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The Central Vacuum Primer

Most people are quite familiar with a central vacuum system. Some others may have seen the inlet plates mounted in their veterinarians office or favorite restaurant, but were never quite sure what it could be. And a few people still may never have know of such a thing as "whole Home Cleaning Systems" until they visited a model home. Central vacuums have a rich history stretching many decades to the first home built units. Popular in the beginning for their tremendous power and capacity, then well noted for their convenience and now prized for their ability to provide 100% filtration of all vacuumed dirt, dust and allergens. In this article we try to answer the "Why, What, Where" of CVS (central vacuum systems) and a few other frequently asked questions about the subject of whole home cleaning systems.

Why Install a Central Vacuum?
Enjoy the ultimate in cleaning convenience and efficiency.
Dust, dirt, pollen, dander, fur and hair--there's no end to the stuff that accumulates in our homes, and getting rid of it can be a real chore. In some homes owners may employ multiple devices to keep clean: the trusty broom and dustpan, a small vacuum for the stairs and the car, an upright for the carpeting and a shop vacuum for the garage. They all need filters, belts and periodic maintenance or replacement. It's hard to believe that we could replace most of these cleaning tools with a central vacuum system that's not only more convenient but does a much better job of cleaning.

Although normally associated with new construction and expensive homes, central vacuum systems can be installed in most existing homes and are actually quite economical. Though it is better to have your home fitted or "roughed in" for a central vacuum during the construction of your home, it is still possible to retrofit your home years later. They add resale value to your home, so a central vacuum should pay for itself. With just a bit of plumbing and mechanical skills most any person can install their own central cleaning system quickly saving hundreds or thousands more than buying from a builder. Even most retrofits can be installed in a one weekend project, and the cost for DIY retrofits is the same as new install materials because there are no special fittings required to retrofit a home.

One in three people in the U.S. have dust-related allergies, and the EPA estimates that indoor air may be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Even though portable vacuum makers call attention to their HEPA (high-efficiency particle arrestor) filtration, it only filters down to .3 micron at 99.97% efficiency. Smaller microbe-laden particles, viruses and bacteria are still passed back into the room being vacuumed with an upright or canister vacuum. Ordinary dust bags offer little resistance to these tiny particles; microbe laden dust passes through a standard bag like a fly through a chain link fence. A Central vacuum unit on the other hand removes 100% of all viruses, pollens and bacteria vacuumed and removes them safely out of your home when fitted with an outdoor exhaust. A filter inside the unit protects the motor from damaging dust particles and prevents fine dust from collecting on the outside wall, walkways and gardens.

The second reason to choose a central vacuum is cleaning power. A central vacuum unit can be as much as five times more powerful than conventional vacuum cleaners and since it is located in a remote location, the sound produced by the central vacuum (without the power head) is minimal. It is easy to talk over the sound of an operating central vacuum, and TV, music and telephones are clearly audible.

Finally, a central vacuum eliminates the need to drag a clumsy machine around the house, banging up walls and furniture in the process. Portable vacuums have to be lugged up and down the stairs, and in the case of canister vacuums, they have the potential to fall down the stairs if tugged while cleaning. The dirt capacity in a central vacuum is generous too; it usually requires emptying only once or twice per year. As a final enticement to the homeowner, built-in vacuums typically retain their full value when a home sells and is considered a home upgrade which may increase the value of the home - something that can't be said for a portable vacuum.

Central Cleaning Past & Present
The typical system of the 1960's included PVC plastic tubing and a separate run of low voltage wiring. To activate the central vacuum, you inserted the metal tipped vacuum hose into the wall valve. This closed the circuit between the two contact points in the valve and turned "on" the unit. The system would only shut off after you removed the hose from the inlet. Although this was still more convenient than hauling around a portable vacuum, poor system configuration, lack of availability of correct installation components and systems sold with inadequate cleaning accessories all served to dampen the popular interest in central vacuums.

Today's built-in vacuum systems are vastly improved with better convenience options and power. The systems of the 1960's, 70's and 80's required activation by hose insertion at the inlet which meant running to the wall every time you wanted to turn the unit "on" and "off" and if you did have an electric power head you had to drag a 30 foot electric cord behind you. Today the electrical 110V and 24V are manufactured right into the hose. Now the central vacuum unit can be turned "on" and "off" and the power head to be turned "on" and "off" at the handle of the hose. This makes it convenient to pause during vacuuming to answer the phone for example. Furthermore, better quality accessories, floor tools, power heads and convenience items vastly improved cleaning performance, convenience and overall satisfaction.

When you consider you can own a central vacuum for as much as or less then a decent quality canister or upright vacuum and a CVS has a much as five times the life expectancy, you can see in real dollars that a central vacuum is in fact an investment which will pay for itself. Statistically, not only will a CVS last longer but it also has the following benefits which upright and canister vacuums do not:

Allergies? 100% of pollens, viruses and dust vacuumed are exhausted out of your living area. Conventional vacuum cleaners exhaust back into the air you breathe (Even with a HEPA filter).

The cleaning accessories which come with a central vacuum are generally much better quality than those which come with uprights and canister vacuums.

More power and better performance of Central Vacuums remove more embedded dirt from carpets and rugs, extending their life and lowering their maintenance and cost.

A central vacuum is a sales feature which increases the value and sales appeal of your home.

Central System power units usually have a generous inclusive and limited warranty from 5 years up to lifetime, where as most portables offer only a year or two warranty.

Since a central vacuum is usually located in the basement, garage or storage closet, it is much quieter than portable vacuums.

What About Clogs?
One of our most often asked questions.
Since CVS fittings were standardized clogs are an oddity in a CV System and highly unlikely. CV Systems are designed to avoid clogging because the smallest opening in any CVS is the tool you use to clean whether it be a power nozzle, dusting brush or crevice tool. Most tools have an orifice of 1/2" - 1 1/4". Most better quality CVS hoses are 1 3/8" inside diameter while the intra system plumbing is a smooth 2" ID. The farther an object travels into the CVS, the larger in diameter it's path becomes. In all but the rarest of cases anything that you can vacuum up though a tool and into the hose will complete the journey though the remainder of the CVS system and be deposited into the collection bin.

I hear you asking now... what about small but long objects, like a pencil? Well they thought of that too. You might think that long thin objects would make it through the hose only to be trapped forever in your walls at an elbow fitting or turn in the system. The answer is yes it will, the very first elbow fitting in all CVS wall plates (where you plug in the hose) is the shortest (sharpest) turn in a CVS plumbing system. Intra system fittings (those concealed behind walls or in the attic or sub-floor) use long turns called "sweep" fittings. The fitting that fits at the wall valve, and accessible by just opening the valve door is called a "short", about half the length of sweep fittings and will stop any long ridged object from passing into the system. Neat huh?

Choosing Your System
When choosing your central cleaning system, it is important to first consider the following:

  • How large is your home?
  • How much and what type of carpeting do you have? (Thick knap, Low knap or Rugs)
  • How much and what type of hard flooring? (Tile, Wood, Cement)
  • Do you have pets and/or children, and how many of each?

The above considerations will influence what system is best suited for you. The overall size of the installation will give you a good idea of the power unit type you will need. Homes with hard surface floors or smaller homes will need the smaller units while larger installations or fully carpets homes may need the bigger model power units. Surprisingly, nearly all vacuum system manufacturers go to the same motor source, Ametek/Lamb. The real difference is system design. Most manufacturers build units which promote reliability and longevity while at the same time offering very powerful vacuum systems. The leading cause of failure in a central vacuum motor is dust followed by heat. The life expectancy of any manufacturers unit will depend on how they address these two issues.

Vacdepot's line-up of CVS power units covers the full range of smaller high airflow units up to big capacity high suction units. As a general rule of thumb the CVS Power units are identified with the square footage they were designed to clean in a typical install. Typical installs will usually cover 500 - 700 sqft per inlet. In the gray areas, consider other factors. For instance some dual fan models are designed to cover up to 3000 sqft and offer a high airflow motors. If your home consists of mostly hard floors under 2000 sqft, or your home is 1200 sqft with full carpeting, an smaller dual fan power unit will do just fine. If however your home is 2300 sqft, full carpeting, two dogs and two kids you should consider one of the more powerful models with a high suction, higher airwatt rated motor for more suction to clean carpeting and larger capacity to hold pet fur.

Regardless of the power unit you choose, the cleaning accessories which you choose to accompany your system are of the utmost importance. In fact, when working within a budget it is better to choose a premium accessory package and opt for a less powerful central vacuum than it is to buy the top of the line central vacuum power unit with a basic accessory kit. Cleaning accessories will determine not only your satisfaction with central vacuuming, but also the cleaning performance of your system.

Choose a system within your budget, yet is powerful enough for the size of your home. Our most popular CV Power Unit units range in price from $399 - $599. For large homes you can consider a dual motor model or install two separate systems in zones, much like you would with an alarm system or furnace. And if your power unit installation can not be vented or needs to be interior (installed in a closet or other room inside the home instead of a basement or garage) consider some of the newer high filtration - low noise models. Whatever the need Vacdepot has the right tool for the job. Each of our sales staff are also experienced installers, so just give us a call - we are here to help.

  Thursday | 8th October, 2015 Vacdepot Online since 27 December 1995   

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