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Central Vacuum Systems Buying Guide

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 with these 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.

A central vacuum simply plugs into wall outlets for awesome convenience.

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/receptacle, 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.

Because the vacuum motor is located outside the living area, you can vacuum quietly without disturbing TV viewing or phone conversations. 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.

Three or four inlets are usually sufficient for a 3,000- square-foot house if they are centrally located. The 30-foot-long 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.

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.

From below the floor, central vacuum tubing can be stubbed-up into walls. In this photo, low-voltage wires for the switch are being connected.

Is a Central Vacuum Right for Your House?

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 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.

Most houses need one or two inlets on each story, centrally located. Though inlets 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). 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.

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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  1. I sucked a ring into my whole house vac system, and it never made it to the basement unit. I think it is in the piping somewhere. Any suggestions on moving it through the pipes or any other way to retrieve it?

    • Wow, this is tricky. First, be absolutely sure the ring is not in the container (I’m sure you’ve done this more than once!). The odds are pretty good that an object can get caught in the flexible hose, since that is usually the toughest gauntlet for an object to traverse. Take the hose outside and shake it well to dislodge anything. Then try to imagine where the pipes would most likely snag a ring. You might have to disconnect the pipes somewhere and run a plumbing snake through them. I wish I could be more helpful!

    • Elizabeth, it’s unlikely to be stuck in the pvc tubing. If you thoroughly checked the canister, you might take that off and look up inside the vacuum canister. There is usually a round metal disc roughly 10″ wide with small holes in it. The ring may be lodged above that disc. I believe that can be removed with a wing nut. Good luck!

    • …Did you find it? (Fingers crossed!)

  2. Is 2000.00 normal rate for a 2600sq.ft.home new build installation of central vacuum system? Brand is red devil…thanks

  3. Water lift is great to know as is cfm however, water-lift and cfm are calculated at their max value. The actually cleaning power is in “Air watts”. This is the standard rating used by manufactures to calculating both cfm and water-lift at the time of actually cleaning. Cant believe you missed that.

  4. We just bought a spec home and it has tubing for central vac. We have never had central vac before, so if the tubing is already in place are retractable tubes still an option (or how do I find out)? I assume the first step is to find where all the ‘outlets’ are and then find a unit to fit the size of the house. Are there any special considerations with a bigger home (4800 SQ ft)? Assuming tubing is there I assume it is simply a matter of plugging it in or are there other items to be done which might requiring hiring someone? Thanks!

  5. So the correct size of the unit is “critical” to choosing the best unit for the home / application? Is not a better ‘waterlift’ figure the best option to look at? My home is ~1000 square feet. I have a cat and it seems dust prevails everywhere despite daily sweeping. I am going to get a central vac but my belief is the better the waterlift number the better. What is wrong with this idea (garn53@gmail.com)?


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