Vacuum power unit

Central vac plan of attack


First let me say that my ever-loving wife, “Dusty” (not her real name), has many fine attributes and it would take quite some time to list them all. Vacuuming, however, might not appear on that list. On the friendship scale, Dusty and a vacuum cleaner would be labelled “acquaintances,” which is to say they’ve met but they don’t spend a lot of time together. When the twins were six months old, Dusty turned on the vacuum cleaner and the kids looked at her in utter shock and horror. “You’ve never heard that sound before, have you?” she said. Did I mention they were six months old?

All things being considered, I thought it best if I took over the vacuuming responsibilities, although “took over” implies that someone else had them previously and that might be tough to prove in a court of law. And now that I was the vacuumer-in-chief I could choose the vacuum.

I like a central vacuum for a lot of reasons. It is quieter than an upright or drag around because the motor noise is in the basement or garage. It is cleaner because the dirty air that gets through the filter goes outside the house rather than back into the room. A standard lug-along vacuum cleaner is really a dust re-circulator because anything the filter misses goes right back into the air so that it can settle on the floors and furniture. And the long hose of a central vacuum makes it much easier to clean the stairs because you don’t have to haul a heavy machine up and down the steps, which is why so many of us are forced, forced I say, to have dirty stairs. Can I get an amen?

We’ve had a central vac in three homes, each installed a different way. The first home was still under construction when we asked if they could install a central vac and that made it easy for the builder because the sheet rock hadn’t been put on the walls yet.
Our second home was built in 1923 and central vacuums weren’t very common in 1923. A little research convinced me that you can install one in almost any home so I hired the local vacuum cleaner dealer to install a central vacuum in our old brick two-story house.
The key to the whole thing is planning. The basic idea is you have the vacuum motor and filter in the basement or garage connected to PVC tubing that run through the house to inlets where you plug in the vacuum hose. They are called inlets because the air is sucked in as opposed to an outlet where the electricity comes out.

Inlet for central vacuum
Inlet for central vacuum

The vacuum hose is about 30′ long so you need to figure out where to put inlets so that the hose will reach every nook and cranny you want to vacuum. One way to do this is to get a 30′ rope or extension cord and put one end in a remote corner and put the other end on a central wall as far away as possible. You want to minimize the number of inlets and yet cover the entire house. Our brick house has two floors of 1500′ each and 2 inlets on each floor were enough to cover the whole thing.

The biggest challenge of course is where to route the tubing. Most of the horizontal sections can easily be run under the basement ceiling joists or on top of the attic floor joists. The vertical sections between floors can go up inside a closet. Since an inlet is mounted in a wall between the studs you will need to drop the tubing down from the attic or up from the basement to get to it.

Here is the layout for our two-story brick house.

Vacuum power unit
Vacuum power unit

The vacuum motor power unit is mounted on a wall in the basement. One branch of tubing runs underneath the first-floor joists and turns up through the floor into the front hall closet and out to a wall inlet. The other main branch goes through the basement wall to an exterior stairway where it runs up two floors to the attic. On the way up there is a tee for the kitchen inlet on the first floor. In the attic, the Y-fitting sends one section of tubing down through a closet to an inlet at one end of the upstairs hallway. The other section runs through the attic and then down inside a wall into the master bathroom.

Having carefully watched the professionals install the system in our city house, I decided to install a central vac in our beach house myself.

Floor plan for first floor overlaid with acetate sheet having red lines for second floor
Floor plan for first floor overlaid with acetate sheet having red lines for second floor

Fortunately I was able to get the floor plans for the beach house, which makes it much easier to plan the layout of the inlets and tubing. I traced the second floor outline on a piece of acetate so I could overlay it on the floor plan for the first floor and see how the walls lined up between the two floors. I wanted to minimize drilling and drywall work. The second floor of the beach house is half the size of the first floor so a single inlet upstairs and two downstairs were all I needed.

Tubing under joists of first floor with two branches going up into the house
Tubing under joists of first floor with two branches going up into the house

To give the house a fighting chance in the event of storm surge in a hurricane, the beach house is built on 9′ poles, which creates a large “carport” area as well as a walled storage area and that was the logical place for the vacuum power unit. One branch of tubing went from there up through the floor of the kitchen island cabinet to an inlet. The other branch went across the carport and up into a bedroom closet and on up to the attic. A tee in the closet fed an inlet in the bedroom. Once the tubing was in the attic it ran between the joists to another attic on the other side of the upstairs bedroom and then to an inlet in the bedroom wall.

Based on this plan I calculated how much tubing I’d need and then ordered a complete kit called the “DrainVac Builders Favorite Package” from for less than $1000 and was not disappointed. They did everything right.

(I’ll elaborate on the installation details in a future post.)

When you consider how long a central vac will last compared to a traditional good-quality yank-your-chain vacuum it makes good economic sense, not to mention the benefits of quieter operation and blowing the dust outside rather than back in the room. Stairs? Piece of cake.

Vacuuming is (dare I say it?) actually fun with a central vac. Occasionally I even catch Dusty doing some vacuuming. I always have the nagging suspicion, though, that the smile on her face might be because she’s thinking about how she Tom Sawyer’ed me years ago into doing all of the vacuuming. No doubt another one of my ever-loving wife’s “fine attributes.”

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