Introduction: Central Vacuum Retrofit

Picture of Central Vacuum Retrofit

Photos and tips for installing a central vacuum system in an existing house.

After several months of research, I installed a central vacuum system in my house during many nights and weekends from December 2004 through January 2005. It was a big project, but well worth the effort. This instructable is intended to give an idea of the scope of the project.

Other instructables: Toastyboy contributed this excellent instructable on the same subject. Study and learn.

Step 1: Research

Why a central vac?
- Better cleaning; the exhaust air goes outdoors.
- Quiet: the noisiest part is not in your living space.
- Skills: Installing a central vac requires expert carpentry, plumbing, and electrical skills. You are part of an elite group.
- Retrofit: It is a major project to install in an existing house. Only the best can do it.

Why not?
- They come with a LONG hose: it is a pain to drag through the house. Ensure that the person who will use the system most often is willing to use it.
- Cost: It is pricey.
- Permanence: It is part of the house. If you move, you lose it.

In the US, I found that central vacuum supplies are sold in two packages:
- The canister, long hose, power beater head, and an assortment of attachments (big brush, little brush, crevice device, etc), and
- The plastic piping, inlets, and fittings.
Recommend you shop around both online and at your local vacuum shop. My favorite canister, hose, etc, was only available online, and I got a fair deal on the plumbing supplies from my local shop.

Conceptually, the system is simple. Plastic piping in your walls carries debris from a long flexible hose to a big canister. The hard part of a retrofit is figuring out where to install the piping in your house. You must find relatively straight and unobstructed runs from the inlets to the canister. You must not cut structural timbers. You may have to move water pipes and existing electrical wires. And then you must match the length of your piping system and inlets against the capability of the power canister you choose. And you must pick a place for the power canister, far enough away to be quiet, close enough to maintain good suction, and reasonably accessible to empty the debris bucket. And you must do the electrical wiring safely, and to meet the local codes. Not simple. Recommend you read literature and design aids from all the manufacturers. You'll get the idea.

Step 2: Power Canister

Picture of Power Canister

Here are some photos of my power canister. I installed it in the crawlspace under the house.

Step 3: First Inlet Receptacle

Picture of First Inlet Receptacle

First figure out where to run the trunk line plastic pipe and where you want the inlet receptacles. Be sure to place enough inlets so the flexible hose can reach everywhere in the house.

The photos tell the story...

Step 4: Next Inlet Receptacle

Picture of Next Inlet Receptacle

I opened the walls in a closet, installed the next inlet receptacle, and snaked the main pipe trunk line up to the second floor.

The surgery continues...

Step 5: Electric Connections

Picture of Electric Connections

Oh, by the way, you must know how to do electric wiring safely, and according to your local codes. I am not explaining it here. If you don't know, then don't attempt the project.

Step 6: Inlet on 2nd Floor

Picture of Inlet on 2nd Floor

Had enough yet?...

Step 7: Last Inlet Receptacle

Picture of Last Inlet Receptacle

Finally, up into the attic.

One little tip... I installed "tees to nowhere" as cleanouts at strategic places throughout the system. I capped them off with silicone caulk, rather than pipe cement. If ever something gets really clogged in the pipe in the future, this should ease the snaking operation.

Step 8: Exhaust to the Outdoors

Picture of Exhaust to the Outdoors

I cut a hole in the house wall, installed a dryer vent, and piped it to the canister in the crawlspace. This was my idea. It is non-traditional. Copy it at your own risk.

Step 9: Finished

Picture of Finished

The maiden voyage.

The system has worked great for 3.5 years now. It is well used and abused, and it keeps on ticking.

Good luck planning and installing your own system.


Neosha (author)2013-10-05

AWESOME! AWESOME! WAEOSEM! wish I thought of this! Central Vacuum Retrofit

hitachi8 (author)2011-04-15

Super job, 10/10.

hitachi8 (author)2011-04-15

how many amps?
how much do they cost? (minimum price for 1-2 person house)

dsandds2003 (author)2011-02-10

Central Vacs are great...What i do not like about them is the 30 foot hose weighs more than a vacuum.
Do they make a light weight hose and power head???

Mr Steve (author)2011-01-12

I may have missed something. Did you icorporate electric into the install for the power head?

downs (author)2008-06-19

so you have to go into your nasty crawl space every time you change the bag? i hope you don't have to crawl down there.

Mr Steve (author)downs2011-01-12

How do you know their crawl space is nasty? Looks like a bucket not a bag.

dorotheabrown37 (author)2010-09-06

I like this project my husband and i are building our house out in texas this is a project that i can see happening lol good work

Cojon (author)2008-06-21

Using the PVC tubing works, but you might reduce velocities at the bends and performance could suffer. Can't have that. Thought about using a hose to get smooth bends, but it would collapse. Then I found a specialty hose on the market that is smooth bore polycarbonate, over 308 grade stainless steel coils. It wouldn't collapse and you an easily run it around corners. I bet it's more money but that's OK. Wouldn't performance be friggin' awesome! When I build mine, it will have six 2.5 inch custom designed, high velocity titanium wall ports. and I'll marry them to fifty-eight feet of three inch smooth bore, coil wound, molded polycarbonate military grade jet fuel hose. Have to rig a Binford 2160 vacuum drop alarm security on the the wall ports of this bad boy or I could lose the wife's skinny cat down one. I'm using a 5600 RPM, 240 volt, three phase induction wound, nine horsepower constant speed turbo fan through a custom made computer tuned polished velocity stack on a chromed mesh, quick dump spin filter with a Binford 5000 XR quick pull hub. It should be awesome. Quiet? Yeah, like a well tuned hardtail with a bored and stroked dual megaphone S&S; 1200 pumper on alcohol going full throttle up a hill. Oh Yeh! Bet it'll pull a fat Brooklyn rat right through that sucker and spit it already skinned clear over the neighbors twelve foot privacy fence. If I installed a quick pull reefer port on it maybe it could shoot a marinaded chicken right from the cooler to the 7,000 degree instant BBQ I made last summer... OgghhOggghOgggh , More POWER!

mikedezurik (author)Cojon2010-06-23

Is Binford a made up name or misspelled?I would love to find a vacuum drop alarm.

Donny Bahama (author)2010-04-26

Great instructable! Curious about the cost of the motor unit. Seems like a good quality shop-vac might be a good way to cut costs. Agree with the comment about putting it in the garage for easier access (assuming the garage is attached.) The one improvement I'd suggest is to eliminate the power switches using reed switches to trigger a relay which turns the suction unit on as soon as the flap is opened. Reed switches are normally used  in alarm systems and are very cheap. You could also use a turbine-powered vacuum head to eliminate the need for electricity to it, or, if you had to have an electric power head, you could install individual AC-to-DC  power transformers (wall warts) at each inlet to greatly simplify the electrical stuff.

twocvbloke (author)Donny Bahama2010-05-15

Central vacuums are much more powerful in terms of airflow when compared to a regular shop-vac or similar, especially as they have to deal with the long lengths of pipework they deal with, but that said, when set up correctly, they are efficient and useful cleaners... :)

As for the turbine head over a power nozzle, that's not a good idea, cos 90% of the ones on the market sold as "to fit" items are useless things, the only one I'd say would be better than the power nozzle would be a TurboCat, which can keep pace with an electrically operated PN, but that said, the PN featured in this ible is probably one of the best available, as it's a Eureka PN presumably fitted with a VibraGroomerIII brushroll, which does an excellent job... :)

And you'd be hard pressed to find a DC powered PN, the only one I know of is a Miele battery-operated one (used on Miele models that have no PN facility), but they're not that good, so not recommended... :)

And the electrical system used in the cenral vac system is there for a good reason, cos it allows you to power a PN from a central point, AND it offers controls on the hose (to switch the vac on, and to switch the PN on or off), so the wiring is a good thing... :)

rowlands (author)2009-06-14

Great Instructable!! I have been wanting to put in a central vac for years, but with the cutting of lathe, plaster and then fixing the mess I've let the idea go. Lazy has taken over ambition. ;(

paganwonder (author)2009-04-15

Central vac is 1000% better than a portable vac for cleanliness- plus the hose is much easier to wrangle than the lightest portable of any quality. Planning is the key to retro-fitting in existing structure- brainstorm a lot prior to installation. Good 'ible

freakmonkey (author)2008-06-13

Congrats on having the skills to do this, but it seems like it would just making vacuuming harder. It seems much easier to just pull out the Dyson.

Esmagamus (author)freakmonkey2008-06-14

Some people just get too tired carrying a vacuum cleaner around, hence, central vacuum. Other people just can't bear the noise. That is the only reason I don't like vacuuming. I wouldn't mind retrofitting my house, if the walls weren't 70 cm (over 2 ft.) thick and made of stone.

bclagett (author)Esmagamus2008-10-16

You could put the outlets in the floor.

Esmagamus (author)bclagett2008-10-17

I could, but I still had a concrete floor to bust. It wouldn't be anywhere as easy as in a house made of wood.

Like a castle?

LOL. A dungeon perhaps?

Esmagamus (author)mwwdesign2008-06-16

No, just the way things were built over 100 years ago. It's actually good looking and confortable, just a bit chilly in the winter.

chalky (author)Esmagamus2008-06-16

i aggree with you,i would love to have this system here at home but my house is made of 3 foot thick yorkshire stone! and over 100yrs old

Esmagamus (author)chalky2008-06-16

Stone! Can you beat it? I bet it will still be standing in 100 years from now. Durability equals economy, no durability equals profit to contractors. Still, if one day you have to restore the floor, you can make some rectangular section ducts to put under the boards and place sockets in the floor.

qetuo (author)freakmonkey2008-07-03

I thought that, the rate that i block up the hover, i would constantly be removing pipes to de-clog the system. Thats why i like the Dyson, it may have bad build quality but at least it is easy to pull apart and de-clog. Plus i would rather carry the Dyson about than that big long pipe.

The hose and attachments are a lot lighter than a vacuum and for people with back problems (like me) it's a lot easier.

JohnSR (author)2008-06-21

I installed a central vac system in our home 5 years ago. The best investment I ever made. I purchased the most expensive Beam 220 v central vacuum system available. The house is about 2000 sq ft. The upcharge was about $200. I wanted the best sucking power. I installed 5 outlets on 3 floors and had to go through the attic, cut drywall, and drill holes. It was a simple job, but took about 3 weekends. I also purchased a tool to use to clean the cars because my central unit is in the garage. I placed it there on top of the trash bin so that I could empty it easily. Thanks for bringing back the memories. I did this to combat my wife's allergies, but the performance of the system compared to any vacuum that I have owned is extra-ordinary. If I move again, we will have a central vac!

chalky (author)2008-06-16

excellent job! how much(if any)suction do you lose at the furthest point from the motor/vacuum ?

dagwoodandblondie (author)chalky2008-06-20

We've used ours for a year and have not detected any loss of suction; however, our in-the-wall outlet and vac are in the center of the house and we use one hose for the whole upstairs and another downstairs.

alancasey (author)chalky2008-06-18

I keep thinking of the movie U 505 :-)

a.doovz (author)chalky2008-06-17

No serious measurements, but when putting my hand over the inlet hose, it seems to be just as powerful at the farthest point as at the closest.

chalky (author)a.doovz2008-06-17

thanks! and once again congrats on a brilliant job:)

eight (author)2008-06-20

Vacuums suck. : D

srilyk (author)2008-06-20

Excellent instructable! Many houses in Idaho have central vacs - they're usually mounted in the garage, though. A bit easier for cleanup, methinks.

hellpilot (author)2008-06-19

So as far as I'm concerned, The main part of the Vacuum in the attic so all you do is attach the hose the the "inlet" and then the sucking power from the "Vacuum" in the attack pulls up all the stuff and sending it into the little storage container in the vacuum in the attack? That would be kinda annoying to go in the attack to empty it every time. ; ; . Not to mention it may be a fire hazard?

hellpilot (author)hellpilot2008-06-20

In any occasion, I wouldn't destroy my house :P

evilution (author)hellpilot2008-06-19

I think you should read it again, it says on a few occasions that the main part of the vacuum is in the crawl space underneath the house. He started with the main vacuum part and moved up through the house and finished in the ATTIC, why would it start and finish in the same place? Good project - only suitable for USA though. In UK we don't have wooden houses or crawl spaces.

hellpilot (author)evilution2008-06-20

Maybe the hose is long enough to reach upstairs?

mtxe (author)evilution2008-06-19

Even if your house isn't timber framed this should be easily adaptable. BTW your statement is not true...UKTFA

lbrewer42 (author)2008-06-19

I had a friend who did the same kind of thing - BUT they saved a bunch of $$ by using a Craftsman Shop Vac as the vac. itself! Works great. The vac. unit is located so it is easy to empty when full.

barri_kid (author)2008-06-19

Wow! This takes me back. I remember having one of these in my old house.

InspectorD (author)2008-06-19

Nice job! I've installed many of these in new construction along with the plumbing. Never as a retrofit. My similar task was to retrofit HVAC systems in older homes. Bigger duct work and registers going into lath and plaster. Takes a bit of craftsmanship so I appreciate your well thought out job.

Fondots (author)2008-06-19

way to install this yourself. When we moved into our new house, we were thrilled with ours, not having to carry a heavy vacuum thing around all the time.l but we could never dream of installing it ourselves., sweet.

Karel Jansens (author)2008-06-14

Maybe just two details (nitpicking or not, depending on your level of prudence): Most people "in the know" discourage the use of 90° bends and advize two consecutive 45° bends instead. The rationale is that blockages will less likely occur in the larger bends. Of course, a less compact installation is the trade-off. Also, T-connections are more risky than Y-connections (but always make sure the airflow in the Y is towards the central unit!). Still, good one!

a.doovz (author)Karel Jansens2008-06-15

Good idea about double-45s. I wish I had read or thought about it before installing the system 3 years ago. Agree completely about the Ts and Ys.

Karel Jansens (author)a.doovz2008-06-16

Yes, I now see you used the (what I call) "guided" Ts, where one bend in the T is guided towards the airflow (sorry, sometimes I skim too fast). The ones I've seen used a combination of a Y connector and the familiar 45° bend. Again, it's supposed to be safer, but bulkier and more difficult to install (measuring 45° bends is a real b*tch!). In the end I guess it all depends on where you're installing, what your skill levels are and how much time you're prepared to sacrifice to be totally anal about something :). I'm assuming that in a normal house and watching what you suck (har har har) should minimize the risk of blockages.

laernmoer (author)2008-06-14

I'm confused, so the canister collects the debris, and you go into the crawlspace to clean it out? or does all the dust and hair and stuff get blown out to the yard?

laernmoer (author)laernmoer2008-06-14

ooh, I just re-read the canister bucket picture notes. There's a bucket there. Do you really go under your house to empty the bucket? how often does that need to happen? does this have a filter that also needs to be replaced?

a.doovz (author)laernmoer2008-06-15

I check the bucket every six months. For us, the worst it has been is half full. Of course, it would be worse with house pets, many children, or dirt-generating activities. Yes, I must crawl on hands and knees to get there. But I do it as part of a twice-annual inspection for leaking pipes, fallen insulation, furnace problems, termites, moist soil, etc. A good habit. Other locations would be much more convenient. This particular canister does not require a paper filter bag. It is optional. I have not used one.

silver912targa (author)2008-06-15

Very stylish power drill!! You seem to have a lovely house. Thanks for the Instructable. Michel Portuagl

dmuthler1 (author)2008-06-15

Yeah, this is very interesting. We built one of these at our work garage, and it works really well, but it uses a 55 gallon drum and a huge vacuum motor

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