How to Avoid Buying the Worst Central Vacuum
Let’s face it – trying to buy the best central vacuum unit can be a daunting task. You have a lot to choose from out there, and things can get confusing quickly, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, especially when shopping on the web.
Not to worry though. We’re here to help narrow your choices down and give you some suggestions. With this buying guide, you’ll have the expertise you need to make an informed choice, and avoid making a costly mistake. It won’t answer all your questions, but it’ll point you in the right direction.
When in Doubt, Go With a BEAM® Unit
If you want a quick answer in 5 words or less, go with a BEAM central vacuum unit. We’ve installed central vacuum units for years, all over Fairfield and Westchester counties, and we can sell any brand we choose. We choose BEAM. Beam is made by Electrolux, a name synonymous with quality, and they are one of the largest central vacuum manufacturer in the world, offering endusers retailers like us, a ton of support.
Which Beam unit you go with will depend on the size of your home and your cleaning needs. But you can’t go wrong with the Beam Serenity Series. This line offers four different units. Our best selling is the Beam 398. Here is why:
Take a look at some of the 398’s impressive features.
• Powerful, high efficiency motor
• Tremendous suction power that covers medium to large homes
• Self Cleaning Filter
• Huge 7 gallon dirt receptacle
• Viewing Window so you know when to empty it
• Quiet Operation
• 10 year warranty on the motor
The Beam 398 is a fantastic unit. You can go up to their Alliance line if you want more features, but the 398 is the perfect place to start comparing.
Next we’ll give you things to look for if you want go in another direction.
Follow These Rules When Buying a Central Unit
There are dozens of companies that make central vacuum units. It would take way too long to research all of them, so use these four guidelines as a shortcut. If you just want the rules without all the details, here’s a quick list for you. The next section will give you more details.
1 Go With One of the Bigger Manufacturing Companies
2 Don’t Get Caught Up in the Numbers
3 Know What You’re Getting Into with Maintenance
4 Always Choose High Quality over Saving a Little Money
1. Go With One of the Bigger Manufacturing Companies
This is important, huge even. A central vacuum unit is an investment in your home, so make sure to buy from a bigger company. Some of the smaller companies aren’t much more than a couple of guys in their garage. You just don’t know what kind of service to expect with them.
With big companies like Beam, VacuMaid, and Vacuflo, you know what you’re getting. These manufacturers have good reputations and solid products. Their central vacuum units have good serviceability and support, so go with one of these.
2. Don’t Get Caught Up in The Numbers
Unless you’re an engineer or a glutton for punishment, don’t pay a whole lot of attention to all the numbers. These central units have a ton of specs they want to talk about, but they won’t mean much to the average buyer.
The only number you really have to check out is square footage. Central units have a maximum square footage they can cover, and you don’t want to buy one that’s too small. You’ll lose too much suction power if you do. We recommend that you cut manufacturer's "up to" recommendations in half. In other words, if a manufacturer says that a unit is good for "up to" 10,000 sq ft of living space, you should expect it to work very well in your 5,000 sq ft home. This is a general rule used by many central vacuum installers.
Like we said before, just double the square footage of your home and look for units that can cover it. You double it just to make sure you have enough suction for deep cleaning, even for the most remote parts of the house. Or in case you want to make additions to your home later on.
What about Air Flow and Water Lift?
You don’t need to worry about things like air flow (CFM) and water lift, not by themselves at least. These numbers only matter because they’re used to compute something called “air watts.”
Air watts measure how much power the central unit has. But for the average buyer, it’s just a good way to compare different brands. Like we said though, it’s not required.
3. Know What You’re Getting Into With Maintenance
Good maintenance is crucial to your central vacuum unit. Without it, you’ll encounter problems pretty quick. And with some companies, poor maintenance can void your warranty.
So know what you’re getting into up front. Ask yourself these questions about the units you’re interested in.
• How often do I need to empty the dirt receptacle?
• What’s involved in cleaning the filter? (hint: go with a self cleaning filter)
• How much dirty work’s involved in maintaining the unit?
• Do I need proprietary filters and bags?
Be honest with yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure by committing to maintenance you won’t always be able to do. Spend a little bit more up front to get a low maintenance unit.
4. Always, Always, Always Go For High Quality over Saving a Little Money. Always.
We hope the message is clear. A vacuum system is an investment in your home. A good one can actually increase resale value a bit. So be willing to spend a couple hundred dollars more to get a high quality power unit.
Here are a few central vacuum units for comparison.
• The Beam Serenity 398A
• The Vacuflo FC1550
• The VacuMaid S2600
These are high quality models, in terms of performance and serviceability both. They’re absolutely worth the extra money you pay up front. The first service call will eat up whatever you save on a cheaper model anyway.
Lastly, you’re just going to get better longevity performance and service when you buy a higher quality vacuum unit. We can’t emphasize enough how important quality is.
Get the Right Filtration System
After the motor, the filtration system is the most important part of your central unit. Broadly speaking, there’s three different types: bag units, filtered, and cyclonic. Each type has its own set of pros and cons, which we’ll discuss below.
1. Bagged Units
Bagged units are about like they sound. They use a bag to gather debris, just like your old fashioned portable vacuum cleaner. It’s best to empty them when they’re less than ¾ full, otherwise you’ll lose suction power.
Although outside venting is alway an option, one advantage of bag units is that they don’t absolutely require it.
2. Filtered Units
Filtered units use a filter to protect the motor from getting clogged with dust and debris. They may or may not use a bag, depending on the manufacturer. And just like a bag unit, outside venting is not required. The downside is that the filter inevitably reduces air flow and suction power.
You have to clean the filter, to ensure efficiency and better protect the motor. This can sometimes be a dirty job. This is one of the reasons we like BEAM vacuum units, because they have a self cleaning filter.
In our opinion, filtered units are the way to go. The offer the best combination of efficiency and ease of use, especially the self cleaning variety.
3. Cyclonic Units
Cyclonic units work by spinning the dust and debris around at incredibly high speeds. The heavier dirt stays in the canister, while the rest is either exhausted outside the home or sticks to a screen which needs to be cleaned. This means that outside venting is always required. There’s no filter to clean in cyclonic systems, so you’re virtually guaranteed to get 100% cleaning power, at least initially.
It’s our experience that the lack of a filter is a real drawback, even if it does give you maximum power, initially. But without a proper filter, dust and debris inevitably get into the motor over time, greatly reducing suction power. This almost guarantees service calls down the road.
So there you have it – the ultimate buying guide to buying a central unit on the web. We’ve given you the most essential information, but you can always research individual brands if you want more. With this buying guide, you’ll know exactly what to compare and how to evaluate your options. Good luck!
For further reading, see our post "The Best Central Vacuum - with Anchovies" for more helpful info.
This might sound crazy, but purchasing the best central vacuum system is not that much different than ordering a great pizza. In fact, a great central vacuum system has more in common with a pizza than you might think. This is especially true when you consider how the best wholes are always greater than the sum of their parts.
So what exactly do built-in central vacuum systems and delicious pizzas have in common? To start with, they’re both simple and complex simultaneously, depending on how you look at them. If you’re just looking at their components or ingredients, they’re both pretty straightforward, right? Pizzas are typically made with pretty everyday ingredients — dough, cheese, tomatoes. . . And the components of a central vacuum system are pretty simple too. They’re all made up of a vacuum unit (the part with the suction), the hoses and accessories, and the pipes and wires that go into the walls of your home.
But things get more complicated when you consider them as wholes. When you order a pizza, you’re getting more than just the ingredients. You’re getting a recipe, the ovens, the chef, and hopefully a quick delivery. But most importantly you’re paying for the pizza place’s reputation and the service they give.
And it’s exactly the same with a central vacuum system. Of all the components that go into a central vacuum system, the most important is the installation, the part where the technicians put the pipes and wires into the walls of your home. Here's why: If you vacuum unit or hoses break, they can easily be replaced. But if you have a bad installation, you’ve got a real situation on your hands. That’s why choosing the right central vacuum company is so important. You’ll regret it if you leave the job to an unlicensed or untrained company.
A problems associated with a bad installation may or may not show up right away, but I guarantee you they WILL show up eventually, even if it takes several months. Then the problems will start coming fast and furious.
I wish my customers and potential customers alike could come along on some of my service calls. Then they’d see firsthand the nightmare installation problems I deal with on a daily basis, all of them caused by inexperienced or unlicensed companies.
There are a million pizza places in just about every town, but only a few who knock it out of the park. And just like with pizza, there only a few central vacuum installers who will do the job right the first time and give you the follow up service you deserve. And if you want to know who does the best installations, do what you do with pizza places and ask the locals for advice. Here's what your neighbors have to say.
The image to the right is of an extremely poorly done central vacuum installation. The shocking thing is, it's not a rare occurance. I see stuff like this, when I'm on service calls, constantly.
Why are there so many sloppy and incorrectly done central vacuum installations? I've thought long and hard about this, and I've come up with only two possible explanations.
The first is incompetence. These people simply can't do any better because they unable to. Since there are no training schools for central vacuum installation, and since many installations are done by other trades, such as carpenters or electricians, who don't specialize in this area, it's understandable, although not excusable.
The second is apathy. Many people simply don't care. They know and are capable of better work, but they too lazy or thoughtless to do it right. These are the people who do a poor job and then jokingly exclaim, "You can't see it from my house". In case you aren't familiar with that expression, it means that they (the installer) don't have to look at it or deal with it after they leave. They are going to cash your check and be long gone, leaving you, the unsuspecting homeowner, with a substandard job.
People are either conscientious or they aren't. You can't train someone to care, so this problem is not correctable. Unfortunately, it's epidemic in the construction industry, and I see the results of it on nearly every other service call I am on.
A good portion of the work we do is making right what others have done incorrectly, so if your current vacuum system doesn't seem to work very well, or if you are building a new home, and want to get it right the first time, give us a call today. We are happy to help.
Brian Wasicki - owner/operator of Central Vacuum Service, LLC