Is a central vacuum system worth it? What are the pros and cons of a central vacuum? How does it compare to a standard vacuum?
If you’re considering investing in a central vacuum system for your home, these are the questions you’re probably asking yourself.
In this article, I provide an in-depth look at the pros and cons of central vacuum systems. I’ll lay out facts to help you decide if it’s worth the investment or if you should keep using your regular vacuum cleaner.
Let’s get started!
Use the links below to navigate the article:
- What Is a Central Vacuum System?
- Central Vacuum System Pros
- Central Vacuum System Cons
- Bottom Line: Is a Central Vacuum System Worth It?
What Is a Central Vacuum System?
A central vacuum system is a whole-house solution for removing debris from floors and home furnishings. Its main hub is a large power/suction unit, usually located in a basement, garage, or utility closet.
From this unit, a collection of tubes and electrical wires run through the walls of a house and connect to different rooms and living spaces.
Depending on the type of system chosen, you might have removable hoses or a retractable hose at each port for convenience.
Some systems also have slots in the baseboards in addition to ports for suction hoses. These slots suck any debris that you sweep into them, much like a vacuum-powered dustpan.
Ideally, these systems are installed as a house is being built, as it requires routing of tubing through the walls. But if your home is already built, you can still install a central vacuum system.
Pros of Central Vacuum Systems
Is a central vacuum system worth it? Here are the main advantages of central vacuum systems:
- Quieter than most standard vacuums
- The suction is stronger than standard vacuums
- Contributes to better air quality
- Multiple attachment options
- Can increase your home’s value
- Comes with a lengthy warranty
Now let’s dive into each of these advantages in more depth.
For those who have multi-level homes, it can become a pain (literally) to lift a heavy vacuum and take it from floor to floor.
With a central vacuum system, the only thing you’ll have to lift is a lightweight hose. If you opt for a model with retractable hoses at each port, you won’t have to carry anything.
These ports deliver suction to each room, allowing you to attach a hose to clean up. Since vacuum hoses reach 30-feet or more, you can clean adjacent spaces such as hallways and foyers.
If you choose to add baseboard dust slots to your central vacuum system, it’ll eliminate the need for a dustpan. You can sweep debris from hard surfaces directly into the slot to be suctioned away.
One of the greatest advantages of central vacuums is how infrequently you’ll have to empty the collector.
Typically, the collector on a central vacuum is much larger (generally 5-10 gallons) than a standard upright vacuum (1 gallon or less), so it doesn’t need to be emptied frequently.
In fact, you may only need to empty it a few times a year.
Assuming the power unit is installed away from your main living spaces and set up in a garage or basement, the central vacuum system is relatively quiet.
Additionally, many central vacuum units feature built-in noise-reduction features. You can also buy PVC mufflers on Amazon to dampen the noise further.
A standard, full-size vacuum cleaner can have a rating of 70 to 80 decibels, making it hard to have a conversation while vacuuming.
Central vacuum systems tend to be much quieter (around 60 decibels), which is a nice benefit if you have pets, a newborn, or someone in your home who works the night shift.
When choosing your central vacuum system, ask about the decibel rating and the conditions in which the noise level was tested. Those questions will give you an idea of what you can expect.
Central vacuum system units are much larger than standard vacuums and therefore feature larger, more powerful motors.
These robust motors offer much more suction power than a standard vacuum and can pick up debris of all sizes.
To put it in perspective, central vacuums typically have between 500 and 1000 air watts, and standard vacuums have between 100 and 200.
These numbers can be somewhat misleading because central vacuums require much stronger suction power to pull air and debris through the system of tubes into the central unit. In contrast, standard vacuums only need to draw air a couple of feet from the suction head to the dirt bin.
The point still stands — in most scenarios, central vacuums are more powerful than standard vacuums.
Better Air Quality
A central vacuum system is definitely worth it if you or someone in your home experiences allergies, asthma, or other breathing problems.
Because dust particles and allergens are sucked out of the room into an area far from your living space. And, since you don’t have to regularly empty the unit, you’ll generate less residual dust in your home’s air.
Yes, you can get vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters, but you’ll still need to empty them, and that’s when the dust has a chance to spread. With HEPA filtration on a central vacuum system, you will get added air protection along with the benefit of only needing to empty the collector a few times each year.
A central vacuum system can easily last for 20 years or more, especially if you maintain it properly. They’re made with heavy-duty materials (steel unit and PVC piping) and therefore built to last.
The motors have an expected life of 800 hours or more, sturdy piping is used throughout the system to direct airflow, and the hoses are robust, able to withstand constant movement.
For comparison, regular vacuum cleaners last an average of eight years.
If you’re concerned that central vacuums lack the attachments that typically come with vacuum cleaners, don’t be. Central vacuum kits include everything from crevice tools and telescopic wands to brush rollers and soft mop extensions.
Having a built-in vacuum system can add value to your home. Of course, it will depend on the type, age, and features of the system, but it can be a significant benefit if you decide to sell at some point.
Typically, a central vacuum system carries a five to 10-year warranty, while most standard vacuums have a warranty of five years or less.
For example, OVO and Imperium both offer 10-year warranties. Nutone offers up to a 10-year warranty, but the length of the warranty depends on the model. By contrast, Bissell and Shark each offer a five-year warranty on most standard upright vacuums.
Cons of Central Vacuum Systems
Now that you know the advantages of central vacuum systems, let’s take a close look at the disadvantages.
Here’s why you might want to still with your standard vacuum cleaner:
- Installation is expensive
- Requires specialized repair personnel
- Sometimes less efficient
- Challenging to install
- Requires extra storage space for the long hoses
- Susceptible to clogs
- Less versatility than standard vacuums
Let’s explore each downside in more depth.
The cost of purchasing and installing a central vacuum system can run anywhere from $1000 to $3,000 but varies by geographic location, the features you select, and the brand.
Additionally, other factors that impact the bottom line include the size of the collection unit, the number of connections required, and whether you install it during construction or after your home is built.
To put it in perspective, for less than the price of installing a central vacuum system, you could buy two high-end upright vacuum cleaners such as a Dyson or Shark and just keep them on different levels of your home.
You can get free, no-obligation quotes on HomeAdvisor.com to see how much installing a central vacuum system in your area would cost.
Repairs can be costly if something goes wrong with a central vacuum system, especially if the issue is behind the walls. You’ll need a repair person who specializes in your system. Often that expertise comes with a high labor price.
While some problems like a clogged pipe are minor, addressing electrical or motor issues can cost almost as much as installation.
It’s also a good idea to know the details of your warranty because some require that authorized technicians complete the repair (otherwise, your warranty is voided).
May Be Less Energy Efficient
The jury is still out on how standard vacuums and central vacuum systems compare in terms of efficiency.
Modern vacuums are designed to save energy and even have battery-powered functions. Since they are smaller than a central vacuum system, they naturally use less energy.
The powerful motor of a central vacuum system will require much more energy to use, but it also might cut down on how often you’ll need to vacuum.
Difficult to Install
If you’re planning to add a central vacuum system to your existing home, prepare yourself for temporary disruption.
Ports will be installed in the designated rooms, the central unit will be hung in the basement or garage, and pipes, tubing, and a low voltage wire will run from the central unit to the ports.
In most cases, the installers can run the tubing from the inlets to the central unit without demolishing interior walls.
However, there are some situations in which it’s necessary to break through a wall to run the tubing to the central unit. Experienced installers will find a way to minimize the disruption. For example, they may break a wall inside a closet instead of one in a main room.
Unless you opt for retractable hoses, you’ll have to find a place to store your hose. Hoses can be 30 or more feet long and bulky, so you may need to dedicate a large portion of a closet or other storage space to keep them hidden.
Vacuum cleaners, by contrast, have a much smaller footprint.
Added Caution Required
When using the hose without attachments, it’s easy to suck large objects into the system. That can lead to costly repairs. Be sure to pick up objects that could get lodged in the hose or pipes before vacuuming.
The hose can also rub against furniture or walls, damaging paint or upholstery. With a central vacuum, you need to be more aware of your movements.
Central vacuum systems have attachment options, but the selections aren’t as numerous as what high-end standard vacuums offer.
With high-end and standard vacuums, you get various attachments to handle different floor types and home furnishings. Plus, they often give you more control over suction power with high, medium, and low settings.
Furthermore, technological advances on standalone vacuums are making them more lightweight and versatile.
Bottom Line: Is a Central Vacuum Worth It?
A central vacuum system offers convenience, delivers powerful suction for intensive cleaning, and protects the air quality in your home.
Yet, installation is costly, and maintaining the system and requires extra care.
Here’s the bottom line: if you can afford it, require exceptional air quality in your home, want to add value to your property, or love convenience, then a central vacuum system is worth the investment.
If you have a smaller home with limited storage, save your money and stick to standard vacuum cleaners.
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