Launch Slideshow

Beam. The top-of-line Serenity IQS series comes with a 10-year warranty, a self-cleaning Gore-Tex fabric HEPA filter, optional outside venting, and an anti-microbial bucket to stop microbe growth between emptying. An LCD display provides real-time system maintenance alerts. The motor delivers 600 to 640 air watts of power depending on the system size, which can be calibrated for an overall cleaning area from 7,000 to 12,000 square feet. A sound-reduction package includes an anti-vibration mounting system, canister sound insulation, and an optional muffler that reduces overall power unit noise to as low as 65 decibels. 800.369.2326. www.beamvac.com.

Product Review: Bite The Dust

Product Review: Bite The Dust

  • Beam. The top-of-line Serenity IQS series comes with a 10-year warranty, a self-cleaning Gore-Tex fabric HEPA filter, optional outside venting, and an anti-microbial bucket to stop microbe growth between emptying. An LCD display provides real-time system maintenance alerts. The motor delivers 600 to 640 air watts of power depending on the system size, which can be calibrated for an overall cleaning area from 7,000 to 12,000 square feet. A sound-reduction package includes an anti-vibration mounting system, canister sound insulation, and an optional muffler that reduces overall power unit noise to as low as 65 decibels. 800.369.2326. www.beamvac.com.

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    Beam. The top-of-line Serenity IQS series comes with a 10-year warranty, a self-cleaning Gore-Tex fabric HEPA filter, optional outside venting, and an anti-microbial bucket to stop microbe growth between emptying. An LCD display provides real-time system maintenance alerts. The motor delivers 600 to 640 air watts of power depending on the system size, which can be calibrated for an overall cleaning area from 7,000 to 12,000 square feet. A sound-reduction package includes an anti-vibration mounting system, canister sound insulation, and an optional muffler that reduces overall power unit noise to as low as 65 decibels. 800.369.2326. www.beamvac.com.

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    Beam. The top-of-line Serenity IQS series comes with a 10-year warranty, a self-cleaning Gore-Tex fabric HEPA filter, optional outside venting, and an anti-microbial bucket to stop microbe growth between emptying. An LCD display provides real-time system maintenance alerts. The motor delivers 600 to 640 air watts of power depending on the system size, which can be calibrated for an overall cleaning area from 7,000 to 12,000 square feet. A sound-reduction package includes an anti-vibration mounting system, canister sound insulation, and an optional muffler that reduces overall power unit noise to as low as 65 decibels. 800.369.2326. www.beamvac.com.

  • H-P Products. The Element central vacuum systems dual-filtration design incorporates a first-stage cyclonic action to separate most dust and dirt from the air column, followed by a permanent, two-stage filter that never needs replacement to segregate fine dust particles. The manufacturer says the unit does not require outside venting, but provides an optional vent kit. Models range from 520 to 575 air watts of power with 64.7 to 66.7 decibels of noise. A translucent 6-gallon bucket requires emptying three to four times per year. 800.822.8356. www.elementvac.com.

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    H-P Products. The Element central vacuum systems dual-filtration design incorporates a first-stage cyclonic action to separate most dust and dirt from the air column, followed by a permanent, two-stage filter that never needs replacement to segregate fine dust particles. The manufacturer says the unit does not require outside venting, but provides an optional vent kit. Models range from 520 to 575 air watts of power with 64.7 to 66.7 decibels of noise. A translucent 6-gallon bucket requires emptying three to four times per year. 800.822.8356. www.elementvac.com.

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    H-P Products. The Element central vacuum system’s dual-filtration design incorporates a first-stage cyclonic action to separate most dust and dirt from the air column, followed by a permanent, two-stage filter that never needs replacement to segregate fine dust particles. The manufacturer says the unit does not require outside venting, but provides an optional vent kit. Models range from 520 to 575 air watts of power with 64.7 to 66.7 decibels of noise. A translucent 6-gallon bucket requires emptying three to four times per year. 800.822.8356. www.elementvac.com.

  • Hayden. The companys side-opening valve (left) is also available in an electric SuperValve version (right). Like most inlet valves, these valves have two metal contact points in the valve that provide a low-voltage connection, allowing the user to turn the remote vacuum motor on and off with the vacuum tool handle. Inlet valves such as the SuperValve are also available with line voltage to power electric brushes. 888.461.5307. www.haydenvac.com.

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    Hayden. The companys side-opening valve (left) is also available in an electric SuperValve version (right). Like most inlet valves, these valves have two metal contact points in the valve that provide a low-voltage connection, allowing the user to turn the remote vacuum motor on and off with the vacuum tool handle. Inlet valves such as the SuperValve are also available with line voltage to power electric brushes. 888.461.5307. www.haydenvac.com.

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    Hayden. The company’s side-opening valve (left) is also available in an electric SuperValve version (right). Like most inlet valves, these valves have two metal contact points in the valve that provide a low-voltage connection, allowing the user to turn the remote vacuum motor on and off with the vacuum tool handle. Inlet valves such as the SuperValve are also available with line voltage to power electric brushes. 888.461.5307. www.haydenvac.com.

  • M.D. Manufacturing. The SilentMaster vertical bag-type central vacuum boasts a patented noise-reduction system with total output under 62 decibels. The filtration system offers a proprietary, three-ply, disposable media that does not require venting, although optional venting is available. It has a large 12-gallon debris bucket. The line includes four motor sizes, from 458 to 905 air watts, for homes up to 20,000 square feet. It comes with a six-year warranty. 800.997.2278. www.builtinvacuum.com/silent_master.

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    M.D. Manufacturing. The SilentMaster vertical bag-type central vacuum boasts a patented noise-reduction system with total output under 62 decibels. The filtration system offers a proprietary, three-ply, disposable media that does not require venting, although optional venting is available. It has a large 12-gallon debris bucket. The line includes four motor sizes, from 458 to 905 air watts, for homes up to 20,000 square feet. It comes with a six-year warranty. 800.997.2278. www.builtinvacuum.com/silent_master.

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    M.D. Manufacturing. The SilentMaster vertical bag-type central vacuum boasts a patented noise-reduction system with total output under 62 decibels. The filtration system offers a proprietary, three-ply, disposable media that does not require venting, although optional venting is available. It has a large 12-gallon debris bucket. The line includes four motor sizes, from 458 to 905 air watts, for homes up to 20,000 square feet. It comes with a six-year warranty. 800.997.2278. www.builtinvacuum.com/silent_master.

  • Broan-NuTone. Designed for homes 2,400 square feet and smaller, the 400-air-watt NuTone CV400 system offers a small power-unit canister for space conservation, measuring 30 inches tall and 11 inches in diameter. It has a single-stage motor; a HEPA-rated, disposable bag that requires changing twice a year and sequesters particles down to 0.1 micron; outside venting; and a built-in muffler for quieter operation. Other available vacuum systems include one of the industrys most powerful units, the VX1000, which delivers 1,040 air watts. It has a built-in sound suppression system and an anti-microbial, HEPA-rated dual-filtration system, meeting the Carpet and Rug Institutes Indoor Air Quality testing program standards. It is available with optional outside venting. 888.336.3948. www.nutone.com.

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    Broan-NuTone. Designed for homes 2,400 square feet and smaller, the 400-air-watt NuTone CV400 system offers a small power-unit canister for space conservation, measuring 30 inches tall and 11 inches in diameter. It has a single-stage motor; a HEPA-rated, disposable bag that requires changing twice a year and sequesters particles down to 0.1 micron; outside venting; and a built-in muffler for quieter operation. Other available vacuum systems include one of the industrys most powerful units, the VX1000, which delivers 1,040 air watts. It has a built-in sound suppression system and an anti-microbial, HEPA-rated dual-filtration system, meeting the Carpet and Rug Institutes Indoor Air Quality testing program standards. It is available with optional outside venting. 888.336.3948. www.nutone.com.

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    Broan-NuTone. Designed for homes 2,400 square feet and smaller, the 400-air-watt NuTone CV400 system offers a small power-unit canister for space conservation, measuring 30 inches tall and 11 inches in diameter. It has a single-stage motor; a HEPA-rated, disposable bag that requires changing twice a year and sequesters particles down to 0.1 micron; outside venting; and a built-in muffler for quieter operation. Other available vacuum systems include one of the industry’s most powerful units, the VX1000, which delivers 1,040 air watts. It has a built-in sound suppression system and an anti-microbial, HEPA-rated dual-filtration system, meeting the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Indoor Air Quality testing program standards. It is available with optional outside venting. 888.336.3948. www.nutone.com.

  • Central Vacuum Installation 1. Low-voltage wires connect to inlet valve, allowing users to trigger motor using the switch on the tool handle. 2. Main PVC tube. 3. Incoming air and vacuumed debris. 4. A power unit with a cyclonic filtration system is pictured. Some units use a disposable bag.  5. Debris canister.  6. Distance from floor to power unit, per manufacturer minimum, typically about 28 inches. 7. Distance to wall typically 12 inches to allow motor to cool. 8. Motor powered by conventional 15-amp, 120-volt electrical outlet. 9. Optional muffler mounted at the exhaust port quiets the motor (not the hand-held tool). 10. Optional outside-exhaust line. Most green certifications, including NGBS and LEED for Homes, require outside venting for IAQ credits. 11. Vent hood, similar to a dryer vent hood.

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    Central Vacuum Installation 1. Low-voltage wires connect to inlet valve, allowing users to trigger motor using the switch on the tool handle. 2. Main PVC tube. 3. Incoming air and vacuumed debris. 4. A power unit with a cyclonic filtration system is pictured. Some units use a disposable bag. 5. Debris canister. 6. Distance from floor to power unit, per manufacturer minimum, typically about 28 inches. 7. Distance to wall typically 12 inches to allow motor to cool. 8. Motor powered by conventional 15-amp, 120-volt electrical outlet. 9. Optional muffler mounted at the exhaust port quiets the motor (not the hand-held tool). 10. Optional outside-exhaust line. Most green certifications, including NGBS and LEED for Homes, require outside venting for IAQ credits. 11. Vent hood, similar to a dryer vent hood.

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    Illustration: Harry Whitver

    Central Vacuum Installation 1. Low-voltage wires connect to inlet valve, allowing users to trigger motor using the switch on the tool handle. 2. Main PVC tube. 3. Incoming air and vacuumed debris. 4. A power unit with a cyclonic filtration system is pictured. Some units use a disposable bag. 5. Debris canister. 6. Distance from floor to power unit, per manufacturer minimum, typically about 28 inches. 7. Distance to wall typically 12 inches to allow motor to cool. 8. Motor powered by conventional 15-amp, 120-volt electrical outlet. 9. Optional muffler mounted at the exhaust port quiets the motor (not the hand-held tool). 10. Optional outside-exhaust line. Most green certifications, including NGBS and LEED for Homes, require outside venting for IAQ credits. 11. Vent hood, similar to a dryer vent hood.

  • Central vacuum systems are driven by a central power unit that holds the motor and is mounted in an out-of-the-way location such as the garage or utility room. PVC tubing is plumbed through floor joists, attics, or walls to connect valves placed strategically throughout the house. Cleaning tools range from carpet brushes and crevice tools to more exotic attachments.

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    Central vacuum systems are driven by a central power unit that holds the motor and is mounted in an out-of-the-way location such as the garage or utility room. PVC tubing is plumbed through floor joists, attics, or walls to connect valves placed strategically throughout the house. Cleaning tools range from carpet brushes and crevice tools to more exotic attachments.

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    Courtesy Beam

    Central vacuum systems are driven by a central power unit that holds the motor and is mounted in an out-of-the-way location such as the garage or utility room. PVC tubing is plumbed through floor joists, attics, or walls to connect valves placed strategically throughout the house. Cleaning tools range from carpet brushes and crevice tools to more exotic attachments.

Central vacuum systems require little maintenance. Unlike conventional vacuums that leak if bags tear or become overfull, the systems have large capacity dust collectors that won’t tear or leak, so they generally won’t release particles into the air even when neglected. But to assure that absolutely no household dust is ever recycled into indoor air, the American Lung Association recommends cleaning with a central vac that vents particles to the outside of the house. Most central vac manufacturers provide this option, and many have high-quality, self-cleaning HEPA filters, such as Beam’s Gore-Tex filter system that screens particles down to 0.3 microns at 98% efficiency.

Central vacuum systems also have larger, more powerful motors than you could lug around on an upright, thereby doing a better job of deep cleaning, especially on carpets. “Central vacuums provide up to five times the suction power of a portable with 100% of the vacuumed dirt removed to a dirt canister,” says Amy Wesely, floorcare marketing manager at H-P Products.

A Three-Part System

A central vacuum system contains three major components: a power unit that holds the motor, a filtration system with a receptacle to collect the dirt, and a network of PVC pipes plumbed through the walls and floors, terminating at inlet valves where users plug in the hose for a host of cleaning tools and attachments.

In the old days, a central vacuum sweeper resembled a powerful shop vac, serving up strong suction to absorb dirt but lacking the belt-driven agitator brushes common on conventional uprights. Since the 1990s, central vacuum tools have improved. They now include powerful electric or air-driven turbine brushes, plus a wide array of convenience accessories from crevice tools and upholstery cleaners to concrete patio scrubbers and pet grooming kits.

The heart of the central vac comes at the power unit, the canister-like element that hangs on the wall and holds the motor and filtration system. Within the canister, a powerful electric motor spins a turbine, creating suction. The power of vacuum systems is measured by “water lift” and air flow. Water lift represents the sucking force the vacuum exerts when applied to a laboratory water column, gauged by how many inches the water in the test column rises. Air flow is measured in CFM, or cubic feet per minute, of air flow without resistance.

A mathematical formula called air watts combines water lift and air flow to rate the overall power (watts) generated by the vacuum. Air watts is recognized by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) as the best way to measure the actual cleaning force of a vacuum system. You won’t find the Energy Star label on any system. “As an industry, it hasn’t happened because it’s an appliance that runs intermittently without great impact on energy consumption,” says Brian Campbell, product development manager at Electrolux.

Choosing the System

The first step to selecting a central vacuum system is matching the system’s air watt rating to the size of your house. Most manufacturers offer a motor-to-house-size compatibility table to make the calculation easy. When evaluating product quality, select a system with sealed bearings (to keep the dirt out), bypass cooling (a separate stream of air that cools the motor apart from the air that draws in dirt from the home), and the longest warranty available—the longer the warranty, the more confident the manufacturer is about the product.

To qualify for LEED certification points, the filtration system should include a HEPA filter and the option to pipe the exhaust outside. While some manufacturers say the exhaust air in their system is so clean this final precaution is unnecessary, all of the leading air quality certification criteria, including LEED and NGBS, require outside venting.