Guide written by:
Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter
A vast improvement on the handheld model, this machine provides a suction cleaning network throughout the rooms of a property. A simple pipe, with an extension, brush or nozzle attached, is connected to a socket installed in each room. The motor stays hidden in the garage. Suction, flow, power... Va-va-voom!
- Flow rate
- Suction strength
- Floor type
What is a central vacuum cleaner?
A central vacuum is basically a fixed vacuum cleaner with a large bag or a tank - installed on the wall of the garage or laundry room - with a network of pipes distributed around the property. At strategic locations there are wall outlets or floor outlets into which a long pipe (around 8m) is connected. The pipe is able to cover large areas - up to around 40 m² - meaning that just a few outlet connections can serve a whole property.
Besides the ease of use it offers, it has one particularly hygienic strong point: everything that is sucked in is collected in the room where the main vacuum unit is located. Unlike traditional vacuum cleaners, a central vacuum therefore avoids re-contaminating the room you're cleaning with dust and mites. The waste can even be discharged to the outside.
Of course, installation requires substantial work to plumb in and conceal distribution pipes, so it's much easier to install in a new-build context, but it does provide unparalleled user comfort!
Central vacuum: flow, power and vacuum strength
Your choice on these three key points will depend on the floor area you need to cover, as well as the types of flooring.
A vacuum is what provides the force to suck up and collect dust; its strength is measured in kPa (kilopascals) or mmH2O (pressure in columnar millimetres of water). 1 kPa is equal to 102 mmH2O. Both units of measurement are used by manufacturers, so it's useful to be able to convert between them when comparing products. The vacuum strength you'll need should be chosen according to the types of flooring you need to clean, standard values being 40 kPa for hard floors and carpets, 20-35 kPa for smooth flooring. You're best off with an adjustable setting on the vacuum extension to modulate vacuum strength for different types of flooring - if your home has more than one, that is!
Note that excessive strength can be counterproductive because the brush tends to stick to the floor and the pipe becomes more difficult to manoeuver.
Flow rate is expressed in dm3/s (cubic decimetres per second) or m3/h (cubic meters per hour). This translates as the device's ability to quickly transport dust from floor to tank. The greater the flow, the more effective the cleaning. Allow around 36dm3/s for smooth floors and 40dm3/s for hard floors.
Effective power, expressed in Watts (W), is a combination of the two previous parameters, giving an overall indication of vacuum cleaner performance. Bear in mind that this will be lower than the total electrical power consumed, since devices are never 100% efficient. And be careful, as lower-quality devices will have much higher power consumption rates than the useful power they provide. You've been warned!
Central vacuum: comfort and decibel level
Noise is a crucial factor when choosing your vacuum device, especially if the vacuum unit is installed inside and you want to listen to your favourite music while vacuuming.
Noise generated is measured in decibels (dB) and for this type of device, noise levels are generally between 60 and 75 dB.
Bear in mind that decibels aren't a linear scale like metres, so a sound level of 75 dB is about twice as loud 65 dB.
If you can, install your central vacuum cleaner in a garage or other remote location, or choose a low-noise model.
Central vacuum: installation
Supplied with a wall mount and various accessories - extensions, brushes and suckers (quality having an impact on the suction effect) - as well as 2 or 3 suction outlets, these devices generally come as a ready-to-install kit. Some central vacuum cleaners even have a "garbage collector" outlet for installation on the kitchen worktop - just sweep your waste towards it, open the outlet, and hey presto, it disappears! As if by magic!
Some suction outlets are activated via a power switch. This type of device requires electrical wires to be plumbed in alongside the outlet pipes. Others are sound-activated - the central vacuum unit detects the specific sound produced by the outlet being opened; some even trigger suction via vibration - just shake the extension pipe and off you go!
The suction distribution network, supplied in kit form, has various elements:
A suction unit;
Lengths of pipe;
Various connection components;
Fittings and elbows in a range of angles.
Many distribution systems are based on 50mm PVC pipe. Make sure you check compatibility with inlet and outlet ports.
Limit pipeelbows to 90° to avoid loss of suction power.
Suction distribution network
Tank suction unit or bag suction unit?
Bag suction system
Bag suction systems are much more efficient but require bag changes at regular intervals. Capacity, expressed in litres (L), varies from one model to another. Bag-type central vacuum cleaners are also more hygienic.
Tank suction system
Tank systems don't require any consumables; their capacity is also expressed in litres. They are less hygienic and therefore not advisable for people with dust allergies - emptying a vacuum tank has never been high on an asthmatic's list of priorities. The tank also requires regular cleaning.
Advice, features and accessories for central vacuum cleaners
Centralized vacuuming is a practical and efficient way forward as long as you choose a decent quality system!
Filter quality and ease of removal for cleaning are paramount for optimal use.
Tank ergonomics and volume should be carefully chosen for ease of emptying.
Bag volume as well as availability of spares shouldn't be overlooked.
Brush and nozzle
Brushes and nozzles low in quality lead topoor suction - it's as simple as that. These are generally interchangeable with one another.
The length of the extension pipe has a direct influence on the overall vacuum installation: the longer the pipe, the fewer outlet connections you need. Pipe quality is cucial.
The quality of manufacturing plastics and accessories is a strong indicator of durability.
Suction units with external evacuation are much more hygienic. Particularly preferable for people who are allergic to dust.
Flow, vacuum strength and power
Flow, vacuum strength and power must be chosen to suit your floors; choose your technical specifications as accurately as possible.
The dB level produced by your device is significant if you want to hear yourself think while vacuuming!
Learn more about home renovation...
To find out more about home renovation, follow our editors' advice and check out their other guides:
Guide written by:
Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter, 187 guides
Redo a roof with wooden beams? Check.Advise Mister everybody in the DIY shop? Check.Redo the bathroom plumbing? Check.Fit together, build the walls, paint a partition, throw my hammer in a rage thinking that it will fix the problem? Check. The DIY motto ? Learning is better than delegating… well, it's also a question about your wallet! The satisfaction? The beer at the end of the job! What do the best have in common? The influence of Gyro Gearloose, Mac Gyver and Carol Smiley depending on your generation, a good dose of curiosity, a average hand-eye coordination and a taste for risks… and if it doesn't work, try again! Advise you? I'll do my best!