What Is a Central Vacuum System?

Learn the ins and outs of central vacuum systems, including the pros and cons.

<p>Getty Images / Klubovy</p>

Getty Images / Klubovy

Love it or hate it, vacuuming is a regular part of maintaining a clean and healthy home. From pet hair and cookie crumbs to dirt and grass tracked in from the yard, there's no shortage of things to vacuum up in a home. For some homes, a traditional upright vacuum is all it takes, while others benefit from the more powerful suction of a central vacuum system.

Here, we explain what a central vacuum system is, lay out the pros and cons of central vacs, and help you decide if a whole-home vacuum system is right for you.

What Makes a Central Vacuum System Different?

A central vacuum system (CVS) is a built-in vacuum system powered by a remote vacuum motor, often located in a basement, garage, or utility closet. A series of pipes run from the vacuum motor through the walls of the building, where a hose can be plugged in at various points throughout the building.

For those unfamiliar with central vac systems, picture the vacuums at a self-serve car wash. Although there are dozens of vacuum hoses at each bay, they're all powered by one remote vacuum system often located at the side of the building. The suction is delivered through a series of pipes with fittings, allowing each hose to attach.

Related: How Often Should You Vacuum? Here's What the Pros Say

How a Central Vacuum System Works

Central vacuum systems generate suction via a remote, wall-mounted motor and canister. The motor and canister of a central vacuum system are much like that of an ordinary vacuum. However, they can be much larger because they're mounted on the wall rather than part of a handheld unit. This allows for much more suction and a larger capacity for debris, meaning you don't have to empty the vacuum's canister nearly as often.

So, how do you access this powerful suction? A central vacuum's motor connects to a series of pipes that traverse the walls and floor system to distribute the suction throughout the home. The pipes attach to inlets in the walls and floors, where a hose can be plugged in. As soon as the metal end of the hose is plugged into the inlet, the circuit is completed, which engages the vacuum's motor. When the hose is unplugged, the CVS turns off.

Central Vacuum Systems Pros and Cons

Like any home product, a central vacuum system has advantages and disadvantages that can help you determine if it's right for your home.

Pro: More Powerful Suction

The large wall-mounted motor of a central vacuum system generates much more suction than an ordinary upright or stick vacuum motor.

Pro: Longer Life

Modern homeowner-grade vacuums only last a few years, while a central vacuum system lasts 15 to 20 years if properly maintained.

Pro: Quieter Operation

Because a central vacuum system's motor is remotely located in a garage, basement, or utility closet, the sound of the motor is dampened. The sound the CVS hose makes when vacuuming is much quieter than that of a traditional vacuum.

Pro: Better Air Quality

Increased suction power and advanced filtration mean a central vacuum system can improve your home's air quality by removing more dust and allergens.

Con: Expensive

If you plan to purchase a central vacuum system, prepare to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 for the unit itself. Don't forget to account for the cost of installation, which varies depending on the home and the size of the system, as some installations are more involved than others.


If you're building or renovating your home, now is the time to install a central vacuum system. Waiting until the walls and floors are finished adds much more labor and cost to the installation process.

Con: More Maintenance

Central vacuum systems require more maintenance than traditional upright vacuums, but this is both a pro and a con. Yes, there is more maintenance, but central vacs last for around two decades. Naturally, some parts need to be replaced and serviced along the way. The difference is that central vacuum systems are designed to be repaired and serviced rather than tossed to the curb and replaced like modern upright vacuums.

Con: Storage Space

While the pipes are hidden and the motor is wall-mounted, a central vacuum's hose and accessories require a decent amount of storage space. If you don't have available storage space in a utility closet or garage, a central vacuum system may not be suitable for your home.


Short on storage space? Look for a central vacuum system with retractable hoses, which retract into the wall rather than requiring storage space.

Types of Central Vacuum Systems

While all central vacuum systems are similar in design, there are two main types to choose from.

  • Filtered Central Vacuum System: A filtered system is a central vacuum with a filter separating the canister from the motor. Naturally, the filter will become clogged with use, meaning you must clean or replace it regularly to maintain the system's suction.

  • Cyclonic Central Vacuum System: A cyclonic system relies on cyclonic separation instead of filtration to separate dust and debris from the air entering the motor. Because no filter is present, you don't have to worry about cleaning or replacing them. While this is undoubtedly easier and more effective, cyclonic central vacuum systems are more expensive than filtered systems.

Should You Install Your Own Central Vacuum System?

While a DIY central vacuum system installation is possible, it's not recommended. Not only is the installation of the integrated piping system and inlets difficult, but a well-planned layout of a whole-home vacuum system is best done by a professional with ample experience installing central vacuum systems. This ensures the inlets are properly spaced, the system functions well, and it lasts as long as possible with minimal issues.

Related: 17 Things You Should Never Vacuum Up

For more Better Homes & Gardens news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Better Homes & Gardens.