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.
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 of your questions, but it’ll point you in the right 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 Initially
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 recommended square footage they can cover, and you don’t want to buy one that’s too undersized for your house. You won't have much suction power if you do. Here's a pro tip: 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, or finish part of your basement 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”, which is a number that is useful when comparing central vacuum units.
Air watts measure how much cleaning power the central unit has. But for the average buyer, it’s just a good way to compare different brands.
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 quickly. And with some brands, improper 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 or replacing the filter?
• How much dirty work’s involved in maintaining the unit?
• Do I need proprietary filters and/or bags?
Be honest with yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure by committing to maintenance you won’t always be able to do.
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. We've seen "cheap" units fail in as little as 2 years, while quality units can last 10, 12, even 20 years, depending on usage.
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 many portable vacuum cleaners do. It’s best to change the bag when it's about 1/2 full, otherwise you’ll begin to lose suction power and strain the motor.
Although outside venting is alway an option, one advantage of bag units is that they don’t require it — IF they have a good quality bag, that is.
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 model. And just like a baged unit, outside venting is not required. The downside is that the filter inevitably reduces air flow and suction power, and that can happen pretty quickly. Also, replacing and/or cleaning filers is messy and can be costly as filters can cost from $20 - $30 each.
You have to clean the filter, to ensure efficiency and better protect the motor. This is a very dirty job (take my word on that. I've done it many, many times).
In our opinion, vacuum units with removable filters that need cleaning or replacing, are not the way to go.
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 many service calls down the road.
So there you have it – the ultimate buying guide to buying a central unit. 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.
Hard to believe, but I cleared all of this from one vacuum inlet on a service call in Stamford.
Now, as much as I would not recommend you vacuum any of the items in the below picture, a properly-installed central vacuum system should not clog, even if you did.
I met this darling little girl in New Canaan today.
One of the best side benefits of my job (in-home service) is getting meet and interact with a bunch of great dogs. They each have their own personalities, and, with few exceptions, I love them all.
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 that creates 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 your vacuum unit or hoses break, they can easily be repaired or replaced, but if you have a bad installation, you’ve got a real situation on your hands because the pipes and wiring are hidden behind walls. 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. We see this often.
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 hundred 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.
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 far too often.
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. The people who've done these installations simply can't do any better because they are 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, especially when they are charging for their work.
The second is apathy. Many people simply don't care about the quality of the work they do. They know and are capable of better work, but they are 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 and the headaches that go with it.
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. We've helped thousands of homeowners with their central vacuum systems, and we can help you.