Whole House (or Central) Vacuums

Green Architect

Some people love the result of a nice vacuum job, but most everyone can agree that the act of lugging a vacuum cleaner around the house can be pain, and loud. Wouldn't it be great if you could suck up dirt on a whim anywhere in the house at anytime? Whole house vacuums, also known as central vacuums, can do that — not only are they super easy and quiet to use, but they also result in a cleaner and more allergy friendly home.

How It Works
The easiest way to think of a whole house vacuum is to imagine that the ductwork in your house is connected to a vacuum in your garage or basement instead of a furnace. Small tubes are installed throughout the walls of the house with round inlets terminating the end of each tube at walls or floors. Just like you'd use your portable vacuum, you connect your hose and desired attachment to the outlet and begin cleaning.

There are two different types of systems readily available: cyclonic and filtered. Filtered systems use cloth or paper collection — this type of system will lose its suction power if not properly and regularly emptied and cleaned. The cyclonic system is bagless and utilizes a tornado-like airstream, which separates the dirt from the air and into a collection bin and either captures finer particles with a HEPA filter or exhausts them directly to the outdoors. Because both systems utilize larger receptacles, emptying and discarding of dirt is needed only 2-4 times a year, which is much less than conventional vacuums.

Why It's Awesome
While not a necessity, a central vacuum system makes cleaning in general so easy and would be a unique amenity for any home. You don't have to worry about carrying around any heavy equipment, you're not limited by the electrical cord length or outlet locations, and it requires very little storage space. Because the motor is in an isolated location (garage or mechanical room) it's much quieter for the user than a typical vacuum. It can be even used as a dustpan when sweeping — just install a floor register connected to the system and sweep dust and dirt into the opening. Central vacuums also typically result in cleaner air because the dirt and debris is taken directly out of the room and air is exhausted to the exterior of the house so there is no recirculation of vacuumed air.

Who Can Use It
These systems are easiest and least expensive to install during new construction; however, they can be retrofitted into any existing building. Tubes can be installed in any unobstructed cavities in walls, through the basement or attic, or even in duct returns. The inlets can be installed wherever is most convenient to you, but the typical rule of thumb is one per 600 square feet, and a minimum of one per story. The upfront cost is more expensive at $1,000-2,000, but the life of the unit is longer lasting than a standard vacuum, and the convenience is on another level.

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(Images: This Old House, Electronic House, Beam Central Vacuums)

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