Every year that passes seems to bring us one step closer to the house of the future. It wasn’t that long ago that most homeowners thought the idea of a centralized heating and cooling system was a pipe dream (no pun intended), and now many homes across the country have HVAC systems. The same thing holds true of central vacuum systems. These systems feature accessories that let you vacuum one area quickly and send that debris to a central container. Adding a system to your home is a great idea if you have family members with allergies or if you’re just tired of constantly cleaning. While the systems can cost up to $2,000, installing a system in your home is a cheaper alternative to an expensive vacuum.
Selecting a Central Vacuum System
Selecting the right unit is the first step you need to take before installing one in your home. Ametek Lamb creates most of the motors found in these devices, and the only real differences are the square footage that each unit covers and the general design. There is also a difference between bagged vacuums and bag-less vacuums. Bag-less vacuums have a central container that you need to empty and dump, while bagged vacuums rely on a bag. When the vacuum fills, you need to remove or replace the bag, which some will find inconvenient.
Some of the newer bag-less designs feature an external exhaust. This lets the machine instantly push out the dust particles and debris collected from your home. Though these vacuums are more expensive, you can’t beat the convenience. Pay careful attention to how many particles the machine can push out of your house.
The biggest decision you need to make is between an air-driven head or an electric one. Air-driven heads rely on the air that moves through the hose to pick up debris, and these heads typically need a unit with a more powerful engine. If you use a less powerful engine, you might notice that it doesn’t have as much suction as you want. Electric heads rely on electricity, making it a better option for most homes. As long as you have a current, you can continue using the vacuum.
A central vacuum system consists of various inlets placed around your home. This inlet has a spring-loaded door on the outside and a tube on the inside that connects back to the system. You plug in the vacuum hose with any attachment that you need, and the inlet will help suction the debris back into the main container. When picking locations for your inlets, you need to decide if one is sufficient for each room or if you need multiple. You need to make sure that the hose from the vacuum can reach every space in the room when plugged into the inlet. You might try using a piece of rope the same size as the hose to ensure you pick the right locations.
The inlets should be located in convenient areas around your home. Measure the length of your hoses, and cut a length of rope to a slightly shorter length. If you have hoses measuring 25 feet, you want to cut the rope to 20 feet. This will ensure that the hoses can reach every area of the room. Keep in mind that you want to place the inlets in open areas that aren’t hidden behind heavy bookshelves or furniture that you need to move to use the system.
The main component of your system is the central vacuum unit. This refers to the container where the debris goes when you use the system. When searching for a place for the unit, look for little used areas of your home, including the attic or basement. You generally want to choose a location that is open. When turned on, the unit can become quite hot.
Choosing the Materials
Some manufacturers recommend that you have one inlet per every 1,000 square feet of space, but depending on the layout of your home, you might find that you need one inlet in each room of the house. Unless you have rooms that are wider and more open, using only one inlet per room can make cleaning and vacuum more difficult. You’ll find yourself wrapping the hoses around pieces of furniture and fighting with decorations just to clean up. If you decide to use a smaller number of inlets, place those inlets in shared or common areas, including the hallways between two rooms.
For the basic system, you’ll need one inlet for each location you choose, one short 90 degree fitting for each inlet, two sweep 90 degree fittings for each inlet, one eight-foot pipe for each inlet and one 90 degree sweep fitting. You’ll also need multiple vacuum pipe sticks, at least two short 45 degree fittings and two T-shaped 90 degree sweep fittings. Make sure that you also have couplings, low voltage wire, pipe straps, PVC glue and duct tape on hand.
Marking the Locations
Before you start installing the parts, mark the location of each component. Decide where you will hang the central unit and how you want to run the tubes from the unit to other areas of your home. The T-fittings and 90 degree fittings let you connect different tubes to the main unit. After marking the location for each inlet and pipe, you can drill holes for the valves.
Preparing the Inlets
After picking a spot for the valve, drill a small hole in the wall. Go back over that spot with a larger bit, drilling a hole approximately 2-inches wide. You’ll then need to gain access to the inside of the wall, which most homeowners do through the basement. Slide a piece of wire through the hole, and get underneath it. Make sure that there aren’t any wires, pipes or other objects in the wall that will interfere with the tubing. Drill a second hole through the wall that will allow you to hook the tubing up to the valve.
Installing the Unit
When installing the central unit, you want the unit to sit between two studs on the wall. Using wood screws and pieces of 2-by-6 or 2-by-8 boards, create a small shelf just below where the unit will sit. This shelf will support the unit and keep it from weighing down the wall. If you skip this shelf, the unit can break through the wall or cause significant damage to the wall. Make sure that after adding this shelf, you can still attach the hoses to the unit.
Attaching the Inlets
When you buy a central vacuum system, it should come with inlets. Made from plastic, these units look similar to an outlet covering with a rounded door that flips open and an empty space on the back side. If you drilled your holes properly, the inlets should slip right into place. If you made the holes too small, you’ll need to go back over those holes with the drill, and if the holes are too small, you’ll need to add some glue to the back side of each inlet when you attach the pipes and fittings. Hold the inlet flat against the wall and push back until it locks into place.
Installing the Pipes
Installing the pipes is like putting together a large jigsaw puzzle. Staring with the eight foot long piece of pipe, attach this pipe to the central fitting on the main unit. This fitting should sit right at the bottom or near the base of the unit, but it depends on the system that you purchased. You will also need to drill a hole approximately two inches in diameter into the floor if you placed the unit in the attic. This will let you slip the pipe through the floorboards to reach your additional pipes.
If you decide to put the unit in your basement, you need to affix a T-fitting to the bottom of this longer pipe. You can then use additional pieces of pipe on either side of the “T” to reach the other areas of your home. Drill two holes in the ceiling of the basement ceiling, and push the pipes through those holes.
Adding Extra Pipes
The pipes and tubing are the pieces that keep the air and debris moving through the system and into the central container. You need to attach a T-fitting or a U-fitting to the back of each inlet. Hold the fitting flush against the back of the unit, and wiggle the fitting until it completely covers the back of the inlet. After you have fittings placed on the back of each inlet, you can add other pipes and fittings to make the tubing fit together. The number of pipes and the size of the pipes that you need depends on the size of your home and the distance between the inlet and the central unit.
After installing the rest of the pipes, look for the screws that came with the kit. Each inlet should have one or two small holes on the front. Place the screws through those holes, and tighten into place with an electric screwdriver. These screws will keep the inlet from shifting with regular use. The screws should be long enough to come through the back of the wall.
Using Low Voltage Wire
Take one piece of low voltage wire, and divide it in half, creating two equal lengths. Using a wire stripper tool, carefully pull back the insulation at the end of the strand until you have one inch free. Place one uninsulated strip on the screw on the back of the inlet, and place the other strip on the second screw. Twist the wire into place until it completely wraps around the screw, and tighten the screw if needed. Drop the wire through the wall or floor back towards the unit. Repeat this step with each additional inlet, making sure that you wrap the wire around each screw on the back and that you push the end of the wire back to the unit.
You’ll want to connect each of the wires to any of the wires that it passes. Slowly work your way from one inlet to the next, using a coupling to hold two wires together. Keep working your way through the system until you reach the unit. Affix the remaining wires to the main header on the unit.
After you finish this step, it’s time to secure the pipes and fittings. Apply a thin layer of PVC pipe between each pipe and fitting. Always apply the glue to the outside of the pipes and not the inside. Applying the glue inside the pipes can cause blockages that keep the debris from moving through the system.
If you decide that you want an exhaust system, or you choose a system with an exhaust feature, look for an opening on the back of the container. Measure the distance from this opening to an exterior wall, and cut a length of pipe to the same length minus six inches. Slide the long pipe into the opening on the unit, and apply a thin layer of PVC glue to the edges of the pipe.
Holding the opposite end of the pipe, affix a 90 degree fitting to the end. Apply another layer of glue between the fitting and the pipe. Attach a muffler or a second piece of pipe to the end, and add another layer of glue. You’ll then need to add a 90 degree fitting and another layer of glue to the end of this pipe. Drill a hole slightly larger than the pipe in the wall facing the unit. Push a second length of pipe through the hole, and push the opposite end into the fitting, using more glue to secure the pieces.
Moving to the outside of your home, attach a 90 degree fitting to the end of the pipe. Use glue to fill in the gap between the hole in the wall and the pipe. This will keep moisture from getting inside your home. Adjust the fitting to face up or down, depending on whether you put the unit in your attic or basement, and use more glue to secure it in place. Once you finish this last step, you can plug in the central vacuum system and start using it.