There are a variety of ways you can sanitize things in your home. There are whole house filters that can clean water as it enters your house, and air filters for your HVAC system. Both are efficient and can handle a great deal of contaminants, whether water-based or airborne, but sometimes you may want a little extra protection.
UV filtration is an ideal way to treat bacteria, viruses, and even mold; three things you certainly don’t want to breathe. While most homeowners assume an HVAC UV light is too expensive or difficult to maintain, but that isn’t the case at all. In our guide, we’ll explain the benefits of using a UV light in your HVAC system while providing you with a brief review of some of the top options currently available.
- Air Filters vs. UV Filter
- How a UV Light Works
- How to find the Best HVAC UV Light
- The Best HVAC UV Light Systems
Air Filters vs. UV Filter
When you want clean air in your home, a high-quality air filter generally does the trick for most homeowners. They are capable of removing a multitude of nasty particles from the air and easy to replace. If you currently have a central heating and air system in your home, an air filter is something you should be very familiar with.
An air filter works by trapping particles in the air as they enter the filter, and are usually a few inches thick at most. They are also relatively inexpensive, depending on the MERV, MPR, or FPR rating. The better the filter and the more it blocks, the higher the price tag. Generally, these filters will need to be replaced between 2 to 6 months, depending on the quality of your air.
A UV light built for HVAC systems has a completely different design and purpose. It’s not built for dusty homes or pet dander, but to combat things like mold, bacteria, and viruses. All three can thrive inside your ductwork or on the coils in your unit. UV lights are more expensive initially but can last longer than a regular filter before you need to replace a bulb.
The best HVAC UV lights will stop germs from entering your home, but can also help keep your unit and ductwork clean. It can’t replace a traditional HVAC filter but works well alongside one to combat things an ordinary filter can’t touch.
How a UV Light Works
Unless you understand how a UV light works, having someone tell you that a simple “light” can kill bacteria or microorganisms may seem like rubbish. Well, there’s a reason UV light is so popular in certain industries, and around the home in things like water filtration or even aquariums – it works.
Research has shown that UV-C light with a wavelength of around 254 nanometers can deal with a wide variety of unpleasant viruses, whether single or double-stranded. Simply put, a UV light at a certain wavelength can react with and damage the DNA or RNA of a pathogen. The light disrupts things, so those nasty viruses cannot reproduce, which makes it lethal against things like the Flu or even the E.coli virus.
In order for a UV-C lamp to be powerful enough to kill viruses and bacteria, it has to meet certain criteria. The lethal dosage is calculated by light intensity and exposure time, although there is a range for different types of microorganisms and pathogens. Everything from the position of the lamp to wind chill can affect the kill range, although a few areas are more important.
The power of the bulb or lamp intensity plays a large part in how effective a UV-C light built for an HVAC systems is. The industry standard for lamp life is 8,000 hours, but as the lamps get closer to that number, their potency fades. The types of materials used in the bulb and can have an impact on its longevity. Your ductwork may actually increase the killing power of your system, depending on the type of metal as well.
How to find the Best HVAC UV Light
If you’ve decided that you need a UV system in your home to deal with microorganisms, you may be in for a bit of a shock. There are only a handful of models available, and most have a very similar design. To say the selection is sparse would be an understatement, although you’ll have more luck browsing these systems of systems from brick & mortar stores.
Types of HVAC UV Systems
Unless you live in a laboratory, there are only two types of basic UV systems to consider. Both are geared towards homeowners that need clean air, but there are significant price differences between the two styles. There are also 2-in-1 cleaners as well that are geared to sanitize your system along with the air in your home.
One of the most common types of UV air filters is one that simply sanitizes the air. These lights are installed within the ductwork, come in several styles, including systems with stick bulbs and bulbs that curve into the shape of a U. They are easy to replace or service as needed but can cost more than your next option depending on the brand and style.
Coil UV lights work in the same fashion but are designed to clean the coils of your HVAC system. It’s an area that stays damp, which is the perfect breeding ground for mold. UV-C lights that can handle coils can keep bacteria from building up in that area of your system and reentering your home. They usually run continuously and may not be easy to install as it depends on the pan placement and type of HVAC system you have.
As mentioned, the initial startup cost to purchase an HVAC UV-C light for your system can be expensive. While there are some deals to be found, take a hard look at lamp life before choosing a brand. In some cases, you’ll be able to find replacement bulbs that will work with other systems, but some companies require you to stick to their brand of bulb.
On average, you can expect a UV bulb to last between 1 – 2 years depending on your usage and the quality of the bulb itself. Obviously, any UV system with dual bulbs is going to be more expensive upfront and in the long run. The extra power may be worth it, however, especially if the bulbs will last for a full two years.
If you are uninformed or have been misinformed, you may believe that a UV-C light system for your HVAC unit would be difficult to install. Well, they can be if they are hardwired, although you won’t find any of those units on our list this time around.
With simple HVAC UV lights, you only need to cut a small hole into a vent and run a few screws to attach the base. More often than not, the lights themselves slide into the housing and lock into place. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Alternatively, if you purchase a smart system that’s tethered to your thermostat, installation can be a little more difficult. When you start including modules that send out service calls and smart thermostats that control the airflow, calling a professional may be a good idea.
Installation around coils can be tricky as well, and it’s an area where you’ll need to look at your system and plan ahead. This is also an area where you want to check on the dimensions of the UV light. As it’s installed inside the vent or near a coil, the exterior should never be an issue, but your ductwork can be.
Make sure the bulbs aren’t too long for your ducts. While cord length is a specification that’s difficult to find without making a few phone calls or sending an email, always make sure there’s a power outlet within range of the unit as well before you drill a hole.
Because of their design, durability isn’t something you need to be too concerned about with UV air purifiers for your HVAC system. Once installed, you shouldn’t have to touch them until a bulb needs to be replaced. If the outside of the unit is well-built and sound, durability shouldn’t be an issue, although electrical parts are still involved.
You can expect a warranty ranging from around 1.5 to 2 years with most manufacturers of UV lighting systems. Honeywell and a few other brands provide longer guarantees, but overall these units are generally warrantied for about as long as the bulbs.
If you plan on paying over a couple of hundred bucks for a UV-C light filter, check on replacement parts before settling on a brand. Every company will have replacement bulbs available, but some allow you to replace the ballast or other components as well.
Honeywell SmartLamp UV100E2009
- Bulb: Dual 35-watt
- Runs Continuously: Automatic
- Warranty: 5 years
Field Controls UV-Aire 16
- Bulb: 30 watts
- Runs Continuously: Yes
- Warranty: 10 years
- Bulb: 16 watts
- Runs Continuously: Yes
- Warranty: 5 years
The Best HVAC UV Light Systems
As you can see from our guide, a UV system for an HVAC unit isn’t complicated, and something most homeowners should be able to handle themselves within an hour. Finding the best HVAC UV light isn’t easy, however, even if there aren’t many options available.
In our research, we only found a handful of reputable companies currently producing UV-C systems. There’s not much variance between systems, so things like the build quality and features will have a significant impact on the price.
1. Honeywell SmartLamp Ultraviolet Air Treatment System
The average homeowner won’t recognize half the names in the HVAC industry, although a few brands will stand out. Honeywell is one of them, and while they make several ultraviolet air treatment systems, the UV100E2009 was our favorite.
The Honeywell SmartLamp series is geared towards safety as well as power in the case of the UV100E2009. It has not one, but two bulbs rated at 35 watts each. While powerful, this UV light is still rated as a 120-volt UV-C system. Honeywell’s UV system can also handle wild temperature swings from 30 to 104°F.
The UV100E2009 is listed as a return air model, and the company claims it can kill a high percentage of airborne bacteria in a single pass. If you’re concerned about safety, you’ll appreciate the fact it’s sealed to keep you safe from ultraviolet rays or voltage. You’ll also dig the technology behind the lamp that can monitor runtime and let you know when it’s time to change a bulb.
The lamp won’t turn on unless the base has been properly mounted, which keeps your eyes safe from harm. We think the little lamp light indicators are a nice touch as well. They are small tunnels or pipes built into each handle and glow when the unit it’s operating correctly. Ozone won’t be an issue with this system, and replacement bulbs come in two sizes with reasonable price tags. They are rated at around 8,000 hours of usage.
As the name implies, this system is smarter than most. That’s thanks to Honeywell Enviracom, which lets the system interact with other equipment. That includes compatible thermostats and even remote access modules for telephones that can send out a tech if there’s an issue. The SmartLamp has an airflow sensor as well, which shuts off the lamp 40 minutes after your system stops.
Honeywell’s system is one of the more expensive dual-bulb UV-C lights available, but well worth it if you want to improve the indoor air quality in your home. It’s certainly smarter than other systems in this class, and the best option for homeowners that want a light they can set and forget. Pricing is really the only clear downside to this system, aside from an overall lack of reviews.
2. Field Controls UV-Aire 16 Induct UV Light Air Purifier
From combustion-based systems to air boosters, Field Controls produces a range of equipment that can improve your existing HVAC system. The company has an expansive lineup of air purification systems as well, like their Flexmount and Induct UV air purifiers and sanitizers.
We chose the UV-16 from Field Controls, which is a system that’s installed in a duct. The Induct UV-16 is rated for units from 1.5 to 5 tons at 120 volts. It can handle homes around 1,500 square feet as long as the ductwork in your home is at least 16” wide. The base is made from white plastic with a sightglass, but otherwise unremarkable.
The bulb on this UV-C system is 30 watts, with a lamp intensity rating of 62 µW/cm2 at 1 meter. It was independently tested to remove at least 90% of bacteria in a pass with an airflow speed of 1,125 cubic feet per minute. That’s on par with the rest of the systems on our list, and the bulbs have a lifespan of around 1-year before you’ll need to purchase a replacement.
Installing the Field Controls UV-16/24 is relatively simple, and the process is similar to other UV-C duct lights. It has a built in safety switch, so that makes sure the light is only active when it’s inside the duct, and away from your eyeballs or skin. Replacement bulbs are priced competitively compared to the competition, and can be swapped out in seconds.
The Field Controls UVAire Induct 16 is a solid UV-C system with an affordable price point. It’s not the fanciest unit in production today, but it has a viewport and the safety feature is a nice touch as well. The unit itself is warrantied for 10 years even if the bulb will only last for one.
3. Honeywell UV2400U5000 UV Air Purifier with AirBRIGHT
Our second option from Honeywell is a bit different than our first. The UV2400U5000 is a system equipped with some extra technology, and it’s considerably cheaper than the company’s dual-bulb system as well.
The draw of this system that helps set it apart from other UV light filters, is a feature called AirBRIGHT. This is an odor absorption technology from Honeywell that works to remove odors in your home from pets or cooking. While UV lights can remove odors caused by mold or bacteria, they can’t help remove cooking smells, which can linger long after the food is gone.
The AirBRIGHT system is a bonus on the UV2400U5000, and the activated carbon system works well alongside the SnapLamp. The UV lamp can be used by itself, however, and is rated at 16 watts. Honeywell wasn’t as forthcoming with their tech specs as other brands, but it’s rated for a 99% surface mold reduction.
Under certain conditions, this unit can also remove up to 90% of VOCs as well. Thanks to their “Snap” tech, the UV2400UT5000 is easy to install. It’s designed to be installed in a return or supply but is always-on like many models in this class. Replacement parts are available, and bulbs have comparable prices to similar UV-C systems geared towards residential use.
This UV-C light doesn’t have the intelligence that you’ll find from one of the company’s SmartLamp systems, but performs admirably and doesn’t break the bank. The fact you can pick up parts as needed is a bonus, as is the top-tier warranty from Honeywell that’s good for five years.
Q: Is the UV-C light in these systems harmful?
A: Yes, you should never look directly into UV light or have prolonged exposure to it with your skin. That is why most HVAC UV lights have a sight-glass and are entirely enclosed, so you can see that they are working safely from a distance through glass.
Q: How much are replacement bulbs and how long do they last?
A: Most of the systems we researched have bulbs rated for 8,000 hours, although a few exceed that range. That’s typically around 1-year of usage, and replacements run anywhere from $60 to $100 per bulb on average.
Q: Are HVAC UV lights hard to maintain?
A: No, and they are easier to deal with than similar HVAC add-ons and accessories. When properly installed, you simply need to change bulbs once a year.
Q: Does a UVC light produce ozone?
A: Only if the light is at a shorter wavelength, which puts it in the UVV range. You don’t want to be exposed to either, but ozone can damage your lungs, so you don’t want a machine producing it in your air system. Ozone does nothing to improve your IAQ, although some companies claim to have ozone-producing devices that do just that.