The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published guidance for businesses seeking to return to work during the coronavirus pandemic. Guidelines include instructions for businesses to ‘improve central air filtration to MERV-13 or the highest [standard] compatible with the filter rack, and to seal edges of the filter to limit bypass.’
MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. A MERV-13 rating means a filter is able to catch 90% of particles in the 3-10 micron (μm) range, 90% of particles in the 1-3μm range, and 50% of particles in the range of 0.3-1μm. (Higher air resistance when using these filters can translate into higher energy usage.)
Air filtration systems
Use of more effective air filters is especially desirable in large indoor spaces as a means of combating the spread of the coronavirus. For example, as a condition of reopening shopping malls in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo required mall owners to upgrade their air filtration systems to a MERV-13 rating, if compatible, and no less than MERV-11 if compatibility is an issue.
But as more businesses reopen, there is concern about a possible shortage of MERV-13 filters
But as more businesses reopen, there is concern about a possible shortage of MERV-13 filters. The impact of such a shortage might be to limit the ability of offices, retailers and schools to reopen safely and return to business. In normal times, the demand for MERV-13 filters is limited to a small percentage of facilities – typically around 5% including industrial and/or medical facilities that have specialized air quality concerns.
Existing supply channels
However, the short-term spike has increased demand by up to 10 times, according to some estimates. The high cost of increasing production, especially in response to what will likely be a short-term demand, is another obstacle to delivering enough product to the market. Machinery to make the filters is expensive and would not likely provide a long-term return on investment (ROI) as demand subsides.
Supply shortages may especially impact schools and shopping malls, which have not previously used the filters and therefore do not have existing supply channels. Facilities such as hospitals that have existing relationships with suppliers may not feel the shortage as acutely. Currently, MERV-8 filters are in much wider usage, but they are considered less effective in removing the coronavirus from filtered air.
Adequate supply of filter media
If the recommendation from the CDC [becomes] a regulatory requirement, this is going to be a crisis"
Some filter manufacturers reportedly have begun regulating which orders they fill in order to distribute the stock more evenly. Filter manufacturers say they are working hard to bring additional product to market, including working extra shifts at factories. However, adequate supply of filter media, a component of the filters, is an issue.
The same filter media is used in masks and respirators, which are also in high demand during the pandemic. “We’re 60 days out on our MERV-13 supply,” Danny Miller, President of Transformative Wave, told Fortune. “If the recommendation from the CDC [becomes] a regulatory requirement, this is going to be a crisis. The supply doesn’t exist right now.”
Key industry participants
Grainger, a large industrial supply wholesaler, reportedly has completely depleted its stock of MERV-13 filters due to the pandemic. Filtration is only part of the solution to fight coronavirus in a building environment. The air also needs to circulate in a building adequately to bring the floating virus particles to the filter.
The market for HVAC filters is competitive and moderately fragmented with key industry participants including Koch, Spectrum Filtration, Tex-Air, Parker Hannifin, Emirates Industrial, and Troy Filters, according to Global Market Insights, a market research firm.