When you are crouched down, sweeping the mess of crumbs off the floor after dinner, have you ever wished that the wall would magically open up and just swallow the mess?
In a sense, that is what a central vacuum can bring to your home. As the name suggests, the vacuums use a unit placed in a centralized location (often the basement or the garage) and extend vacuuming power to the rest of the house through a series of strategically placed inlets backed by hidden pipes. When it is time to tackle a mess, instead of heading to the closet to retrieve the portable vacuum, you attach a hose to the nearest inlet or pull out a retractable hose and flip a switch.
While both central vacuums and portable vacuums are more than capable of handling most household vacuuming jobs, there are some differences. Central vacuums can be used on all surfaces from hardwood to carpet to non-floor surfaces such as fans and blinds. Since dirt is captured in the vacuum’s canister by design, central vacuums are a valuable tool for those seeking better indoor air quality.
Another obvious difference between portable vacuums and their central cousins is that central vacuums are built into the home. The easiest time to do this is during new construction, when the pipes and hose inlets can be built into the walls.
The installation process can start before the home is built, says Mike Parker, owner of Not Just Vacs, a central vacuum installer in Forest Hill, Md. The installer looks at plans and map out the best location for the canister, pipes and inlets.
“Typically, the dealer will meet with the homeowner on the job site when the home is being constructed,” said Darrell Nieschwitz, engineering manager for H-P Products in Louisville, Ohio. “They’ll do a rough layout of the house. You want to do the rough-in before any drywall or insulation. At that point, they’ll discuss whether you want to go with a standard-style valve or a retractable hose valve.”
You can still have a central vacuum if you already own a home. In most cases, a central vacuum can be installed in an existing home in one day, says Natalie Fraser, U.S. sales manager for VacuMaid in Ponca City, Okla. The installer will need access to the walls and a crawlspace or attic, she says. “As long as there’s a way to access the wall, they can be put in.” Small holes will be cut into the wall to install the inlets, Fraser says.
It is unusual to come across a home where a central vacuum cannot be installed, Parker says. “There are some homes that are more difficult than others,” he says. “Log homes are really hard, though we did one of those and put inlets in the floor. We generally find a way. In some houses, we can run a system without having to cut any sheetrock at all.” Installers attempt to place the inlets in areas that offer full coverage of the home. One inlet, he says, can offer coverage of as much as 700-1000 square feet.
Central Vacuum Features
When you decide to install a central vacuum, you will have a variety of features and attachments from which to choose. Remember, you are in this for the long haul. Some central vacuums can last for 20-30 years or even longer, though how long yours lasts will depend on how often and how long you vacuum. Choose the features that fit your lifestyle and vacuuming needs.
Standard or retractable hose? A standard hose will have to be manually attached to the inlet every time you vacuum. A retractable hose is pulled out from the inlet when you need to vacuum. Some models turn on automatically when they are pulled out. Different sizes of hoses are available for placement in certain rooms, like a vacuum or garage. Some central vacuum owners favor a short, 10-foot hose in their laundry room to clean their dryer filter. Others put them in areas near their cat’s litter box for easy cleanup.
Ground-level service: One popular feature is the “automatic dustpan,” which allows dirt to be swept into the base of a wall, Parker says. This “system inlet” is placed in the kick panel under cabinets or in the base moulding.
Time for some car detailing? Where you install the canister can affect your cleanup options. Some models have valves mounted on the surface of the canister, which, if you place your unit in the garage, gives you the option of easy access for vacuuming your car, garage, or outdoor debris like leaves.
Choose your canister: Like portable vacuums, some central vacuums use bags, while others are bagless. Some also can convert to a wet-dry system. Most central vacuums hold 7-10 gallons of debris.