In the last 10 years, many new products have been introduced by filter manufacturers in the category of pleated air filters. Filter materials have changed, a variety of efficiencies are now available, and prices vary depending on the type of product. When selecting pleated air filters for customer service contracts, often price is the focus and sole determining factor for making a purchase decision. Maintaining IAQ at the lowest possible cost often overlooks other factors, which directly affect the product’s cost. With a little information and analysis, the best product for the application can be determined and a cost-saving proposal presented to the customer based on their budget goals.


Of the many considerations used when evaluating an air filter, price is a single component of the purchasing decision. Other components traditionally considered in the decision are quality, performance, and service. Quality can be the construction features of the product and its durability or its visual appearance. Performance is determined by the product’s efficiency, initial pressure drop, media area, and dust-holding capacity. Service can be how and when the work is performed, or the recommendation and experience of a knowledgeable contractor.

To do a complete analysis of the best filter for the application, it is important to keep the analysis of these other factors in the forefront and to minimize price as the sole determining factor for the filter purchase. The simple analysis outlined will help in making this decision.

For simplicity, the generically referenced differences in pleated filters - high-capacity, standard-capacity, and economy models - will be used with the same efficiency (MERV 7 based on ASHRAE 52.2). The table on page 14 lists the different models and their performance criteria.

One can reason that the three products compared here have approximately the same frame material costs, labor, adhesives, and manufacturing overhead. The only variation is the filter media area or type of filter material. The table shows that the more expensive filter (high-capacity) is actually the economy filter (lowest operating cost) based on service life expectancy.

Less filter media lowers the product’s price (it is typically the highest cost raw material of the product), but it also dramatically cuts the product’s capacity. One pays a lower piece price for the economy model, but gets a lot less product. While this seems obvious, customers do not normally do this analysis on their own. It is important to help customers be aware that buying solely on price will surely cost them in the end.

TABLE 1. (Click on the table for an enlarged view.)

*Based on dust-loading of 364 grams/year.
**Based on estimated user price.


One of the best ways I have discovered to lead into this discussion when somebody asks me for a “price” on a pleated filter is to quote in cost per gram. (See Table 1.) For example, “Mr. Customer, I have one filter that costs you 0.034¢/gram, another 0.042¢/gram, and another 0.063¢/gram.” Stating the price in this manner is usually enough to communicate the message and trigger their curiosity.

When the customer asks you to explain the concept, this is your chance to break away from price as the sole determining factor for the purchase. This is your chance to go through the analysis of capacity and service life. Another way to state this to your customer is that by investing 20 percent more in the cost for the filter, 33.5 percent is gained in performance capacity when comparing high-capacity and standard-capacity models.

This difference in price is even greater comparing the standard-capacity and economy models; for a 20 percent higher purchase cost, nearly 47 percent in performance capacity is gained. In the end, the least expensive priced filter costs more.

In the analysis we have left out the other recurring costs like the cost of purchase orders, maintenance to service the filters, and shipping costs, which can also be mentioned and even measured.

Sometimes this discussion works with the person making the filter purchase, be it maintenance, purchasing, or engineering. Other times it is necessary to move up a level and make the presentation for someone who has responsibility for larger budgets beyond the immediate purchase and will appreciate the long-term effect of the analysis.

It is important to discuss the service and maintenance goals with your customer. Knowing how often equipment maintenance is required is a step toward offering a cost-effective filter solution. In an application where a filter is replaced monthly due to some process requirement, it makes little sense to install a filter that could last up to six months. But if the customer desires to optimize the filter changeout cycle at the lowest possible cost, then knowing the different products available can give you the tools to make the proper recommendation and reduce the customer’s annual filter budget.