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How to Buy a Central Vacuum System

When we first started researching central vacuum systems, we didn’t get enough information from the brochures we gathered or the websites we visited.  Talking to manufacturer reps or even home automation reps didn’t help us either.  We wanted details and comparisons of features across the different central vac brands.

Thanks to the Internet, we are better informed and feel we can make a well-educated decision as to what type of system will best suit the needs for our house.

Types of Central Vacs
There are four main types of central vacuums 0:

  1. Bag  – for homes when outside venting is not possible or desired.  Bags are typically changed 1-2 times a year.
  2. Bagless with Inverted Filter – dirt is funneled in around the filter so that it does not cling to the filter.  Needs to be emptied every 3-6 months.
  3. Filtered Cyclonic – small particles are filtered out.  Needs to empted every two months.
  4. All Cyclonic – dirt is tossed about so heavier particles fall to the bottom of the canister and smaller particles are vented outside. Needs to be empted every 3 months depending upon usage.

Central Vacuum Benefits
There are many benefits of installing a Central Vacuum:

  • better air quality in the home
  • reduced noise
  • deeper cleaning
  • no need to lug your standard vacuum cleaner all around or upstairs
  • all vacuumed pet hair, dust, debris, pollen, mites and bugs are taken outside of the house (bugs won’t crawl back out!)
  • no need to empty the canister after every vacuuming session
  • lighter in weight compared to standard vacuum
  • more variety of hoses/attachments available
  • no need to worry about vacuuming up the power cord
  • many vacs have HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arrestor) filters – which reduce the number of contaminants in indoor air. A HEPA filter will stop 99.97% of all particles .3 microns or larger
  • perceived higher value – increases home’s value

A central vac costs more than double the average homeowner vacuum cleaner.  Yet, the average central vacuum can last up to at least 5 times longer!1

Features to Compare
Compare these features across central vacs when shopping2:

  1. CFM – cubic feet per minute – measures airflow.  Important but you need to know how much suction a vacuum has for this measure to be relevant.
  2. Suction or inches of water lift – states how high water can be lifted up the tubing.  This is an important measurement for suction, nonetheless, don’t try this at home!
  3. Air Wattsthe most essential measurement – is a calculation derived from CFM and inches of water lift.  The calculation is: Air Watts = Water lift X CFM/ 8.5.  Most central vacs companies make this number available.
  4. Canister Material- can  be either steel or plastic.  Plastic works best for moist areas like a laundry room or an outside area.

Choosing a Central Vacuum System
To determine how powerful your system to be, the best formula is to take the square footage of your home and double it.  Having a more powerful system will help cover you with these power stealing situations:

  • two story house
  • a large number of wall inlets (where you plug the hose into)
  • a lot of angles in the central vac tubing
  • leakage from tubing

A larger system will also provide for any future additions to your house.  The cost to upgrade to a more powerful system is typically a couple hundred dollars and is well worth the security in knowing your central vac has strong suctioning power.  If you receive a quote from a central vac or home automation dealer, be sure to ask them the Air Watts of the vacuum and how many square feet will it cover.

We found an excellent resource, ThinkVacuums.com which compares many different features across various brands and models of central vacs.  The website compares suction power, Air Watts, Filtration, Type (bag, bagless, Cyclonic, etc.), sound (how loud it is – the lower the decibel rating, the quieter the sound), as we
ll as provides a link to find out how much each system costs.  This is an extraordinary website for anyone thinking about purchasing a central vac system.

A MUST SEE:  Click on the links below to see the BEST central vac comparisons on the web:

Smaller homes – up to 3500 sq. ft.

Medium homes – 4000-9000 sq. ft.

Large homes     – 10,000 sq. ft. +

Choosing Accessories
Most central vac manufacturers do not make their own hoses/carpet accessories.  For the most part, hoses will fit any central vac system.  However, it is best to confirm with your dealer or manufacturer to be safe. 

Hoses can be as long as 50ft – which helps in two ways.  First, you don’t need as many wall inlets (fewer inlets makes the suction more powerful) and second, you can vacuum further without having to disconnect your hose and hook it back up to another inlet.  However, a major side effect of using a long hose is having a closet or somewhere to hang your 50ft hose!

Retractable Hoses
Another option to using long hoses is to purchase a retractable hose system that keeps the hose hidden in the walls. 

There are two options:

  1. Hide-A-Hose Hide-A-Hose works by keeping the hose in the tubing.  To vacuum attach the carpet tool to the hose, can extend as long as 60 feet.  When you’re done, the hose retracts back quickly and easily into the wall tubing.
  2. Hose Magic/Hose Genie Management System.    The Hose Magic/Hose Genie is contained in a large box that will need to be cut into the drywall and patched back up.  Like the Hide-A-Hose, you attach your carpet tool; the hose extends to 45 feet long. 

We are planning on doing a review on one of these systems later in the year.

Other Types of Intakes
In addition to using a hose and powerhead to clean your floors, there are three other ingenious devices available to clean up messes:

  1. Kickplates – use a normal broom to sweep up your messes, kick the kickplate to open up the central vac suction, and sweep the debris right in.  Very useful for the kitchen, dining area, pet areas, etc..  Works with all central vac systems.  Some kickplates are automatic and begin sucking once a broom is sensed.
  2. Vroom – The Vroom is a mini vacuum that is sold either as a standalone unit (retails for $399 + installation) or it can be connected to your central vac system (retails for $199 + installation).  The Vroom is a smaller unit that hides in a cupboard and has a smaller sized hose that can extend to 24 feet.  In  addition to sweeping up the floor (with attachments), it can be used to pick up sweep up crumbs and messes on the kitchen counter, stove, refrigerator, drawers, etc.  The Vroom offers a handy way to pick up messes without having to get out the big central vac hose.  However, the Vroom for central vac is limited to VacuFlo and Dirt Devil central vacs.
  3. Spot by Vroom – a smaller version of the Vroom.  It’s hose extends to 10 feet and is useful for cleaning up ongoing messes such as entry door debris, cleaning your dryer’s filter, or picking up dog or cat food spills. It retails for $199 plus installation.

Remember, choose carefully the number of inlets you will need. Although it might be convenient to have an inlet in every room, doing so will cut down on your central vac’s suctioning power.  Thinkvacuums.com’s formula for the number of outlets is to take your home’s square footage and divide by 600 (assuming a 30ft. hose will be used).

To get a  better idea of hose coverage, get a piece of 30′ string, fasten one end down near where you anticipate an inlet will be, and tie the other end around a 3 ft. stick (to act as the cleaning wand) and pull the string around to your different rooms to get a better feel if your inlet is located in the right place 0
There are two types of wall inlets:
  1. electrical – has power in the inlet, means you use a direct connect hose.
  2. standard – has no electricity in it which means you’ll an air driven (turbine) powerhead.
Nozzle types
The two most popular central vacuum carpet nozzle types are:
  1. air driven – relies upon the suction of the hose to power itself.  Air driven nozzles are used with standard inlets. 
  2. electric
    has a motor in the carpet tool that powers the belt and forces the bush to roll.  Electric nozzles are used with electrical inlets.
For information on how to select a central  vac powerhead, see this article on eHow.

Retrofit?  Install a Central Vac in an Existing Home?
Yes.  More and more homeowners are starting to retrofit their homes with a central vac system.  The convenience and availability of kickplates are leading this trend.  According to Paul Runyan, sales manager for Beam central vacuums, 30% of the central vacuum market stems from retrofits.  Surprisingly, installing a central vac after a home has been built is not as difficult as one would think.
More information

See the great graphical charts from ThinkVacuums.com which show comparisons on air quality, noise, “lifetime,” and price as compared to typical vacuum cleaners. 

Confused about central vac terms?  See CentralVacuumStores.com’s resource.

We Want to Hear from You!

Please write us at info@wellconnectedhome.com  if you are interested in writing an article to help other homeowners or would like to add your review on central vacuums or other home technologies, send us a note.  TheWellConnectedHome.com is a website written by homeowners for homeowners.


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