Introduction: DIY Central Vacuum

Picture of DIY Central Vacuum

Why have a central vac system? (What's wrong with my upright/cylinder cleaner?)
I saw them when I was in America once and always thought it was a good idea, plus I love gadgets!
There are lots of benefits too! Not least the fact that old air and dust aren't recirculated around the house. (these units vent externally, or into a non living area)
Additionally they are almost silent in operation, the unit needs very infrequent maintenance, the dust collector is so large that it only needs emptying every few months and you don't have to carry a large heavy vacuum around the house with you. Cleaning the stairs is especially easy (and especially difficult with a normal vacuum cleaner)

Step 1: Design

Picture of Design

I spent absolutely ages planning this, I had originally intended to fit a central vacuum system when we first bought the house, but never did. Recently I've boarded out and reinsulated the loft, and it seemed like an ideal location for a central vacuum system, so the idea was reborn.
The main things to consider are the pipe run itself (and trying to hide as much of it as possible) the location of the outlets to provide best coverage of the house and the vacuum unit itself.

Step 2: Installation

Picture of Installation

Ok, I started with the installation of the vacuum unit itself, I decided to fit this in my loft, as I have a lot of space in there and it is now nicely boarded and easily accesible.
I already have some stuff in the corner of the loft, such as a fileserver and bathroom extractor fan so this seemed like an ideal location, it is also near the external wall I'd planned to run the pipework down and close to a source of power (these units need a standard 13amp socket or fused spur)
The first job was to build a small mounting frame for the vacuum unit that would support its weight. For this I biscuit jointed up some planed softwood to make a pretty simple mounting frame that was then screwed to both the loft floor and the roof timbers.

Step 3: Installation2

Picture of Installation2

Once the unit is mounted I connected it up to the mains (easy really, just plug in an IEC power lead) and also connected the 12volt low voltage switching connections too. The 12v side connects to all vacuum sockets and triggers the vacuum unit when the two contacts are closed.
I then mounted the first socket, this is a utility socket in the loft, I decided to have one in the loft as I quite like the look of those vacuum storage bags for duvets and blankets, so having a vacuum point in the loft will be useful, also for dusting things off before bringing them from the loft back into the house.

Step 4: Installation3

Picture of Installation3

All pipework is simply joined together using solvent weld glue in much the same way that some plastic plumbing fittings are connected, in fact the tubing used is remarkably similar, except that this tubing is 50mm Outside Diameter, which is a slighly unusual size.

Step 5: Installation4

Picture of Installation4

The low voltage electrical connections are made using simple 2core flex, I chose to crimp connectors on to it, but the norm seems to be just to wrap the wire around the terminal screws. I think crimping is neater.
You might notice that all bends are swept and made using 45degree bends rather than tight 90degree elbows, there is good reason for this, tight 90degree bends are only used immediately behind each socket, this means that any obstruction or blockage should only occur at the socket (where it can be easily cleared) but once inside the main pipework, the diameter of the pipework is slighly larger than the hose or the socket inlets and the bends are more gradual so in theory a blockage should never occur in the difficult to get to pipework.
My pipework runs around the loft a bit, and then through the foil insulation, down the roof timbers and through the soffet. From here it runs down an exterior wall alongside the soil pipe and makes two entries into the building. One is into the upstairs landing, the other goes under the kitchen units.

Step 6: Installation5

Picture of Installation5

The upstairs landing fitting is fairly straight forward, this just goes into a socket on the other side of the wall (notice the 90degree tight elbow on the outside) As well as the pipework, the low voltage cable has to be ran to all sockets as well (as it is this that triggers the vacuum unit) the approach I took was simply to cable tie it as neatly as possible to the pipework
As for the kitchen, this pipework runs under the kitchen cabinets, where it branches off to a vacpan under one of the kitchen units and also to another socket on the ajoining wall in the downstairs hallway.
Fitting the vacpan is fairly straight forward, as is fitting the sockets, but as I was fitting into a partition wall (well actually a blocked off doorway) the job was even easier. I did opt to use washers as well as screws to mount the sockets to the wall as when pulled sideways it is possible to put quite a lot of force through these sockets and I don't want mine coming off the wall!! (There is also a nice strong wooden frame behind)

Step 7: Sockets

Picture of Sockets

The socket flaps on the front are spring loaded and sealed with an O-ring, once closed they form an airtight seal so there are no vacuum leaks when the other sockets are in use.
Once closed they are fairly unobtrusive and are about the same size as a single electrical socket

Step 8: In Use

Picture of In Use

I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was to switch this baby on for the first time!
My first surprise was how silent the unit it, granted mine is located in the loft (which is well insulated) but the system really is quiet - which is great if the person not doing the vacuuming is watching the TV!
The first issue that needed addressing when the installation was finished was 'where to store the hose and accesories?'
They all fit quite nicely into our settle in the dining room - so that was easy (once the 4 phone books, hats, scarves and fancy dress outfits that used to be in there had been 'filed' elsewhere)

Step 9: Vacpan

Picture of Vacpan

Notice that the vacuum handle has a valve on it to adjust the suction, unlike the ones on many vacuums that are really just there for show, this one is required!! Using the smaller attachments such as the crevice tool or upholstry brushes is nearly impossible at full suction, the attachments just stick to whatever you are cleaning and refuse to budge... I've opted for 4 outlets throughout the house, one is a vacpan, one is in the loft (and probably won't get much use) and the other two are on the upstairs and downstairs landings.

Step 10: In Use2

Picture of In Use2

I paid the extra for the 'deluxe' hose kit, this means the hose is a little lighter, more flexible and has an on-off switch on it.
Getting started is a simple affair of opening the socket and inserting the hose so that the two brass pins are connected to the hose connector (these pins when bridged activate the vacuum unit)
Hoses without a switch just bridge these contacts when plugged in, meaning that the only way to stop the vac is to unplug the hose.

I did go a bit over the top and buy a turbocat brush head, they are expensive but it is a great bit of kit, the brush action is really quite amazing, and the device actually pulls you forward!!

The vacpan is an interesting idea, and is quite useful, quite simply it is a dustpan that never needs to be emptied! When the door at the front is kicked open, the vacuum is operated and anything swept into the pan gets sucked up into the vacuum unit - it really is quite useful for small stuff such as spilt rice, crumbs and breakfast cereals etc...

Step 11: Conclusion

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I was amazed how much dirt we picked up in the first week, especially considering that our house has always been vacuumed almost every day, and that the carpets are reasonably new (and pale in colour, so do show any dirt)
The dust bucket shown below is 25 litres in size!! It's about half full (or is that half empty?) after a week of vacuuming

Well, I hope you've enjoyed what I've done, I love my central vac system.
Good luck if you decide to do something similar, you really don't realise how inferior a normal vac is, until you've tried one of these.
Gone are the days of scrubbing the floor backwards and forwards with the vacuum to pick up a stubborn bit of fluff, one pass with the turbo cat and it's gone!! (Seriously)

You might be interested in my other projects on (there is a bit more info on this project there too)



stephen.roberts.3990418 (author)2015-03-13

Looks excellent, I must build one myself!

Yard Sale Dale (author)2014-01-24

Wow, that's amazing, but way to complicated for me. I suppose if a house is a modular home or mobile home, with the floor elevated off the ground, a person could probably put in a similar system much more easily, with the vacuum unit in a shed or water heater type closet or the AC closet. Well done. Can it handle water, such as if the floor has been mopped or something has been spilled while dining?

shooby (author)2011-10-11

This seems to be a very well implemented system. The first time I saw a shop vac was at an ex's parents' house in Vermont, USA. Her father was an avid carpenter with a basement workshop, and had his shop vac and central vac system feeding into the same collection bin. They also kept their hose in a blanket chest, almost exactly like your photograph.

twocvbloke (author)2010-08-06

Nice job, retrofitting one of these things into a British house can be a real pain, given how in older houses, the walls tend to be solid rather than hollow, so it does make sense to fit the tubing outside... :) As for the TurboCat nozzle, very good choice, it's one of the best air-driven tools money can buy, and compared to the bog-standard things you get bundled with other vacs, it blows them away!!! :) One thing that does bug me is the lack of an option for an electric power nozzle, specifically the sort based on the Eureka-brand power nozzles in the US (usually bundled with Central Vac kits), which come with a metal beater-brush roll, I have a couple of similar power nozzles for my vacuums, both from the US of course, and they're superb, the only power nozzles that out-compete them are the Sebo ones, and they're expensive on their own!!! But it still leaves me wondering, why do we not have electrically-driven brush nozzles for our vacuums here in the UK? A lot of equivalent models abroad have them, but not ours... :S Still, with a little bit of knowledge, getting one from the US and converting it to 240v isn't hard, as is replacing the hose for a full electric hose (meaning it has integrated wires for the mains voltage, aswell as for the low voltage to operate the main unit), but I'm just a fussy sod who likes to have such things, cos I know they're actually cleaning... :)

Weissensteinburg (author)2008-04-21

Wow! My friend has a central vac (Or magic sucking holes, as we call it). Never even thought about putting one in a pre-existing house. Did you just drill straight through the walls for the room sockets?

Yep!! Big drill, lots of noise and then there was a big hole.

Advocat (author)toastyboy2010-01-30

and then lots of dust ..
so your vac doesn't suck up to the dyson then? (lol)

my first thought was modifying a water tank heater to collect the dust/dirt.
I laughed with the image of wrestling with the python, (vac) anaconda 2 ...!

'thought maybe you could create a waste chute if your collector is in the attic with the same principle as you did this.

toastyboy (author)Advocat2010-02-02

 Hi Wonderinghowmanynames!

The bin only fills up about twice a year, so emptying isn't a massive problem.

Regarding your idea to have a waste chute, interestingly the more expensive central vacs actually have the option to connect them to the water supply and to the drains and they autoempty the dust into the drain along with a good old jet of water to wash it all away.  I've only seen these online though, never in person.
Sounds cool though.... Maybe next time. ;-)

stephenniall (author)toastyboy2010-02-17

im sure if you lived with my dog it'd fill up alot more ! hairs everywhere!!

Advocat (author)stephenniall2010-02-18

How much does it molt?

Aren't hairs biodegradeable? Could it be used as compost?

stephenniall (author)Advocat2010-02-18

im not sure ill have to look into it .

If it is ill have to rebuild my composter

Advocat (author)stephenniall2010-02-18

Now that would be cool! A biodegradeable waste cleaning vacuum cleaner!!
Sorry can't help with the exclamation marks .. they just appear for some reason!!!

Advocat (author)toastyboy2010-02-02

What about the environmental issues? Sounds a bit like shoving all the waste in the local river is a common answer! How can you tell what part of your waste is toxic or not in this case, and separate it out, it's impossible. No don't go down that route. Maybe you can have your own landfill, and see if it fills up over 50 years or so!!

jaythedogg (author)2009-06-19

Dude, a vac pan is a DREAM for hard floors! No more stooping to use a dust pan & not getting everything up off the floor. I am majorly envious, congratulations on the new system & great job on the instructable. Good thinking on documenting everything too. :)

toastyboy (author)jaythedogg2009-06-20

Thanks Jay, glad you enjoyed

twhaley (author)2009-02-12

That really sucks.

hg341 (author)twhaley2009-02-16

yea i get it

hg341 (author)2009-02-16

well i love this and i want to do it to my house when i get one16 :)
i saw this when it was first made or posted but never commented

twhaley (author)2009-02-12


toastyboy (author)twhaley2009-02-13

Wow! Three comments from the same person. Glad you liked my project -Dan

twhaley (author)2009-02-12

Get it? Sucks?

Derin (author)2008-07-04

50mm?Unusual?Well that is a pretty common size for well water systems

Mr. Rig It (author)2008-05-02

Very cool!

toastyboy (author)Mr. Rig It2008-05-03


devinj (author)2008-04-22

awesome. my dad and I made a DIY version using a storebought hose/socket set, and wired it up to a shop vac in the basement which works better than any commercial shop vac setup I've used. the only downside is the large storage compartment of the shop vac, which always makes me wait until it is absolutely necessary to empty it, usually averaging around 50lbs.

toastyboy (author)devinj2008-04-25

Oh cool! I did consider using a workshop vacuum, but the lower vacuum pressure put me off. I'm glad to hear that it does actually work. 50lb of dust is a scary thought!!! I've still not had to empty mine yet, but it's only a 25litre bucket, I suspect it'll weigh 20lbs max. Although I have the added disadvantage of then having to get it down from my loft (attic) happy days! Thanks for your comments - glad to hear the diy option worked out well for you. -Dan

toastyboy (author)toastyboy2008-04-25

Just out of interest, how long is your fixed pipe run (to the furthest socket) - mine is 10metres. And how long is your flexible hose - mine is 9metres. Cheers -Dan

devinj (author)toastyboy2008-04-25

the fixed pipe is no longer than 2.5m; it drops directly from a the wall socket (only one in the house) to the 4.5hp shop vac in the basement. the flexible hose is long enough to reach every corner of our bungalow, i have no idea of the actual length.

toastyboy (author)devinj2008-04-25

Wow! 4.5hp shop vac eh? That must pack quite a punch. My vac is 2hp max. 4.5hp must be quite a vacuuming experience. Cheers -Dan

rocknrollskwurl (author)2008-04-24

wonder if i could use a dust colection system ment for workshops, they are cheap and if they can handle lots of sawdust imagine what they could do to carpet!

I did look at doing just that. There seem to be two things that they use to measure vacuums. The first is the maximum vacuum they can pull (normally expressed in inches of water) the second is the amount of air they move per unit time (normally expressed as litres per minute or second) The air volume is comparible for both (probably slightly higher for the workshop vacuum) however the maximum vacuum pressure for the work shop vacuums is quite a bit lower. what does this mean in real terms? Well I think it means that you could only use a short hose and a short pipe run, as the maximum length of this seems to depend on this variable. Hope this helps. -Dan

toastyboy (author)toastyboy2008-04-25

Ok, I stand corrected (see DevinJ's post) It looks like it will work, and according to DevinJ it works really well. Thanks for your interest -Dan

LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-04-21

Wow, great job, but why is it all external?

toastyboy (author)LinuxH4x0r2008-04-21

I live in the UK, and my house walls are 10 inches thick of masonary (Bricks and stuff) so hiding the pipes in the walls isn't easy. Outside seemed like the easier option and I already had a lot of pipes going that way anyway. Thanks for your comment. -Dan

LinuxH4x0r (author)toastyboy2008-04-22

Ok, I didn't think about brick. I also suppose your climate is moderate enough that it doesn't matter if some warm air escapes. again, great job!

toastyboy (author)LinuxH4x0r2008-04-22

Oh, I see what you mean! Yeah it's pretty average over here, never too hot, but never too cold either. Thanks for your interest. -Dan

LinuxH4x0r (author)toastyboy2008-04-22

I used to live in Minnesota (cold), and now I'm in Santa fe, NM (hot), so this really wouldn't have worked for me

ermockler (author)2008-04-22

I put one of these in when building my house, used the electrolux outlet kit, and got a Nutone unit off ebay. It was like $100 for the install kit, another $100 for more pipe, and I think $600 for the unit, 1 hose and attachments (including vacuum powered beater head). I have since bought an extra hose for I think under $200. still the whole thing was under $1000, compare that to a POS kirby. 5 outlets btw, the most important is the vacpan which RULES.

toastyboy (author)ermockler2008-04-22

Cool! So I got a pretty good price then?

I always assume that stuff over here in the UK is the same price as in the states except we pay pounds (£) and you pay dollars ($) so actually given the current exchange rate we pay twice as much (£1 = $2)

I paid just under £800 for all this lot, so that's not too bad if the going rate in the US is $1000

Fair point about the VacPan, it keeps things pretty real! All of our friends think it's the coolest thing.

Thanks for your friendly comments
All the best

PKM (author)2008-04-21

Wow.. that's a really ingenious idea. I'd never thought of having distributed vacuum through outlets. Could an upmarket regular vacuum cleaner cope with this system, or does it have to be an uber-powered specialist one? I'm guessing it takes a moment to start going because presumably air leaks into the pipes, which have to be evacuated before it can start sucking properly? Now I'm just imagining a DIYer/mad scientist house, that as well as the usual outlets in each room has 12V, high voltage, vacuum pump, compressed air, USB connection to a fileserver, maybe liquid nitrogen...

toastyboy (author)PKM2008-04-21

I did look at the relative power of say the new dyson versus my setup. I think I'm right in saying that this one puts out twice the airwatts of the best dyson, (they measure vacuum cleaner power in air-watts) - mine does about 500 airwatts. So no, I don't think a conventional vac can compare, not that you'd expect it too, the vac unit for mine is like 4foot high and 1foot in diameter!! (Hardly portatble!)

PKM (author)toastyboy2008-04-22

OK- I guess that confirms my suspicion that this Instructable sucks more than any other I've seen :P

toastyboy (author)PKM2008-04-22

Oh! Well thank you very much! ;-)
Yeah, this one sucks!

Pointless I know, but I can vacuum up a whole 750g box of cheerios (or indeed any other small cereal) in like 10seconds.

Not something I make a habit of, but when my 'helper' (see my subwoofer project for more info ) spills said box of cereal, it comes in really handy!!

Thanks for your kind comments

dchall8 (author)PKM2008-04-21

My parents once lived in a house with one of these. It was definitely an uber-powered sucking machine. I did not live in that house but it was fun to play with the sucking hose. One problem with theirs was it didn't have a way to beat the carpet to bounce the dirt up.

toastyboy (author)dchall82008-04-21

That's why the TurboCat is so cool, it does the carpet beating action. It's about £120+vat but it is a lovely bit of kit. Cheers -Dan

aliceownsj00 (author)2008-04-22

in america, that system would cost us probably thousands of dollars, and we'd rather waste that money on something even pointless, like a shiny new tv! lol! I think it's an awesome idea, it'd solve some pretty simple issues! Cool idea!

toastyboy (author)aliceownsj002008-04-22

HI Alice, My system cost me £800 or 1600$ US. Seems like a lot of money, but I hope it'll last years and also will reduce the amount of time we spend vacuuming. Thanks for your nice comments. -Dan

joejoerowley (author)2008-04-21

Cool! Great Instructable! Thanks Joe

toastyboy (author)joejoerowley2008-04-21

Thanks Joe!

nafango22 (author)2008-04-21

great instructable, but we have an in-house vacuum cleaner and its not that great. i'd rather use a upright, even if it isnt as powerful, lugging that hose is kind of a pain. great job though.

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