Central vacuums are entirely different animals than the other styles reviewed in this blog. Yes, they’re a bit more expensive than the others, but there’s soo much difference.
As the name implies, a central vac is central, meaning that the motor unit is centralized in the house and the vacuum runs through hoses and pipes. I had a central vac in my long-time house. Now I’m in a condo and miss it.
The motor unit can go wherever it is convenient. I put mine on the garage wall where it was out of the way of our everyday tasks. Vacuum ran through PVC piping to several outlets throughout the house. All that was needed to vacuum was to plug the hose into an outlet. There’s no heavy canister or upright motors to lug around, just a hose and powerhead.
That also means that there’s no noise in the house. With the motor set away in the garage, the only way to tell if the vacuum was running was from the hiss of the vacuum or the motor in the powered head. Our dogs and cats looked up when they heard it, but it wasn’t loud and scary.
The biggest benefit to me though was as an asthmatic; there was no dust or exhaust coming into the house. Everything was vented outside. I can’t be in the same room when our current canister vacuum is running. Even with a HEPA filter, there’s still some annoying residue and dust on the furniture. It wasn’t so with our central vac. Everything went outside.
Changing vac bags was a breeze. The big canisters hold 6-gallon bags, that’s the size of a small wastebasket. It takes a lot to fill one. Ours was good for several months, even with two kids, a dog, and a couple of cats. Then, emptying it was easy. Just loosen the clamps, drop the canister body, and remove the bag. There are no space constraints, so the bags go in and out easily. And I wasn’t kidding about the size. A full vacuum bag half-filled one of our trash cans. That’s a lot of dirt.
To run the vacuum, all that we had to do was plug the hose into an outlet. The vacuum turns on automatically, and on some units, electricity for the powerhead runs through the hose also. There’s plenty of power. Without the size and weight constraints of a traditional push-around vacuum motor, central vacuums can house good sized motors and develop plenty of suction.
We used a motorized head for the carpets. Like a canister vac, it had a motor in the head that turned several brushes. The extra motor power allowed plenty of edge suction. With the motor in the garage, all that we had to keep in the house was a hose; we used a long one and the tools.
Installation cost and difficulty vary. My house had a basement, making it easy to run the vacuum lines. I was able to install it myself with ease. Other house styles might be more difficult. And our current condo, darn it, doesn’t have room.
Here’s the latest version of the vacuum that I had. Mine ran trouble-free for 15 years before I sold the house, and I expect that it is still running today:
Nutone PP650 PurePower 650 Air
The PP650 is the latest version of the unit that I had. It has lots of power: 650 watts is enough to suck 113 cubic feet of air a minute. That’s plenty of suction. Central vacuums are usually rated by the size of the house that they’re designed for. The longer pipes needed in big houses can cut down the amount of suction available. It is an iffy measurement, as a lot depends on the installation with the number of bends and elbows. This one is rated for homes up to 9000 square feet (big, big, big).
Nutone claims that the 6-gallon bags need emptying about once every six months. My experience was a bit more often, roughly three times a year. But I had two active children, two cats, and a long-haired dog that covered everything. Bags are moderately priced. This unit boasts a bagged or bagless option, but frankly, for the few bucks a bag and the ease of changing them out, I’d use the bag.
Nutone offers several hose and tool option kits. There’s a turbo-head which runs on suction power. It is good for small areas. For large carpets and houses with long-haired pets, opt for the electric power brush. Both kits come with an assortment of wands, dusters, and storage bags or hangers. The standard hose is 30 feet long which lets you reach several rooms at a time.
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One item to note: The hose is the weakest link in the system and the most likely to break. The motor unit carries a 10-year warranty, and because it is stationary, has a low frequency of problems. But the hose gets a lot of wear as its dragged around corners, bounced down the stairs, and attacked by the dog. The Braun hose is heavy duty but take good care of it for maximum life.