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I am in the process of buying a brand new home in the US through a builder. The home will be approximately 3,000 sq ft and I was given the option of buying a central vacuuming system for the house.

It looks really nice and convenient. The price doesn't sound crazy for the potential benefit and all the "plumbing" required (approx. $3,500). I am pretty confident this would not be something easy (or even feasible) to get installed after the home is built. Therefore, a few questions that popped in my head are:

  • In terms of efficiency of vacuuming, is this a better option than normal vacuum cleaners that have to be plugged in to the wall? (i.e. which of the two removes more dust from my home?)

  • Any concerns regarding the compatibility of the holes that go in the wall? Are they pretty standard, or will I be tied to a particular manufacturer if I decide to buy the central vacuuming system?

  • Is it true that central vacuums will expel less dust than normal vacuums? The seller said so and it sounds intuitive to me since you can have particles coming out of the electric vacuum cleaners while you're vacuuming, while the central vacuum is just a giant hose all the way to the central container.

  • Thoughts on the little dust vent that goes in the wall, used to suck the particles you swept from the floor? (doesn't require the hose)

  • For those who have it, do you think it's worth it? Any limitations that make you have to use an electric vacuuming system?

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    Many people today like the little robot vacs that do the work. On the other hand we have a Beam central vac and couldn’t live without it. The noise is elsewhere and it exhausts outdoors. The suck power is greater than any portable home vacuum I’ve used, on par with a good shop vac. I didn’t read the answers closely to see if anyone suggested, but be certain to get “electric inlets” for line voltage power head. It’s actually dual voltage hose low for control, line for the power head. – Tyson Apr 18 at 22:24
  • Carrying a brushhead / pipe around is much easier than a standard vac. Especially for those with medical conditions... – Solar Mike Apr 19 at 3:02
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    In terms of understanding the cost difference, it may be worth checking with your insurance agent. The (not brand new) home I bought last year had a central vac, we had the prior owners remove it before we moved in, because our insurance agent let us know it would increase our premium (apparently they're a common source of house fires, since people tend to not maintain/clean them). Separately, when my home inspector saw it had been removed, he made a similar comment about the fire danger for unmaintained units. We had two normal vacuums we really liked so it was no loss of functionality for us – dwizum Apr 19 at 13:06
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    What @Tyson said! Also, get a "dustpan" installed in the kitchen. I had one added to an existing system, I loved it. Also, people do a lot of stupid things to kill/injure themselves. You just have to ask yourself, are you one of those people? Let your answer be your guide. – Tim Nevins Apr 19 at 13:20
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    Two considerations for a conventional vacuum cleaner: when you move, you can take it with you. You can't do that with the central system. If you spend one tenth of your quoted cost of a central system on a conventional vacuum cleaner, you've spent too much (I'm looking at you, Dyson). A good quality $250 vacuum cleaner can easily last more than ten years. – Dennis Williamson Apr 19 at 21:13
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I've installed several systems in new construction projects up to about 6,000 s.f., one of which was a log home. (That was interesting.)

No, you don't necessarily get better performance. It's all about convenience and not having to deal with dusty bags or canisters except maybe once a year. A really good standalone unit will at least equal a central vac powerhead.

Each brand has a specific interface. Some may be compatible, but don't count on it. You could have the builder rough it in and add the boxes and covers later, if you're the patient and careful type.

It's true that central vacs expel less dust into the home in the sense that the collection can is usually outside, or at least exhausted to the exterior. They're often in the garage or under an exterior shelter. If yours stays inside, it all comes down to specific hardware.

Floor sweeps are great if you actually use a broom (or just want to kick a little debris in). If you're more of a hard-floor vacuumer anyway, they'd be somewhat pointless.

"Worth it" is subjective. You might look into doing the install yourself and save about 2/3 the cost. It's not difficult and isn't as critical as drain plumbing since a tiny leak won't destroy a portion of your home. With modern standalone vacuums as great as they are cough Shark Rocket cough, it's up in the air. So to speak.

Other thoughts:

  • Noise is a bit of a wash. You don't have the fan motor running at the point of use, but the air being pushed through the pipes can whoosh a bit in other rooms, and the powerhead brush motor (or pneumatic impeller) makes some noise. You also have a powerful fan unit coming on suddenly in your garage, which can startle the pants off the dog.
  • The powerhead and hose assembly is a bit cumbersome to use and store. Since the hose has to reach from the inlet port to the other side of a typical room, they're much longer than what you'd find on a traditional portable canister vacuum. Think laundry-basket sized bulk.
  • The inlets can leak slightly during use or snap shut a bit when the system is activated. Again, noise in rooms other than where the thing is actually being used.
  • Some folks end up buying multiple powerheads, one for each level of the home. Plan for that potential cost.
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    Way better for noise unless you are vacuuming close to the motor unit. – Fresh Codemonger Apr 18 at 20:55
  • @isherwood By looking at the diagrams for the central vacuuming, the installation looks pretty complex. Wouldn't I need to tear down parts of the walls to pass all the pipes that go to the central location? – Phil Apr 18 at 21:05
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    The central vacs I'm familiar allow you to pipe the exhaust air outside, similar to a dryer vent. So there is no need to mount the unit outside for dust reasons. – user71659 Apr 18 at 21:15
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    @FreshCodemonger There are quiet vacuum cleaners on the market now. I've got a nice canister vacuum made by some German company that has an adjustable suction setting, and often the sound of the sucking noise is actually louder than that of the motor. – Michael Apr 19 at 6:43
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    One other thing to consider: my parents like their central vacuum because it's far lighter and easier to handle than a traditional vacuum. People with mobility problems or bad backs can have trouble with heavy vacuums, especially if they have to drag them up and down stairs. You can easily transport a central vac hose by coiling it like a fire hose and wearing it across your body. – bta Apr 19 at 17:15
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Like anything else, can be done well or poorly. Having seen some done poorly, those are a waste of money. Short sharp turns, improperly arranged tees make keeping the system free of clogs a pain, when the system is clogged it does not vacuum very well. Then people resort back to portable vacuum cleaners.

Less dust in the house: well, that depends on where the vent on the central goes - if outside, that's true. If inside, it's down to "how good are the filters?" before it blows that air back into the house. But if it vents outside, does it make gas appliances backdraft, or is there makeup air supplied?

I don't know how compatible the different maker's end-fittings are, I suspect "not very." But if the pipes are in place, you could change out the end-fittings if you needed to.

Cost-effective-ness-wise, I have to suspect that putting in the proper plumbing (long sweeping curves (all going the right direction) so things don't get stuck and make difficult clogs in the walls is a big part of doing it right) and attaching a big shop-vac (with a fancy HEPA filter cartridge, if you like) to the business end would come out a lot less expensive than any of the "whole-house" vacuums I've seen, and might work better than some of them, too. But that's the way I think. You'd still have to pick a wall-outlet fitting.

Sweep port (to use with a broom) does not seem like a useful thing unless you persist in using a broom when you have a vacuum handy, so that's down to your habits. Then again, I've never seen one in person, but I doubt I'd be interested. Even more so if you are concerned with removing dust, since a broom just stirs up the small dust and that won't make it into the "sweep port".

Whether it's any of the commercial units I've seen or a shop vac on the low-budget plan, the actual vacuum unit itself will be quite loud, wherever it is. On the upside, vacuuming where it isn't will be quieter than using a portable vacuum cleaner, as the noise is concentrated at the central unit location.

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    The salient point is that when they are done right with high quality components they work great. Same is true of central heating and cooling systems. Having a vacuum specialist install with factory specs closely followed is key. – Kris Apr 19 at 12:26
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Put it in.

  1. Way better for noise unless you are vacuuming close to the motor unit.
  2. Typically better built. Standalone vacuums tend to fall apart easier and not last as long, I've had to replace the motor on the central vac after 10 years of use.
  3. If you have a decent install you can get smaller reach hoses. Also there is now a system where the hose can retract into the pipe and is stored at the pipe location - http://www.hideahose.com. I find dragging the hose and power head around is easier even with the 30' hose than dragging a standalone vacuum around. I do plan on getting another powerhead and hose for a separate level of the house though but I think that is cheaper than a 2nd standalone vacuum.
  4. The dust will go to the canister and while some will come out the exhaust air this is typically in the furnace room and doesn't go into your lungs while you are vacuuming and has a chance to settle back down before you go in there or be sucked up as combustion air in your furnace/hot water tank/boiler. If you do vent outside, you loose the dust but also the conditioned air. You also then have to worry about makeup air or back drafting.
  5. No bags to dispose of typically - the canister stores the dust and you just pull it off and empty it out.
  6. Floor sweeps are nice - you don't need a dust plan.
  7. No rechargeable batteries that wear out or need charging.
  8. Performance. The motor on the central vacuums are much stronger. Some of that performance is lost due to friction losses with pipe length but I'd bet that relative to most standalone vacuums you get more suction from a central vacuum.

I've found the rough in pieces are compatible. I am pretty sure even the end pieces are compatible between the major brands though you might want to compare.

The kids did clog it once with a large toy which wedged in a bend and flapped for a long time before finally completely clogging. I used a plumbing snake to dislodge it and it ended up at the canister. That should be rare - encourage kids to not put their large toys in it !

  • Did you install yours before your home was built or after? If you did it after, how complicated was the installation? How does the price sound to you, $3,500 for 3000 sq ft? – Phil Apr 18 at 21:07
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    Install before drywall unless you want to have bulk heads or holes going through closets and less than ideal pipe runs. $3500 seems ok all in maybe a little high see if you can get a quote just for rough in. Install isn't bad but you have to know what structure you can cut through and where, I did my install and drilled through IJoist, bottom plates, studs and depending on your layout that can be difficult. I'd recommend paying for at least the rough in - finishing is easy. – Fresh Codemonger Apr 18 at 21:13
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    It is a massive difference for allergics. – Simon Richter Apr 18 at 21:23
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I am pretty confident this would not be something easy (or even feasible) to get installed after the home is built.

The pipes usually go in the wall or loft space which would make it difficult to install at a later date. Unless you are happy with large diameter plastic pipes fixed to your walls.

My partner is quite small and she did struggle with all the flexible pipe but found it easier carrying the pipe upstairs as opposed to the vacuum cleaner.

The vacuum cleaner used to get snagged on furniture which the tube didn't.

The tube got blocked once when the father inlaw sucked up a sock and I had to find something long enough to poke it out. But it stuck in the flexible tube and not the plastic pipe. I was told if anything was sucked up it should get trapped in the inlet.

We would have another one but I would not retrofit one as it would be too much of a pain and I do not want plastic pipe fixed to the walls.

We had the system for three years before we moved and did not have any problems.

  • Good point--the inlet port is the smallest diameter opening in the circuit. It should catch almost anything short of a stick that gets caught on a pipe joint. – isherwood Apr 19 at 12:54
  • No one in my family is small, but we still don't like carrying vacuum cleaners upstairs and so we got one for each floor. Ended up with three of them -- and a lot of change from $3500. – Elise van Looij Apr 19 at 22:29
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We put central in this house and it's made me consider it a must-have feature.

If I'm vacuuming a hard floor (and almost all of our traffic areas are hard floor) it's very quiet, we converse in normal tones. On carpet when the brush is on it's of course louder but still nowhere near a normal vacuum. The exhaust is into the garage (a bit deal for me because of allergies.)

Ours uses a permanent filter system--the air is flowing up through the filter, dirt falls down into the collection can when the power is off.

Our system is less than ideal as it needs a separate power connection for the brush and it's very sensitive to how the hose is plugged in, slightly off and it doesn't turn on. I usually switch it on and then twist the hose until it actually comes on.

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