Beam’s EasyReach hose pulls out from an easy-to-handle 13-foot length to a full 30 feet.
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, 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.
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.
Properly sizing the power unit of a central vacuum system is critical to the appliance’s performance. Photo: Beam
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.
Expert advice on how to install a central vacuum system in new construction or an existing house.
Planning is the key to a successful central vacuum installation—both planning the layout and planning the process. To install a central vacuum you begin by locating and installing the power unit in the basement, garage, or another out-of-the-way place. Then you install inlet valves, strategically located throughout the home in wall-mounted (or sometimes floor) receptacles. Last, you run plastic piping from the inlet valves to the power unit. This tubing, which runs through the walls and floors, carries dirt to a collection bin mounted in the power unit. (For more about how a central vacuum system works, see How a Central Vacuum System Works.)[GARD align=”left”]
Central vacuum power unit is installed remotely. This one is being vented outdoors.
Though central vacuum systems are easiest to install in new construction where it’s easy to install the tubing, they can be retrofitted into most existing houses with a relative ease. Just how easily depends on your house or, more specifically, on access to a basement, crawlspace, or attic for routing the tubing. If access is good and you are handy with tools, you may be able to handle installation yourself.
Following is advice for both new and existing construction.
Planning a Central Vacuum System
How to design the most efficient and effective layout plan for your house’s new central vacuum system
Whether you intend to hire an installer or do it yourself, you should first figure out the best places for the vacuum inlets—both for your own convenience when you use the appliance, and because locations will affect the ease of installation and, accordingly, the cost.
Every inlet you plan will raise the cost of a system and increase the possibility of air leaks, which decrease the system’s suction. With this in mind, plan carefully so that you can keep the number of inlets to a minimum.
Most houses need one or two inlets on each story, centrally located, so that every corner of every room is within the vacuum hose’s reach (typically about 30 feet).
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).
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.
Once you’ve established possible inlet locations, be sure they allow the vacuum’s wand to reach every corner of the house (including ceilings). Don’t forget to consider furniture and obstructions. To test your layout, stretch the hose and wand (or a small rope of equal length) from inlets to the far reaches of each room.[GARD align=”left”]
Plan to put the power unit/collection canister in the basement, a utility room, the garage, or a similar location away from living areas. Plan to position the unit on or near an exterior wall so the exhaust line can be easily routed outdoors. Though some central vacuum types don’t need to be exhausted outdoors, you can minimize dust generated by the unit if you exhaust it.
Don’t put the unit where temperatures may get hot, such as in a furnace room, small closet, or attic. The power unit requires good ventilation for long life and proper operation.
Installing the Power Unit
Begin the installation of a central vacuum system by mounting the power unit to a wall. Though methods may vary according to the make and model, the following instructions show you the basic techniques.
Screw the mounting plate to a wall stud.
1Use 2 1/2-inch-long screws to mount the plate to the wall; be sure to drive the screws securely into a wall stud.
Assemble and mark the exhaust system.
2Hang the vacuum canister on its bracket and then hold up the exhaust line assembly, complete with muffler and elbows, and mark where it meets the wall. Cut through to the outside and mount the exhaust vent and its exterior wall cap.
Installing In New Construction
If you are building a new home or doing a major renovation, this is the perfect time to install a central vacuum system.
The method shown here is for a situation where tubing will run beneath the floor. If you’ll be running tubing through the attic (less desirable because the system must suction against gravity), modify the instructions accordingly. Start by planning the layoutof the system as discussed above. (For information about connecting PVC vacuum tubing, see Working With Central Vacuum System PVC Pipe.)
Bore a hole through the wall’s bottom plate.
1At the first location, use a wall-mounting bracket to measure for the location of the hole for the riser pipe. Then use a power drill fitted with a hole saw to bore a hole down through the wall’s bottom plate and the subfloor for the pipe. You’ll have to bore this hole in stages, prying out excess wood with a chisel every inch or so.
Screw the pipe’s mounting breaker to a wall stud.
2Assemble the elbow and wall-mounting bracket, and glue a length of pipe to the elbow to serve as a riser (this must be long enough to reach the horizontal pipe run beneath the floor). Screw the wall-mounting bracket to the stud.
3Add a cover to the pipe to protect it from swallowing debris during construction (it is especially vulnerable to this during drywall installation).
Attach a cover to the outlet.
4Beneath the floor, glue the riser to a T and the horizontal pipe run. Run low-voltage wires from the outlet locations, connecting them to a wire that runs all the way back to the power unit. Use black electrical tape to secure the wires to the pipes. Strip the wire ends, twist them together, and secure the wire connections with wire nuts.
Connect low-voltage wires to the outlet.
Installing in an Existing Home
Installing a central vacuum system in an existing home can be a bit tricky, especially when it comes to installing inlet valves and PVC tubing in the walls.
Below we show you how to do this if you have access from under the floor for the horizontal runs of tubing. If you do not have under-floor access, you may be able to modify these instructions to run the tubing horizontally through the attic.
Start by selecting locations throughout the house for the vacuum system’s inlet valves as discussed above. Space the inlets so the vacuum hose can reach every corner of the house. If you will be using an electric cleaning head, make sure an electrical receptacle is within 6 feet of each inlet.
Mark inlet valve positions on the wall.
1Mark the positions of the inlet valves on the interior walls at the same height as the electrical outlets. It is best to mount the receptacles next to wall studs—fittings are available for mounting valves directly to wallboard only—but it is not essential. Use an inlet valve as a template to mark the wallboard for cutting the inlet hole.
Use a keyhole saw to cut a hole for the outlet.
2Cut the hole, using a keyhole saw or wallboard saw.
Drill a small hole through the floor where molding will cover.
3Drill a 1/8-inch-diameter hole through the floor directly below each inlet hole where the base shoe or the base molding will cover the hole. Push a wire through the bored hole so you can find the hole’s location when you go under the floor.
4Go below the floor and use the wire as a reference point for measuring the location for the tubing that will go up through the center of the wall. Cut a 2-inch-diameter hole up through the floor and through the 2-by-4 bottom plate of the wall, using a hole saw. You’ll probably have to do this in stages, using a combination of cutting with the hole saw and prying out chunks of wood with a chisel. Be sure to wear eye protection throughout the entire process.
Use a hole saw to drill a hole through the floor and wall’s plate.
5Run a suitable length of the vacuum system tubing up into the wall cavity to the inlet hole and have a helper hold it there. Go back into the room above, cement on a 90-degree elbow, and then slip the mounting plate through the hole and onto the elbow.
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.[GARD align=”left”]
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.
Similar to PVC water pipe, only thinner, PVC central vacuum piping is as easy to cut and to connect.
A central vacuum system utilizes a system of plastic pipe to carry dust and debris from the vacuum cleaner through walls and beneath floors to the power unit and canister that collects it.[GARD align=”right”]
The PVC pipe is very similar to PVC water pipe—it just has thinner walls, so it’s lighter in weight and easier to cut and handle. Like PVC water pipe, PVC vacuum system pipes and fittings are assembled with PVC cement.
Measuring, cutting, and assembling these pipes is a relatively easy job–the hardest part is usually drilling and cutting holes through wall studs and other framing members (see How to Install a Central Vacuum System).
1Cut PVC pipe to length with a hacksaw or a reciprocating saw equipped with a fine-toothed blade.
A central vacuum system makes cleaning your floors a breeze!
In addition to being handy, central vacuums reduce allergy symptoms and do an excellent job of vacuuming. Because the vacuum canister can be larger than a conventional household vacuum’s, it can do a more powerful job of collecting dust, pollen, dander, and other airborne pollutants without re-circulating those allergens into living spaces the way a conventional, portable vacuum cleaner does. And even though central vacuums are larger and more powerful than conventional vacuums, they are quieter because the motor is remote.
How a Central Vacuum System Works
With a built-in central vacuum system, you do not have to lug a heavy vacuum cleaner from room to room or up and down stairs. Instead, you just tote around a cleaning attachment on the end of a long, lightweight hose. To vacuum, you plug the hose into any of several wall- or floor-mounted receptacles. Dust and debris travel through the hose into the receptacles and then to a remote canister by a system of hidden plastic pipes. The vacuum canister is typically located in the basement or garage.
The trick to buying the right central vacuum system for your home is making sure it is sized correctly, not only for the square footage of your house but also for the length of pipe required to service the system. The most important rating to look for is “waterlift,” which refers to the system’s sucking power.
Central vacuum systems cost from $600 to $1,500, depending on the size, amount of piping needed, and power. Most dealers quote a price including installation, so make it clear if you plan on doing the installation yourself.
Installing a central vacuum system is infinitely easier to do in new construction, but a system can be retrofitted into an existing home with relative ease as long as there is adequate access to a basement, crawlspace, or attic. The four main components are the power unit (which also includes the dirt-collection bin), usually installed in a garage, basement, or utility room; the inlet valves; PVC tubing; and a lightweight hose with the cleaning wand.
For step-by-step instructions with illustrative photographs on how to install a central vacuum system in both new construction and an existing home, see How to Install a Central Vacuum System.
HomeTips’s founder, Don Vandervort, has been featured as a DIY expert on HGTV, MSN.com, and US News & World Report. He has also authored, edited, or produced more than 30 books in the home improvement space. Read more…
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