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What is a Central Vacuum? (Pros and Cons)

Written by James Hall |

what is a central vacuum

Thinking of installing a central vacuum system? Read our guide to central vacuums, including what they are, how they work, and their pros and cons.

Central vacuums are uncommon in the UK, so many people aren’t aware of how they work or the advantages they can provide.

This is a shame, as central vacuum systems can be a great choice for certain situations. Let’s take a closer look at how they work and who might benefit from installing one.

What is a Central Vacuum System?

Unlike a standard portable vacuum, central vacuum systems are integrated into the walls of a property.

To start vacuuming, you just insert the hose into one of the inlets and the system automatically begins sucking. There’s no need to carry around a bulky vacuum or find a plug socket.

Central vacuums typically have three components:

  1. Vacuum power unit. A power unit drives suction throughout the network of pipes, so you don’t need to carry around the main unit when cleaning (as with regular vacuums.) The vacuum power unit is usually placed in a garage or utility room to minimise noise disturbance.
  2. Network of concealed pipes with vacuum inlets. The vacuum unit connects to a network of pipes that are typically fed throughout the walls of the property. These are then connected to a set of inlets in each room.
  3. Vacuum hose and accessories. The most recognisable part of a central vacuum system is the hose, which can be attached to any of the inlets in the house. Most central vacuum systems also come with extra tools and accessories.

The lack of a power cord, heavy motor unit, or dust canister makes a central vacuum more convenient than a regular vacuum. The main downside is that they are expensive and require installation – but we’ll get to the detailed pros and cons later in this article.

Storing the Hose in a Wall

Most central vacuum systems have a portable hose that needs to be carried to each inlet. However, some systems have hoses installed inside each inlet, so they are always accessible. You’ll still need to carry the hose handle between inlets though.

How Are Central Vacuums Installed?

Central vacuum systems should usually be installed by a professional installer. There are a number of considerations that you don’t want to get wrong, including the location of the power unit, muffling for the main unit, where the vacuum inlets should be placed for maximum coverage, and how to layout the pipe system for maximum efficiency.

It’s easiest to install a central vacuum in a new build home. However, they are often installed into existing homes too, even though this is more difficult.

In some cases, the pipes from a central vacuum system can be fed through the house without need for significant renovation. This is often achieved by installing behind a wall via a cupboard, loft, or a basement.

Installation is likely to be more difficult if you don’t have stacked closets, an attic, or a basement. You’ll need to discuss your home’s layout and requirements with a central vacuum installer to find out exactly what’s required, as every house is different.

Tip: Central vacuum inlets should usually be installed with a 90-degree bend. This prevents any blockages from entering the system.

What Are the Advantages of a Central Vacuum?

  • Lightweight. You only need to hold a hose when cleaning with a central vacuum system. If you hate lugging around a heavy vacuum, then a central system could be a good choice.
  • Quiet. As the vacuum unit is located in a utility room or garage, a central vacuum can be much quieter than a portable vac.
  • More powerful. Many central vacuum manufacturers and installers claim that their systems are more powerful than portable vacuums. While this may be true, there are differences in performance between the various central vacuum brands.
  • Cleaner air. As dust, dirt, and other debris is sucked into a central unit, there’s less chance of it escaping into the air. Exhaust air is also vented outside, meaning any particles that pass through filters aren’t recycled into the home.
  • No power cord. While you’ll need to swap inlets depending on which room you’re vacuuming, there’s no need for a power cord when using a central vacuum.
  • Large dust capacity. The main unit of a central vacuum has a large dust capacity, unlike many modern vacuums that need to be emptied (sometimes multiple times during a single cleaning session.)

Do Central Vacuums Add Value to Your Home?

Many central vacuum installers claim that these systems increase the value of your home. While this may be true in some situations, it’s worth checking with an estate agent in your local area – especially if this is one of the main reasons for you to get a central vacuum.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Central Vacuum?

  • Costly. Installing a central vacuum system can be an expensive process. You can expect to pay £800-£2000 depending on the size of your home and the features you need.
  • Inconvenient to install. Unlike a regular vacuum, which just needs to be plugged into a socket, central vacuum systems must be installed by professionals.
  • May require some renovations to install in an existing home. While it’s rare for interior walls to need to be demolished when installing a central vacuum, some walls may need to be opened up. Ideally, this would be in a closet or other hidden locations. Discuss the specifics of your home with an installer.
  • Not portable. If you move home, you’ll need to install a new central vacuum system or a regular vacuum.
  • Loud main unit. Central vacuum systems are quiet at the inlets, but the main vacuum unit is very loud. You may need to install mufflers if you’re installing it in a utility room or are worried about neighbours. The loud noise can also be an issue for pets.

Summary

Central vacuum systems are never going to replace regular vacuums are the UK’s cleaning tool of choice. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be a great option in certain situations.

If you’re building a new home, then a central vacuum system is definitely an option to consider. They are easy to install during the building process and are much more convenient for cleaning. Installation is more difficult for existing homes, but is still possible.

Do you have any questions about central vacuum systems? Let us know in the comments section below. If you’re deciding on a vacuum, you may also want to read our guide to the types of vacuum cleaner.

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