Should you buy a central vacuum system for your home? What is the best central vac to buy? This unbiased central vacuum buying guide will help you make the right decisions.
If you would like to be able to vacuum your house quickly and quietly, without dragging around a vacuum cleaner, consider installing a built-in central vacuum system.
With a central vacuum system, all you have to carry is a lightweight hose and a wand with a cleaning head. When you plug the hose into a wall or floor inlet valve, the vacuum turns on automatically. Dust and debris travel through the hose into a pipeline of PVC tubing that runs through house walls, floors, or attic to a large power unit/dirt-collection canister that is typically mounted in an out-of-the-way place such as the basement, garage, or utility room. You can buy central vacuum systems online.
Because the vacuum motor is located outside the living area, you can vacuum quietly without disturbing TV viewing or phone conversations—this makes a central vac a great way of minimizing household noise. And fine dust particles aren’t blown back into living spaces as typically happens with most portable cleaners—another important factor, especially for people sensitive to airborne dust. Canisters typically need emptying only two or three times a year.
Before buying any central vacuum equipment, you’ll need to make sure one of these systems is appropriate for your house. If it is, you must determine the right size of unit to buy and the amount of piping and number of components necessary. To do this, you must figure out the layout of the system.
Because the motor and collector are remote, most central vacuum system units are considerably larger and have more-powerful motors than standard portable vacuums. They also have much more capacity for collecting dust and dirt.
Most houses need one or two central vac inlet valves on each story, centrally located. Though inlet valves are best located along the base of interior walls, they may be installed in floors if they are placed away from foot traffic (all floor inlets should have metal covers).
Three or four inlets are usually sufficient for a 3,000- square-foot house if they are centrally located. The 30-foot-long central vac hose allows you to vacuum two or three rooms from a single inlet receptacle. Bottom line is that the hose much be able to reach from one of the inlets to every corner that will be vacuumed. Though inlets and hoses are somewhat standardized, they can vary slightly by the manufacturer, so it’s important to buy a hose that is designed to fit the inlet valves.
Though central vacuum systems are a wonderful convenience in most homes, they’re not right for everyone. Built-in central vacuum systems are easiest to install in new construction, so—if you’re already opening up walls for remodeling or other home improvements, this is probably an excellent opportunity for installing one of these systems easily.
Then again, a central vacuum system can be retrofitted into most existing houses with relative ease. Just how easily depends on your house or—more specifically—access into a basement, crawlspace, or attic for routing the central vac piping. In a single-story house with a basement or crawlspace, tubing can run under the floor and stub up a short distance into walls or directly serve floor inlets (by far the easiest method when retrofitting). Interior, non-bearing walls not supported by foundations or beams are generally easiest to penetrate from below.
If a house has limited access below floors—as with a two-story house, for example—tubing must route elsewhere. Typical solutions are to run tubing vertically through laundry chutes, behind cabinets, exposed in closet corners, or boxed in at one of a room’s corners. Another popular option is to run tubing horizontally in an attic and then drop it down through a wall or into a closet or cabinet. The best runs are short, straight, and direct.
When buying a central vacuum system, it is very important to match the power unit to the house so that the unit is powerful enough to effectively pull dirt through the system from every nook and cranny on every floor. Buying the right size unit isn’t rocket science, but it can be a little tricky. You must take into consideration the square footage of your house, the length of pipe required to service the system, and the suction necessary.
When we’re talking about sizing here, we’re referring to the vacuum system’s main component: the power unit. Most manufacturers offer several models that range in size, power, and price—these are designed to accommodate various sizes of houses both in suction power and in canister capacity.
Though vacuums tend to be rated by air power, air flow, and horse power, these measurements are not good indicators of effective suction.
The most reliable measure is “waterlift,” which is established by a factory test of a sealed vacuum system’s sucking power. Check the manufacturer’s specifications for this number when comparing one model with another. Smaller systems have a waterlift rating of from 105 to 120 inches. As a rule of thumb, these will handle a 2,500-square-foot house. Power units of equal strength do not vary much; in fact, many of the motors are made by the same manufacturer.
When it comes to selecting a brand, pay particular attention to price, service, and warranty. Look for a company that stands behind its product.
A variety of accessories like the ones used on standard vacuums are available for central vacuums: flooring, dusting, and upholstery brushes; crevice tools; and two types of beater-bar carpet brushes—electric and turbo-powered. Electric heads are the strongest but some models require an electrical receptacle near each vacuum inlet so you can plug in a power cord that runs alongside the hose. Turbo heads utilize the air rushing through the head to spin the beater bar.
Manufacturers offer a variety of improvements on the basic accessories—collection canisters with mold-killing coatings, canisters that can be use with or without vacuum bags, retractable hoses, sock-like covers to prevent hoses from marring wood floors, and digital controls that spell out how efficiently the system is operating, when the canister is full, and when maintenance is required.
Here are a couple of examples: Beam, manufactured by Electrolux, offers an “EasyReach” electrified 13-foot-long hose that is easy to manage but, when a longer reach is required, has an inner hose sleeved in the main hose that expands to a full 30 feet. Simply pushing a button on the handle retracts the extended hose.
KickSweep, one of several makes of floor sweeps, combines the common dustpan with a central vacuum. The result is a baseboard-mounted receptacle that, when opened, sucks in dust and debris as you sweep with a broom.
Central vacuums cost from $600 to $1,500, depending on the power unit and the amount of pipe and fittings needed. Dealers often quote a price based on both installation and materials, but if you plan on installing the system yourself you can request a price for materials only.
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