this makes it easy.

3. If you buy the wrong size (not that I did, I’m just sayin’… suppose you did) outline the size you need and use some scissors to cut it.  Works fine without the frame on two sides.

cut air filter to fit

Final Word on Air Filters

Buy them online and save about $60 on a box of 12 versus a retail store.  For me, with 4 filters types (1 in the basement and 3 upstairs) I saved  $239.36. 

basement finishing jason 205

WOW!  I shocked and saddened that I had so much to say about air filters.  But… it must be said. I’ll counter it this weekend with a lot of foosball and Miller Lites to keep the universe from tipping over.

Leave a comment below if you’ve got some more filter knowledge or tips.

Cheers –  Jason

I am an affiliate for Rememberthefilter.com. This means that if you use the links in this article I earn a small commission   This in no way affects your price nor does it influence my opinion of the company. The commission I earn helps support this website and fund my future basement theater room.  Just wanted to be upfront with you.  Thanks for supporting the site!

 

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Questions and Comments

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment.

  1. Matt says

    Some things just need to be said. Thanks for saying them.
    I too am getting old and pissed about proprietary rating systems.
    Thanks for the follow up. How did you eventually determine FPR 7-9 was MERV 8?

    • says

      Hey Matt – I did some research and read a few articles on this. Based on the testing results and pricing tiers This is about where the MERV 8 falls. It also makes sense from a marketing stand point. Home depot wants to charge more for the same filter so they’re rating nicely comes in at a 9, which is higher than 8. Of course, a lot of people won’t realize that it’s a 9 on a completely different and arbitrary scale. So they charge more because you “think” you’re getting more. But to me, you’re just paying more – a lot more. – Jason

  2. Matt says

    On the Home Depot site, they post that FPR 7 & 9 are both MERV 11. Of course, everything on the internet must be true.

  3. Bubba Bouy says

    Home Depot sucks!!… Buy the correct size filters. Do not waste your time cutting them down McGeiver. They will not seal properly in the return air filter grille after you cut them. MERV is the industry standard for air filter rating. FPR is just a number, it means nothing.

  4. Mary says

    Those disposable furnace filters are sooooo expensive nowadays, it makes me shudder. We home owners, mostly working middle class, taxed to death by the local and federal governments: income tax, real estate tax, car tax, sales tax, etc, etc, ,not much left in our pockets to keep up with the raising prices of food and other necessity, one of them is the furnace filters!
    Thank you for writing this article, every dime we can save counts.

    • Retired says

      Electro Static metal Filters..
      Cost $30
      Remove them once a Month during Heating Season, otherwise every 3 mos rest of Yr when only use your A/C
      _Use anykind of Decent Spray Cleaner- Even Vineger and Water or Some Bleach cleaner
      Spray it on in the utility Sink, let it set for a Few min, hose it off.. let dry for a Few Min\Done deal.. We do ours When do Laundry in same Utility room
      Just use a FPF or wather of 7 or Higher..
      And Buy On Line? Sure, after pay Shipping costs? Your paying the same vs In a Store.. Aren’t you?
      And remember, The higher the Rating, the thicker it is and Less Air and heat Gets thru..You will have to Set your Blower to run an extra 1-2 min Longer every cycle…

      Top Electronic Cleaners are the Best.. but Cost $ 2-$300
      and Clean your Ducts! Every Year Minimum..
      a Simple HD Vacum with a 10 ft Extension Hose is all you need.
      Do every Floor Vent..
      Spray with LYSOL when done..

      We also Run a Seperate Air Cleaner In the house.. -On a Timer..
      On Low Speed..

  5. KM says

    For 1″ thick filters above 24″ there is a added charge,..a high added charges. If you need the larger filters go to http://www.filterfast.com. You will have to pay a $5.95 shipping, but you can add as many 6 packs as you want and still only pay the same shipping. Also, at least once per year at a minimum, homeowners should clean the evaporator coils on your ac along with spraying down the compressor coils. Also, it is wise to drop a cup of bleach down your ac condensation line as it will keep bacteria and algae from clogging the line.

  6. Jack says

    Great post – I think you summarized the situation well. I have sort of a hybrid solution in that during the time I run the system the most I use the disposable filter that I can pitch and the rest of the time I have a set of reusable filters that can be hosed down and put back in place. My filters are easily accessible so that isn’t an issue for me. Again, thanks for the effort and research.

    • says

      Jack – Great price! I’m going to re-compare all of the Remember the Filter pricing and perhaps update the post. Thanks for commenting. – Jason

  7. Dan says

    You’re all wasting your money on replaceable filters! Purchase a $20 – $30 washable MERV 8 filter. To clean, simply run a sweeper over both sides to remove dust, hair, etc. then spray water through one side of the filter in the same direction as the air flow (indicated by arrows on edge label). Be sure to spray each cell (I think of it as an Excel spreadsheet spraying every row and then column of the filter). Lastly take your leaf blower and blow through one side of the filter in the same direction as the air flow to dry and remove any remaining small obstructions. The filter is now good as new!

    I’ve had excellent results with filters lasting 10+ years without any crap from the air or filter itself getting into the AC unit. Even though it’s a 3 step cleaning process every month or two (depending on use and/or season) it is well worth the cost savings and filtered air that my family breathes.

    • says

      Dan – This is some great insight on washable filters. I always wondered if those worked as well as the paper based. That being said, for me personally, I’m sticking with paper – because I don’t really like washing the filter each month. I agree that it would be cheaper, but I just don’t like doing it. I do like having a reason to fire up my leaf blower though…

  8. longbeachyo says

    Very nice. Now you need to tackle the TV industry and their arbitrary “response time” ratings… Ready, set, GO!

  9. Gustavo says

    Jason, you have different sizes filters, are you using a cascading filtering system? I have but one filter – at the indoor coil – but I was wondering what effect it would be in the system if I added filters at the return registers.

  10. Paul says

    Here’s another website with good prices. I have a 20 X 36 X 1 filter. I have been using True Blue, bought at Home Depot. It’s the FPR 5 rating. HD has been the only place that carries my size (not even Lowe’s carries that size). I looked at various websites and the prices for a MERV 8 were ridiculous. I found this site, http://www.filters-now.com/ and they have a generic MERV 8 for $4.83 and offer free shipping with a $99 purchase.

  11. says

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  12. Paul says

    Good blog man, your sentiments are probably universal. Although, I don’t know why you are surprised that each company tries to muddy the waters by coming up with their own arbitrary standards to force you to buy their products (Apple, Dell, etc). Until we tell them by not buying their products unless they use an industry standard, they will continue to obfuscate (MERV, FPR, MPR) as long as they can.
    So keep on using your space to illuminate this kind of stupidity and help the rest of us see past the bu$$@#*t!

  13. Rina says

    Should the filter stick out at all or should it fit flush with the unit? I don’t want to have to dig for it, but I want to ensure it is the ideal size to be the most efficient.

    • says

      Hi Rina – The air filter should be flush. Mine is the same way, a bit tricky to grab and pull out. I bought a cheap pair of pliers and I just leave them their right next to the air filter in my basement HVAC. – Jason

  14. Overzeetop says

    FYI – using a lower MERV filter will not damage your furnace. On the contrary, using a very high MERV may (though it’s unlikely). A low MERV rating means that it does not pull as much dust out of the air, which means the filtration is less efficient. The damage to the furnace comes when you have too much resistance and the airflow over the coil is insufficient to remove the heat which can damage the modern, thing (and efficient) heat exchanger fins or insufficient to prevent icing of the fins in cooling periods.

    Higher MERV usually means higher resistance to airflow for the same filter type (exceptions, of course, exist). Don’t fear a low MERV for HVAC damage, just realize that it will not filter as well as a higher rated filter.

    • says

      I 100% agree here on the higher merv. A bit higher is probably fine, but be careful if you decide to go all clean air crazy – you absolutely can damage your HVAC and it’s VERY expensive. – Jason

  15. David says

    So for years I’ve been buying HD’s Honeywell FPR7 filter and always wondering if I should be getting the higher FPR9. Everyone in the family has allergies of one kind or another so I felt that I was maybe being a little cheap by going with the FPR7. So this last time I brought home an FPR9. After pulling off the wrapping I studied both the old FPR7 and the new FPR9 and, aside from the dirt in the old filter, I could see absolutely no difference between the two. Same cheap cardboard frame, same flimsy webbing. Is there really ANY difference between the two? I was really expecting some kind of numerical code on the frame that may have been different between the two filters. Nothing. Now I’m wondering if, perhaps, it’s the same filter and just repackaged (with the outer wrapper) for a different price point. I have perused many of the earlier comments on this site and agree that I probably shouldn’t be buying the filters through HD anyway – but I’m still curious.

    • Steve P says

      I was looking for the same thing and nada. If a mistake was made at the packaging facility no one would even know! Last filter I buy from Home Depot. Hopefully other places will have the pertinent info or some kind of identifier on the filter itself.

    • says

      Hey David – I’m by no means an “expert” on filters and I’m still pissed at HD for making life harder for everyone but I don’t think they would deliberately lie with the packaging. There is a difference in the thickness of the weaving of the higher MERV filter.

      Now… for my personal opinion, which is backed by waaayy to many hours reading articles online – paying extra for the 9 versus the 7 will not noticeable reduce allergies. Of course everyone is different, and maybe for your family that would make a difference or “seam” to make a difference but to me there are a lot of other things you should do that will make a much bigger impact than the air filter. The whole point of the air filter is to protect your HVAC unit, not filter the air for breathing. The marketing for these air filters has just gone bonkers with this whole “health” angle.

      If you want to clean the air (for breathing sake) then buy a really good air cleaner! Like this one here. Good luck, allergies suck! – Jason

    • says

      Chico – Yes! This is exactly the kind of pricing shenanigans you have to watch out for and why I don’t trust Home Depot (when it comes to filters). The links you list are not the same MERV filter rating. The HD version is much less effective filter lower. For me, I like MERV 8, you can get a box of MERV 8 filters (that’s 12 in a box) for about $45 on Amazon (that’s with shipping included). At home depot an equivalent box CAN’T BE FOUND! You can buy the next level up from MERV 8 which they call FPR 8 and it costs $96! Or you can buy the next level down, which I think is to flimsy for about $10 less.

      I know it’s confusing, by that’s my whole point – they’re confusing on purpose. My advice, no matter where you buy your filters – only buy ones that rate using the national standard, which is MERV, do not buy FPR. Then compare price. You can’t go wrong with Amazon. – Jason

  16. Cindy says

    Ok, yes I’m a woman, but because I’m the financial person in the family I have wanted a way to compare ratings and prices as well. Found your blog in my most recent search, but as I continued on in the quest to find a way to compare I found this handy chart: http://www.iallergy.com/filtrete-air-filter-comparison.php It doesn’t solve all the questions but it’s the only place I found that at least gives a good reference to start!

  17. Greg Nichols says

    I have a high velocity furnace; I MUST have wire reinforced fikters. If I order from your recommended web site, how do I know that that is what will arrive in the ordered box?

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