You may or may not have heard of central vacuum systems, also called “central vac.” People who know of them generally love 'em or hate 'em. This week we’ll talk about the pros and cons of putting a central vac in your new home. We’ll also go over the cost of the system and who would benefit from it most.
Let’s get right into it.
What is central vac?
Central vacuum systems are permanently installed, whole-home vacuum systems that work through a centrally located, motorized unit that creates suction. The system’s motor and the debris collection container are typically located away from the main living areas, usually in the basement, garage, or in a storage room.
The central vac includes a tubing system that’s hidden inside the walls of the house. That tubing system connects to the motorized suction unit and the central debris collection container. The tubing system also connects to vacuum wall ports, located throughout the house.
When you’re ready to vacuum, you simply connect a long hose to a vacuum wall port and turn the system on. With the hose, you suck up dirt and debris, which move from the hose, to and through the hidden tubing system, and down into the debris collection container.
The motor and collection container of the central vac system are stationary, but in a traditional central vac system, the hose that is used for vacuuming, must be moved from room to room. When not in use, the hose is stored in a closet or some other out of the way place.
Alternatively, in the Hide a Hose central vac system, retracted hoses are conveniently hidden within walls throughout the house and can be pulled out from wall ports whenever they’re needed. Both the traditional central vac system and the Hide a Hose system also require a small vacuum head that attaches to the hose for more thorough cleaning.
The primary difference between a central vacuum system and a traditional, portable push vacuum, is that the traditional, portable vacuum unit has to be carried from room to room while you’re vacuuming. In contrast, the suctioning component of the central vac system is already present to each room, through the wall ports. And, with the Hide a Hose system, a retractable hose is also present and ready to pull out and use, without having to tote the hose.
The number of wall ports you get installed can vary, but usually there is at least one wall port per floor. To be clear, if you choose the get the old school central vac system that’s not the Hide a Hose system, you will have to carry the vacuum hose from room to room. With the Hide a Hose system, you simply pull the hose out of the wall port when you are ready to use it.
The central vacuum system needs to be maintained by cleaning out the central debris collection container and cleaning the filter about once or twice a year. That’s compared to traditional vacuums which need filters, belts and vacuum bags replaced on a semi regular basis.
Let’s talk about the Pros of a Central Vac system.
1. Central vacs are typically larger and, often more powerful, in terms of suction, when compared to portable vacuum units. Central vac systems generally have 3-5 times the suction power of a conventional vacuum cleaner. Because of that, you might be able to vacuum less often since the central vac cleans deeper.
2. You don’t have to haul the suction unit around with you. Plus there are no cords. You simply use and transport the hose and attached vacuum head, without dragging around the entire vacuum cleaner and electrical cord.
3. Central vac systems allow for healthier indoor air quality. The dirt and debris that are vacuumed up are carried away to the main debris collection container, which is usually located in the basement or garage. Central vacuums take dust, allergens and dirt away from the main living area. There is no risk of dirt and dander getting blown back out of the unit, into the living area. This is especially beneficial for people suffering from allergies or asthma.
4. The central vacuum cleaner system is quieter than a traditional vacuum because the motorized suction unit is usually located far from the living and sleeping areas.
5. The suction of a central vac system is unlikely to decrease over time unless your central vac filter is clogging up. With a traditional vacuum, suction tends to decrease as the bag or canister fills with debris.
6. Manufacturers say that installing a central vacuum system in your home will add several thousand dollars to its resale value. But keep in mind, central vacs are popular mainly with people who have used them.
7. You can add vac pans to your central vac system. This is probably my favorite feature. Vac pans eliminate your need for dust pans. They are under cabinet or baseboard slots into which you can directly sweep dirt and debris. Vac pans are connected to the central vac tubing system and can be installed throughout your house, in kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, bedrooms and living rooms. Using a regular broom, you simply sweep dirt and debris into one of these slots and the dirt is suctioned away.
Now, what about the Cons of a central vacuum system?
1. Central vac systems are expensive compared to most portable vacuums. Averaging $1000 - $3000 installed, the price will vary depending on the size and strength of the vacuum unit itself, the number of wall ports, hoses, fittings and accessories you decide on.
2. Although you won’t have to lug around a vacuum cleaner and cord, if you get the central vac, you will still have to drag a relatively long hose around with you as you vacuum. A Hide a Hose system will keep you from having to move the hose from room to room, but you’ll still have to manage the hose within a room. That long hose could potentially scratch or damage walls, corners or furniture pieces. And even with a central vac, you’ll still need to transport attachments. The convenience of not having to push a 20 pound vacuum cleaner may be lost by the hassle of dealing with long hoses and attachments.
3. Central vac systems generally are less energy efficient than conventional vacuum cleaners.
4. Vacuuming stairs can be difficult with the long hose of the central vac system.
5. Some homeowners say that the central vac is not very effective on wall to wall carpeting, unless you buy an extra battery powered nozzle especially made for carpeting.
So, as with most things, the are up sides and down sides to a central vac. But is the system worth the money for your household?
There are several reasons that you should strongly consider a central vac system.
1. If you want to be able to regularly vacuum the house while babies or other family members are sleeping. Since the central vacuum system is much quieter than a traditional vacuum, you can vacuum without disturbing others.
2. If you or family members have bad allergies or asthma. With a central vac system, dust and allergens are vacuumed up, then transported to areas outside the living areas, usually the basement or garage.
3. If you have pets that shed. The strong suction power of a central vac system often handles pet dander better than a traditional vacuum can.
A central vacuum system may NOT be worth the investment if:
1. You have a smaller house, say 1200 sq ft or less. You may never vacuum the house enough to justify the expense of a central vac.
2. Your flooring is mostly tile, wood or stone. Sweeping and mopping are usually the easiest and best ways to get those hard surfaces clean. Lots of wall to wall carpeting may also be a challenge for a central vac system. Central vac does best, I’ve read, with rugs, not lots of wall to wall carpeting.
3. You have a tight budget. At $1000-$3000, this system is a fairly expensive luxury. Especially when compared to a good quality traditional vacuum cleaner which you can get for several hundred dollars.
4. If you don’t clean very often. This expensive system is not a smart use of money for those who clean very occasionally. If that’s you, your money is probably better spent on a good conventional vacuum cleaner.
From reading forums, I've learned that people either love or hate central vac systems. About 50% of homeowners says they would never build a house without central vac and about 50% of homeowners say they don’t care for the system. Some people who actually have a central vac system installed say they have abandoned the system all together and instead, use a traditional cordless vacuum, a back pac model or an automatic robotic Roomba cleaner as opposed to using the central vac.
Clearly, there is no right or wrong answer. Think about your budget and your circumstances to help you make a decision.
If you don’t want to invest in a central vac system, consider putting a cordless vacuum and/or a robotic Roomba-type unit on each floor of your house. That way you won’t have to lug a vacuum up and down the stairs. Side note here: if you decide you want a cordless vacuum, don’t forget to have electrical outlets installed INSIDE your broom closet so the vacuum can recharge whenever it’s stored away.
If you like the idea of central vac’s vac pans, which eliminate the need for dust pans, you might look into a more economical, non-centralized dustpan suction system called Sweep Vac. The Sweep Vac, like the vac pan, lets you sweep dust and debris into under cabinet or baseboard openings and sucks dirt away into a filter. Another automatic dustpan is the Sweep Away Cabinet Vacuum.
Well, that’s all I have for you this week. I hope you learned as much as I did. Thanks for stopping by.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it’s subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.