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.
Bio Shield UV-C Air Sanitizer
- Bulb: 25 watt
- Runs Continuously: Yes
- Warranty: 2 years
- Bulb: 16 watts
- Runs Continuously: Yes
- Warranty: 5 years
Pure Air UV Air While House Air Purifier
- Bulb: 253.7 NM
- Runs Continuously: Yes
- Warranty: 3 years
OdorStop OS144PRO1 UV Air Purifier
- Bulb: 254 NM
- Runs Continuously: Yes
- Warranty: 2 years
Field Controls UV-18 Ultra Violet Air Purification System
- Bulb: 30 watts
- Runs Continuously: Yes
- Warranty: 18 months
Honeywell Ultraviolet Air Purifier
- Bulb: 18 watts
- Runs Continuously: Yes
- Warranty: 1-year
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. Bio Shield Antimicrobial Protection UV-C Air Sanitizer
UV-C systems are considered an affordable option compared to similar HVAC solutions, but they still aren’t what most consumers would consider cheap. There are a few exceptions to that rule, however, like the UV-C air sanitizer from Bio Shield.
Next to the AirBRIGHT, the Bio Shield Antimicrobial Protection UV-C light is the simplest system on our list. It can’t remove odors, but it is extremely easy to install. You’ll need a drill and hole saw, but once you have those two items, installation should take less than 15 minutes. When the bracket is installed, you just need to insert the UV-C bulb.
As for that bulb, it’s a 17” UV-C lamp designed and manufactured by Philips. That means the quality is top-notch, and the company estimates that you can save between 10 to 25% by using their system. That’s a nice perk of this UV-C air sanitizer, although the real draw is its ability to destroy bacteria, viruses, and allergens.
If you need an affordable UV-C air filter and aren’t quite ready for a dual-bulb system, this is an excellent entry-level unit. It’s received high marks from consumers on a number of sites, and it’s hard to ignore the attractive price point.
2. 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.
3. Pure Air UV Air While House Air Purifier
This in-duct UV filter may not look much different from other systems on our list, but it would be a mistake to overlook the R-18D from Pure Air. This germicidal light has an attractive price tag and is highly efficient in small to medium-sized homes.
The R-18D is a dual outlet UV-C air filter. There are two plugs for a pair of double tube UV-C bulbs, which slide into the backside of the ballast. The unit is flat on the mounting side, with a black box on the outside protecting the circuits. It’s a standard design, but one that would look better without the branding.
A small operating light lets you know when this UV-C light is working, but there are no other controls to speak of. It will run continuously as long as it’s plugged in and is rated for HVAC units up to 50 tons in size. The bulbs are listed at 253.7NM and rated for 10,000 hours of use before they need to be replaced. The R-18D plugs into any standard power outlet and has a 9-foot power cord.
This is another UV-C light with a nice price tag that simple to install and use. While it doesn’t have any energy-saving features and is from a small, relatively unknown company, it’s received high marks from consumers and comes with a 3-year guarantee from Pure Air UV.
4. OdorStop OS144PRO1 UV Air Purifier
OdorStop specializes in air quality products from ozone generators and air movers to UV-C light systems. With close to a dozen models, they have one of the larger collections of UV air purifiers, including the powerful OdorStop OS144PRO1.
This UV-C air filter may not look unique on the outside, but it’s designed to house four large UVC bulbs. It comes with four 16” bulbs rated at 36 watts with a wavelength of 254NM. Ducts for this filter will need to be at least 17” deep, although 12” bulbs are compatible with the OS144PRO1 as well.
This 120-volt system is just as easy to install as other UV-C air purifiers but has a few noteworthy extras. There is a row of operating lights on the outside, a traditional on/off switch, and easy access to the fuse. You should never have to remove this unit unless you need to change a bulb, and it’s energy-efficient thanks to a sensor that only turns the UVC light on when your system is running.
If you’re interested in a system that can purify up to 20,000 square feet, the OdorStop OS144PRO1 is your best bet. It is priced at a premium, but well worth it considering it only runs as needed and has those four large, powerful bulbs. This UV-C light is backed by a 2-year warranty from OdorStop.
5. OdorStop OS144PRO1 UV Air Purifier
Field Controls has been in the air quality business for over 80 years and has been a mainstay in the industry like Honeywell. Our second choice from the company is slightly different from the first but just as effective at purifying the air.
The Field Controls UV-18 is a UV-C purification system that utilizes a single bulb. While that may not seem as effective as dual or quad-bulb lights, it's 18” long and can kill bacteria, mold, and airborne viruses with ease.
Two highlights of this UV-C light are its hinged cover and angle mounting bracket. This makes bulb changes a breeze, and the design is sealed to keep you safe while it’s running. It has a standard viewport on the front but no other features to speak of.
The sturdy hinged cover is certainly a reason to consider the UV-18, but we like this system for its reliability and price. It’s rated for homes up to 2,000 square feet and is virtually indestructible, considering you can buy a replacement ballast. This UV-C system has an 18-month warranty from Field Controls.
6. Honeywell Ultraviolet Air Purifier
UV air treatment is still relatively new in a residential setting, but Honeywell has already managed to produce several cutting-edge systems. While the Honeywell RUVLAMP1 doesn’t measure up to their AirBRIGHT systems in that regard, it only costs a third of the price.
This simple UV system is designed for compact spaces with a smaller bulb. It’s not as powerful as other models on our list but rated to deal with 70% of bacteria passing through your system when properly installed. Bulbs can be replaced in seconds with a quick twist and are easy to acquire given the Honeywell branding.
There aren’t any noteworthy features on this UV-C air purifier, but it does have a light pipe indicator like similar models in this class. From here, you can safely see that the bulb is lit and your system is working through this small port; otherwise, it’s entirely sealed for your safety. There is no airflow sensor on this model, so that it will work continuously.
The Honeywell RUVLAMP1 is best suited for homeowners that want UV protection but don’t want to spend a fortune to get it. The attractive price point and Honeywell branding is a plus, although it has a shorter 1-year guarantee than comparable UV-C systems.
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.