The pros and cons of a central vacuum system

Vacuuming the floors is an essential and recurring chore in keeping your home clean, but few homeowners enjoy this task. You need to haul the vacuum from room to room, moving furniture and changing the vacuum attachments to reach hidden areas, all while the device produces an incessant racket.

A central vacuum system can make it a little easier to clean up your floors. However, it also has a few disadvantages of its own.

While portable vacuum cleaners have their own canisters to store dust and dirt, central vacuum cleaners keep this receptacle and the motor in a single location, usually in the basement or garage. Josh Garskof, writing for This Old House, says the central device is connected via PVC pipes to several inlets mounted in walls or baseboards. The homeowner plugs a lengthy hose and cleaning attachment into this inlet to activate the system.

A central vacuum system can work in a few different ways. Nick Gromicko, writing for the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, says cyclonic systems spin air in a canister and exhaust it outside the home. Other systems collect dust and debris in a canister or bag, which needs to be emptied periodically.

Some systems allow the user to vary how powerful the vacuum pressure will be. Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, says the system may also include baseboard suction, allowing a homeowner to sweep any detritus against the baseboard and hit a switch to vacuum it up.

One major benefit of a central vacuum system is that it provides more power than a portable vacuum. Garskof says since a homeowner only needs to carry the hose and its attachment, the motor can be up to five times as powerful as a standard vacuum.

This extra power doesn't mean added noise in the rooms being vacuumed. Since the motor is located in a more secluded part of the home, its noise will be muffled. The suction of the hose and cleaning attachment, meanwhile, are considerably quieter.

The system can usually result in a considerable improvement to indoor air quality. Hicks says that while traditional vacuums kick up dust and dirt, central vacuum systems can connect to external vents. This allows any airborne particles to be removed from the home, cutting down on allergens, mold spores, and other irritants.

Central vacuum systems can allow you to clean your home more quickly and thoroughly. David A. and David P. Madsen, authors of the 2017 textbook "Modern Residential Construction Practices," say the hose and attachments of the system are easier to carry than an upright vacuum. The portability of the hose makes it easier to clean difficult to reach areas; coupled with different attachments, the hose's flexibility allows you to pair your floor cleaning with tasks such as vacuuming the drapes. The length of the hose might also allow you to clean areas such as the deck, patio, or cars in the garage.

The system usually turns out to be a good investment for the homeowner. Gromicko says they are long-lasting and more durable than portable vacuums, and often come with longer warranties. They will also improve the home's resale value, since a buyer is likely to pay more for the convenience the system offers.

While central vacuum systems have become more popular in recent years and are often included in new construction, it is also possible to retrofit an existing home with the system. A few inlets are often enough to provide sufficient coverage for the entire home. Garskof says that while it's easiest to install a system when the walls have been opened up for electrical or plumbing work, it's also possible to snake pipes into the walls through access ports drilled in the basement.

However, this installation—and the system itself—can be considerably more expensive than a standard vacuum. Hicks says the average cost to install a central vacuum system in a 2,400-square-foot home is $1,500, with the expense climbing if you need more outlets or additional features.

Since the hose used in the system can be up to 30 feet long, homeowners may find it cumbersome to drag it from room to room. The Madsens say this hose can also take up a significant amount of storage space when rolled up and put away, and can damage wooden furniture by rubbing against it.

Homeowners who are concerned about these issues may consider a system with a retractable hose. The home improvement professional Bob Vila says this feature allows a hose to be pulled from the inlet and retract back into the wall afterward.

The canister of a central vacuum system needs to be cleared out infrequently. Hicks says the typical system only needs to be emptied every two or three years. However, Gromicko says homeowners may find this process to be annoying, since it can kick up a considerable amount of dust.

The power of the system can also cause unexpected problems. The added suction can pull in larger items than a traditional vacuum would pick up. This can gum up the system, or might require you to sift through the large amount of debris in the canister in search of the lost item.

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