Many persons find that, for them, the easiest and most efficient home vacuums are central vacuum systems. Central vacuum systems have large, permanently mounted canisters with a motor attached. These are usually placed near or on an exterior wall in a utility room or basement. Most of these units are vented to the outdoors, although some models are designed to vent indoors. Of the two, the exterior-venting types are considered much healthier. With outdoor-venting, the air that’s pulled into the vacuum is sent outdoors (not back into the living space) after it passes through the filter. This eliminates any concerns over particulates getting past the collection container.
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No matter which model you purchase, all central vacuums require special tubing to be permanently installed within the walls of the house. Special vacuum hose inlets, which are connected to these tubes, are located strategically in various places on the home’s walls. The tubes and inlets are typically installed while a house is being built, but there are also ways to install them in an existing house.
To operate a central vacuum, you simply plug the hose (usually 20-30' long) into one of the inlets. Plugging in the hose automatically turns on the vacuum motor. A variety of cleaning attachments are available, including an agitating power head. With only the hose to maneuver, many people find these vacuums can be easier to use than portable models.
There are two different strategies currently used by central-vacuum manufacturers. The first uses direct straight line suction though a cloth or paper dust-collection bag. As with portable vacuums using this approach, the more the bag fills up and the walls of the bag’s sides gets coated with particulate matter, the more the vacuum loses suction. With cyclonic technology on the other hand, a whirlwind airstream is formed which causes the heavier particles to precipitate (be blown out) to the sides of a permanent collection bin and then fall to the bottom of a canister unit while the lighter weight particles continue directly through the unit to the outdoors. Although the vacuum won’t lose suction as the receptacle fills, some dust will inevitably fall onto motor bearings. This may damage them in time. So, as a further improvement, a few central vacuum manufacturers have opted for cyclonic action combined with special internal filters to trap the wayward dust. Unfortunately, these filters must be periodically removed and cleaned. Other companies have designed special self-cleaning filters, where the air flow itself continually cleans off the filtering surfaces.
Be aware that there are a few drawbacks to owning a central vacuum unit. First, central vacuums are rather expensive to buy and to have installed. Because they require built-in piping, they also can be difficult to incorporate into some existing homes, although manufacturers generally have a number of tips in their product literature. Then, too, some people don’t want to maneuver a 30' hose around their house, no matter how lightweight it is. Also, it’s important that sticks, toothpicks, etc., don’t get sucked into the vacuum’s piping within the walls. If such items should become lodged, they could trap debris and could begin to clog the pipe. Finally, as with many vacuums, the brands that use a collection bag must have it replaced periodically for maximum suctioning efficiency. For models without a bag, the receptacle must be emptied. However, because central vacuum’s generally have large bags or receptacles, this needs to be done far less often than with portable vacuums, sometimes only once a year.
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