Installing Central Vac - Continued
Approximately 20% of our installations are retrofits. Although
new construction is currently driving the business, we expect
this trend to shift as the public becomes more aware of the
feasibility of retrofitting a central vacuum system into an
existing home. Retrofit costs may be the same as in a new home,
or higher, depending on the level of difficulty.A retrofit in a
single-story ranch over a crawlspace or full foundation, for
example, is usually quite simple. A wall inlet valve can be
easily modified to rotate into the wall cutout and clamp to the
drywall, much like an electrical old- work box. Even two-story
homes, homes on slabs, and homes with elaborate floor plans
normally pose surprisingly few difficulties. When faced with a
slab or finished basement, we often run tubing from the power
unit up into the attic, and back down to the inlet locations.
Stacked closets also may provide a convenient floor-to-floor
Valve location isn't limited to the lower wall; other
possible locations include a low ceiling (as in a finished
basement), cabinet sides and toe kicks, stair risers, or right
in the floor, protected by a metal inlet cover.
If a retrofit situation requires elaborate tubing runs and
long verticals, which increase flow-resistance and lifting
requirements, we'll specify a stronger dual-motor unit to
compensate. These cost from $50 to $200 more than a
single-motor unit, but ensure that the system is sufficiently
Inlet Valve Layout
Careful valve location is an essential part of a successful
system. A 30-foot length of hose is standard, although many
manufacturers also offer a 35-foot hose. An easy way to ensure
complete coverage with your inlet layout is to start at the far
corners of the floor plan and work toward the center, using a
30-foot length of string to simulate the hose's reach.
A central hall is often a good location for an inlet because
the hose can extend outward in all directions. If you install
an inlet in a large bedroom or a family room, try to locate it
near a door opening where it's unlikely to be blocked by
furniture placed against the wall. Consider the swing of the
door as well, so that it won't interfere with the cleaning
pattern. Most users find that it's easier to vacuum upward from
the bottom of a flight of stairs, rather than dragging the hose
down the stairs from above. Also, locating the inlet higher on
the wall, at the typical wall-switch height is better for older
users or those with limited mobility.
Garages. Vacuums come in
handy in the garage, too. The best location for the inlet is
close to the overhead door, so that the homeowner won't have to
pull their car, boat, or motorhome inside to clean it (Figure
5). It's a good idea to locate a remote garage inlet valve at
wall-switch height so that it won't be blocked by storage
items. Many power units have a built-in utility valve which can
serve as the garage hose inlet.
5. An inlet valve located close to the garage's
overhead door eliminates the need to pull the car in
Note that you may have to switch to fire-code-rated tubing
and an approved inlet cover where it passes through an attached
garage wall. When finishing up the system installation, we
recommend a separate $50 to $100 garage kit that includes a
dedicated hose and some standard head attachments. It's better
than dragging the indoor hose and attachments through the dirt
and grease of the garage environment.
We're frequently asked what happens if something like a sock
gets caught in the tubing inside the wall. The answer is that
this is highly unlikely: The hose and fittings are all 1 1/4
inches in diameter, while the in-wall tubing is 2-inch
diameter. Any clogging that does occur is likely to be in the
hose or at the valve inlet. A clog that can't be cleared
manually can usually be blown out by reversing the suction. If
necessary, most power units can be lifted right off the wall
and used like a portable vacuum to suck out a clog.
Avoidable trap. One
possible cause of clogging inside the wall is a tubing
configuration that allows a "gravity drop." As dust and dirt
pass through an overhead horizontal tubing run, some of the
heavier debris may drop out of the stream into an improperly
installed inlet below. If that inlet remains unused long enough
and enough debris collects, the inlet can become blocked.
The solution is never to wye the vertical pipe from an
intermediate inlet directly into the underside of an overhead
run. Instead, the wye fitting should connect to the side or top
of the overhead run, then sweep down to the inlet takeoff below
(Figure 6). Although even a gravity drop blockage is easily
cleared, you'll never encounter this problem in a properly
configured tubing installation.
Figure 6. Heavier
dirt particles can drop out of the air stream and
eventually clog an improperly installed and little-used
inlet tube. Wyes should take off only from the side or
top of overhead runs to avoid this problem.
Surprisingly, nearly all vacuum system manufacturers go to the
same motor maker, Ametek Lamb of Ohio, for their power unit.
Even Miele, a popular, high-quality German portable vacuum
maker, imports Ametek motors for use in some of its machines.
Typical residential-use motors are rated for 800 to 1,200
service hours. The published motor service ratings are
conservative, and repairs to central vacuums seldom involve
more than replacement of the motor's carbon contact armature
brushes. Fifty hours of run-time per year is considered to be
standard to high usage in the average home, which means you can
usually count on an average 20- to 30-year service life from a
Homes with up to 5,000 square feet of living space and simple
tubing runs are adequately served by a smaller, single-motor
unit that draws between 13 and 16 amps. Bigger homes call for a
twin-motor system on a dedicated 240-volt, 30-amp circuit.
Homes in the thinner atmosphere above the 8,000-foot altitude
level may also call for upgraded suction capacity.
When exhausting a system to the exterior, avoid long tubing
runs that might cause back-pressuring and overheating of the
power unit. The maximum total exhaust run should be no more
than 30 feet.
Options and Attachments
A 110-volt power nozzle with rotating beater brushes grooms
and cleans medium- and deep-pile carpet much better than an
ordinary floor head. Air-driven "turbo heads" are also
available, but we don't recommend them for heavily carpeted
homes. Air flow is diverted to drive the impellers, thereby
diminishing suction strength. Very sandy traffic areas and
commercial floors are also poor candidates for a turbo head,
because all the dirt is drawn through the 5/8-inch-diameter
impeller housing, which wears out the blades. Turbo heads are
most suitable for cleaning low-nap carpeting and rugs in homes
without hairy pets.
M.D. Manufacturing's Stealth power head has a sensor that
monitors the drive belt tension so that any undue resistance,
such as an entangled rug fringe, causes the motor to cut out,
preventing belt breakage. Although a replacement belt only
costs a few bucks, when a customer has just spent $1,500 or
more on a new, high-tech vacuum system, they expect no
aggravation. At $500, a Stealth head costs $100 more than a
regular power head, but eliminates these maintenance problems.
Regardless of the brand, no beater brush is immune from
occasional loading of fibers and hairs, so periodic cleaning is
Figure 7. A
toe-operated Vac Pan valve, installed in the cabinet
toe kick, makes kitchen sweep-ups a breeze.
A toe-operable VacPan in the kitchen is a great option in
kitchens and mudrooms. (Figure 7 above). The valve can be
inconspicuously installed in the cabinet toe-kick for quick
sweep-ups. An extra 30-foot, crush-proof, dual-voltage hose
costs about $200. This is a good option for a two-story
Bob and Ron Boffolihave owned and operated Cape Cod Vacuum
Mart in Orleans, Mass., since the early 1980s.