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Choosing a central vacuum system

Central vacuum systems are effective cleaning tools that require low maintenance, are relatively inexpensive, and add value to your home. Here is a guide to help you select the model you need.

The advantages of installing a central vacuum system

Once installed, a central vacuum system requires little maintenance and can be adapted to difference spaces and cleaning needs.

A versatile and accessible cleaning tool

Central vacuum systems offer cleaning convenience because they have inlets on each floor and in several locations. There is a higher chance that occupants will clean more frequently if a central vacuum is installed in the home.

A central vacuum is versatile and convenient; it can be used for all types of flooring as well as for unusual tasks such as pet grooming and concrete floor scrubbing.

Eliminating fine particles

Central vacuums allow for superior cleaning compared to traditional portable vacuums. Regardless of the central vacuum model chosen, the power is about three to five times greater than that of a mobile vacuum cleaner.

Central vacuum systems are highly effective at sucking up fine particles of dust, dirt, and other allergens and particles into a collection canister.

Pro tip

Central vacuum systems add value to your house, and even better—they have the approval of environmentalists. Recommended for green home constructions, installing a central vacuum system earns one LEED point.

A vacuum with a 3-part system

A central vacuum is a 3-part system that consists of:

  • a power unit
  • a filtration system
  • a dust collection system

1. Power unit

The power unit is a large stationary motor. Regardless of the type of central vacuum system selected, the power is about three to five times more powerful than a portable vacuum. Each system is designed for hoses that reach up to 30'. If the hose needs to be longer, there are select motors available.

As with any vacuum system, a central vacuum system is rated per air watts which is calculated by measuring the air flow and the motor’s overall power usage. Air watts range between 450-1040 air watts, depending on the model. Manufacturers have charts available for homeowners to match a system’s air wattage according to the size and number of rooms to clean

Water lift rating

The industry-wide standard rating that describes suction strength is water lift, listed in inches. The water lift typically ranges from 107" to 155" with the larger number indicating greater suction power. Water lift does not refer to vacuuming water as central vacuum systems are not designed to suction liquids.

Bypass cooling

With bypass cooling, the air flow that cools the motor is different from the one that is used to work the vacuum.

LCD display screen

An LCD display screen feature is available on select models to provide the user with information on the system’s performance and maintenance levels, such as filter replacement.

Noise level

In addition to remote installation locations, there are anti-vibration mountings systems available. Some canisters have sound insulation. If needed, an additional muffler can be installed for any central vacuum system after the initial installation.

2. Filtration system

There are different types of filtration systems: vertical, cyclonic, and inverted. Depending on the model and the manufacturer, you will find these different types of filters combined in different configurations.

  • Vertical system: sucks debris into the canister’s chamber before dropping them into the collection bucket.
  • Cyclonic system: uses centrifugal force to separate particles from air flow where particles drop into a canister for disposal and air is exhausted
  • Inverted system: is similar to a vertical bag system, but the air is drawn up and through a filter. The particles are then dropped down into the collection bucket. The vertical bag and the inverted systems allow the air to exhaust outside.
Types
Level of filtration
Filter
Disposable paper bag
Exhaust to outside
Power level
Vertical bag
Good
No
Yes
Optional
Excellent
Cyclonic
Best
No
No
Yes
Excellent
Inverted
Better
Yes
No
Optional
Excellent
Types
Level of filtration
Filter
Disposable paper bag
Exhaust to outside
Power level
Vertical bag
Good
No
Yes
Optional
Excellent
Cyclonic
Best
No
No
Yes
Excellent
Inverted
Better
Yes
No
Optional
Excellent

Within the central vacuum systems, it is typical for the filters to be HEPA filters. HEPA filters ensure particles are completely eliminated. Occasionally, the filters are self-cleaning and will not ever need to be replaced. 

3. Dust collection system

The dust collection system is comprised of a canister bucket, PVC pipes, inlets, and attachments.

Canister bucket

  • Canister buckets are rated per gallon size, with the most common sizes ranging between 22.71-45.42 L.
  • These large canister buckets generally do not need to be emptied more than every 3 to 4 months.
  • The benefit of a canister bucket is that it is protected from wear and tear.
  • Easy to maintain and cannot tear nor rip.
  • Some buckets are translucent and some have anti-microbial linings to stop microbial growth between emptyings.

Disposable bags

Canisters are available either with or without disposable bags or liners. Having bags allows for a cleaner process when emptying the canister. The main disadvantage, however, is you must plan to buy some regularly.

Pipes

  • Users must simply plug a flexible hose into an inlet to clean.
  • These special pipes are thinner and are designed with a specific diameter for central vacuum systems to control the right amount of suction force.
  • While the pipes are made of PVC, they are not the same PVC pipes used for plumbing systems.
  • The pipes used for the system are standard central vacuum system piping regardless of manufacturer and type of power unit.
  • Tubes are connected with low-voltage wall inlet terminations through:
    • Interior walls
    • Crawl spaces
    • Attics
    • Basements
    • Closets or enclosed spaces, when necessary

Valve inlets

  • The inlets vary depending on whether they are hard wired or not, in addition to their low voltage power supply.
  • The valve inlets open the airway when a hose is attached and seal the airway when the cleaning is completed.
  • The valve inlets are low-voltage couplers that trigger the motor’s on/off switch when the hose is attached to the valve inlet.
  • In new constructions, a wire for line voltage can be installed to power up an agitator brush or other accessories that require additional
  • Inlet installation kits are available for homeowners.

Hoses

  • While different hose lengths are available, the most typical length is 30' and covers 700 sq. ft. A 50' hose would reach up to 1500 sq. ft.
  • The power is consistent for an outstretched hose, providing the same amount of power regardless of the distance from the motor.
  • Hide-a-hose features are available through select manufacturers such that the hose retracts back into a wall cavity.
  • Crushproof hoses spring back to retain original shape. Padded anti-static polyester covers are also available to protect hoses from dents, scratches, chips, and scuff marks while vacuuming.
  • The hose cover also protects banisters, walls, furniture, floors, wall coverings, and moldings.

An accessory for every cleaning need

Selecting the different types of accessories can be the most exciting part of designing a central vacuum system.

Some accessories require the use of direct electricity delivered either through the inlet itself or with a pigtail that needs to be connected to an outlet in order to function. Accessories can be purchased individually or as a kit. The accessories are varied and designed for specific cleaning actions.

Vacuum wand

One of the more popular accessories is the vacuum wand. Since this tool is used frequently, it is preferable for it to be lightweight.

  • Most models have stainless steel ratchet telescopic wands that extend from 25" to 41".
  • Likewise, an aluminum ratchet telescopic wand expands from 22" to 39".

VStandard accessories

Most central vacuum kits come with a standard tool set that includes the most-used cleaning accessories:

  • a wide hard floor brush
  • an upholstery tool
  • a square faced dusting brush
  • a crevice tool with notched end.

Other central vacuum accessories(but not limited to):

  • Rug/floor nozzle
  • Microfiber dust up floor tool
  • Mini-blind tool
  • Extension wand
  • Telescopic wand
  • Dusting brush
  • Spin duster
  • Broom
  • Garage floor cleaning kit
  • Electric and turbine brushes
  • Crevice tools
  • Pet grooming kits
  • Toekick fittings are installed underneath a kitchen cabinet so that with a click of the start button, it sucks up the dirt and debris from the floor


All central vacuum accessories

Tips for DIY central vacuum installation

The project can be completed as a DIY project or by a quality installer and most systems take one or two days to install.

Good planning will ensure the project is done right and the vacuum system works properly.

  1. Determine the size of your home including all locations that will require the central vacuum.
  2. Choose the proper vacuum system according to the square footage.
  3. Determine the power unit location
  • The central vacuum system motor is louder than a portable vacuum; install in a location where the sound will not be disruptive such as the garage or the basement.
  • Preferably needs a dedicated 15- or 20-amp circuit and plenty of room for air to circulate on all sides of the unit.
  1. Determine the amount of wall inlets as well as their locations:
  • For most homes, install one inlet per 600 sq. ft.
  • For retrofits, install the inlet valves within 6' of an electric receptacle so that accessory power cords can be used if needed.
  • Plan for all inlets to be located within interior walls to avoid dealing with insulation in exterior walls.
  • Good locations for inlets are centrally located such as in hallways, closet walls, or doorways.
  • Do not place inlet valves behind doors and furniture.
  • Floor inlet valves are sometimes a good option.
  • When laying out the valve locations, make sure the entire home can be reached with a standard 30' hose.
  • Grab the handle and double-check the hose’s reach before completing the installation.
  • Determine the layout and location of pipes and fittings as well as the necessary amount of each. Count approximately 16' of piping per inlet.

If this project seems too ambitious, ask a professional to install it for you.

Pro's tip

Use a stud finder to locate openings in the wall. Make sure there are no obstructions such as another electrical outlet on the other side of the wall.

A few maintenance tips

Central vacuum systems require low maintenance. Follow these steps to keep your vacuum working at it’s best:

  • Remove and empty the canister every 3 to 4 months depending on the size of the canister and frequency of use.
  • Replace or clean the filter if needed per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Some filters never need to be cleaned nor replaced.
  • Avoid vacuuming large pieces of debris that could block wall piping.

Suggested products

See all central vacuums