Tired of lugging that heavy upright or tripping over the canister vacuum? A central vacuum system might be just what you need.

How it works

Instead of a portable, self-contained appliance like a traditional vacuum, a central vac is a whole-house system. Tubing installed inside the walls is connected to a vacuum pump and collection unit in the basement or garage.

There are no electrical cords to bother with - all it takes to start the system is to insert the hose into the wall inlet. The system starts automatically and stops when the hose is removed. The dust and dirt collects in the large canister.

You can have multiple inlets installed in every room, or you can have a single inlet in a convenient location that allows you to reach most rooms with the long (usually 30-foot) hose.

One of the most popular features of a central vac system is the "dustpan" vac - a small, wide inlet built into the toekick area under a kitchen cabinet. Just sweep debris from the kitchen toward the inlet, open the inlet with your toe, and away it goes - no more messy dustpans!

The benefits

The most noticeable benefit of a central vac system is the significant reduction in airborne allergens. When a traditional vacuum runs, it releases a lot of dust and other allergens back into the air.

Because the hose is made of durable PVC plastic and fastened securely to the inlet, the dust and dirt are contained in the tubing and collection unit. A central vac has about five times the suction of a traditional vacuum, picking up much more debris.

Most manufacturers offer a wide variety of hose handles and attachments, and the long hose length makes cleaning areas like window blinds, ceiling fans and soffits much easier.

Central vac systems are also substantially quieter than a traditional vac - the power unit is isolated in the garage or basement. You can hear the phone ring, listen to the radio or hear family members talking while you're using a central vac.

One of the biggest hassles with regular vacuum cleaners is changing the bag - it's dirty and inconvenient, and it can be hard to find the right size bags. In comparison, the canister on a central vac system requires emptying only two or three times a year, and there are no bags to buy. No other maintenance is required.

The cost

The cost can be considered a long-term benefit - installation in new homes averages about $1,000. Most manufacturers offer 20-year warranties - if you buy a $200 regular vac every four years, you'll come out ahead. A central vac system can also add to your home's resale value.

If you own an older home with minimal space between the walls, a central vac system can be difficult to install, but most manufacturers claim that their products can be installed in just a few hours with little mess.

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