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All You Need to Know About Central Vacuum Systems

Last modified: 2019/01/07 | Approximate reading time 6 mins

Good indoor air quality in your home is essential for living well especially if your family members have allergies. This is even truer if your windows stay closed during most of the year. Closed windows mean stale air and a great place for dust and other allergens to thrive. This is what makes a central vacuum system such a strong and indispensable part of keeping your home in top shape!

What is a central vacuum system and how does it work?

Central vacuums are basically very powerful vacuums with the ability to remove dirt, dust and even the smallest particles with great force. Part of a central vacuum system's efficiency is thanks to the numerous inlets installed throughout the house which effectively eliminate the need to carry around cumbersome vacuum equipment. The simplicity in its functionality is thanks to only needing to attach a hose to an inlet when you wish to clean that particular space.

Essentially, it’s like having a personalized vacuum for each room. This is a type of convenience which simply cannot be matched by the traditional vacuum cleaner. Central vacuum systems are also versatile and can be used on any flooring and if that weren’t enough, you can use it to clean out your car or to help groom your pet.

A central vacuum system is made up of 3 main parts; the power unit, the filtration system and the dust collecting receptacle.

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The heart of the central vacuum: the power units

The power unit of a central vacuum is a big motor that is most often installed in the garage, basement or any part of the home where it is out of the way and will make less noise when powered on. On average, the power produced by the motor of a central vacuum is about four times stronger than the typical portable vacuum cleaner, making it more than capable of handling any mess with ease.

When selecting the type of power unit, remember that its wattage is dependent on the size of the area you need to clean. To choose the power unit properly, you need to understand what the rating units are based on. A central vacuum system is rated in air watts which measure the amount of suction against the motor’s overall power usage. Air watt ratings can vary greatly between different models but the least powerful units will measure roughly 450 air watts and very powerful units will be rated above 800 air watts. 

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Pipes and valve inlets

Pipes are a central part of the operation of a central vacuum system, as are the inlets. These small pipes are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and have the perfect diameter to control effective suction force. The pipes are necessary to keep each valve connected to the central unit. The inlets play an equally central role as these valves are used to give you freedom of movement when cleaning.  With various inlet valves installed strategically around your home, some by the floor for sweeping and others along walls, you can just plug in the hose and clean the appropriate space.

Choosing where these inlets are situated should be a decision you put thought into. Remember, these valves are low voltage (meaning you won’t be wasting energy needlessly) and are only engaged when the hose is connected to them, otherwise, they are completely sealed.

Different types of filtration systems

The filtration system is nearly as important as the power unit, in the sense that it does quite a bit of the work in keeping your air clean and free of particles. With that, there are three types of central vacuum filtration systems; vertical, cyclonic, and inverted. In a vertical filtration system, the dirt is sucked through the hose and down, in a vertical path, into the chamber and falling into a receptacle that rests on the bottom of the unit. A cyclonic filtration system creates a centrifugal force within the chamber to separate debris from air, with the debris falling into a canister and the air exhausted outside.  

Lastly, the inverted filtration system draws the debris upwards through a filter, with the particles being dropped into the canister. Each system varies slightly but the overall best performer continues to be the cyclonic system since it relies only on power and no physical filter to help your home stay clean.

Central vacuum dust collection

The dust collection system is the last part of the vacuum. This is where the dust and dirt are held before being disposed of. There are a couple of ways the dust is collected in a central vacuum system.

  • Canisters are bucket-like containers whose size is based on gallons held. You should look for one that holds more than 25 litres. The larger the bucket is, the less often it will need to be emptied, with big buckets needing to be emptied every few months at most. The advantages of buckets are that they are often solidly built and made out of a plastic that’s easy to clean.
  • Disposable dust bags can be used to capture the debris inside the canister for easy disposal. This also leaves the canister relatively clean, meaning washing it out completely can be done less frequently.

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Attachment tools & accessories for central vacuums

Part of installing a central vacuum system is choosing which attachments to add to enhance your system. One of the most common is a wand tool which is a straight tube that effectively extends the hose, allowing you the control to reach high and low areas without putting a strain on your back. When selecting a wand attachment, look for one which is telescoping, to give you the distance to clean very hard-to-reach spots. Another important accessory is the rug/floor nozzle which basically turns the hose into a broom, allowing you to give hardwood and carpeting a deeper clean.

Many central vacuum systems come with a kit of standard tools that are used most frequently, however you may find that buying separate accessories will better suit your home’s system.

Some disadvantages to central vacuum systems

While the list of positives is quite long, there do exist some disadvantages that should be mentioned. The first drawback is the cost. The price to purchase a good central vacuum system is roughly $1500 and up. This is without the cost of labour factored in which means prices can increase significantly.

Another issue you need to be aware of is its suction power. Since a central vacuum produced such great suction power, items can get sucked into the hose more easily. This means either having to retrieve the item or worse, damaging the central unit. This will ultimately lead to having to assume the cost of necessary repairs to bring the unit back into top working order. Therefore, it means that when you’re cleaning messes, you must be prudent so as to avoid picking up items like children’s toys.

A possible downside to central vacuum systems is eventual weak suction power. If you are experiencing a weak performance from your central vacuum then it points to either a clog in the pipes, extreme buildup of dust in the filter, a full canister that needs to be emptied or worst-case-scenario, a burnt-out motor that needs to be replaced.

Overall, a central vacuum system is an amazing tool to help you keep your home looking great while also freeing you from excessive dust and allergens. A central vacuum can give you all the cleaning power necessary to never look at a portable vacuum cleaner again. These units are very durable which means they will stand the test of time without the need for major repairs. Should an issue arise, it may be of little consequence since these units often have great warranties that keep you covered for years after purchase.

The greatest upside besides the exceptional cleaning power is that these units tend to be very enticing to potential buyers, ultimately adding value to your home. Lastly, central vacuum systems can be installed while the home is being built or after construction is finished as an add-on. In either case, the importance of hiring a licensed contractor is a top priority, especially with a system this complex. Using the services of a professional will mean you can rest assured that the work was carried out properly and you won’t have any surprise issues to deal with.

Author: David Ben-Zaken

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