If you’re tired of dragging a portable vacuum cleaner from room to room, you might consider a central vacuum system. Central vacs are convenient, quiet and up to five times more powerful than portable vacs. With self-cleaning microfilters, they capture smaller particles than many portable units, and you can vent the dusty exhaust air outdoors or through a garage space.

While the systems are generally sold installed, you’ll save money by doing the work yourself—with components and materials running between $800 and $1500, you’re not far from the price of an expensive portable model. For our home, we chose a Beam Serenity Series Model 2100 central cleaning system (c. 2001, ours ran about $900, uninstalled, Beam Industries, P.O. Box 788, Webster City, IA 50595; www.beamvac.com). A central vac system consists of a motorized pump and canister, wall and floor outlets, low-voltage cable, thinwall PVC pipe and fittings, plus a hose kit and beater bar. There are a wide variety of accessories available, but these are the basic components.

You’ll find two systems for powering the beater bar motor. Both types have wiring molded into the hose—a 120-volt line for the beater bar and a low-voltage line for the remote control of the central vacuum’s motor. The first alternative has a direct-connect inlet cuff (the fitting that connects to the wall inlet) that taps both low-voltage and 120-volt power as soon as you plug in the hose. This system requires wall inlets to be wired with 120-volt current. The other system has an inlet hose and fitting that handle the low-voltage connection, but the hose has an 8-ft. pigtail that draws 120-volt current from a nearby wall receptacle.

Direct-connect systems are more common in new homes because it’s easier to run the 120-volt lines during construction. In retrofits like ours, it’s easier to install the vacuum inlets near existing receptacles and plug the beater bar into one of those. In both cases, the vacuum’s motor and the beater bar are controlled by a switch on the hose grip.

This project was originally published in the September 2001 issue of Popular Mechanics.  You can find more great projects at Popular Mechanics DIY Central.

Step 1: System Planning

The hose for our central vac is 30 ft. long, plus 3 ft. for the extension wands. Use a 30-ft. string to simulate the hose when deciding inlet placement. To reach all four corners of our 1500-sq.-ft. ranch we needed two inlets upstairs and two in the finished basement. In our case, we could reach three of the inlet locations from a basement utility room next to the garage. This allowed us to place the canister in the garage, while accessing the remaining upstairs inlet from the attic.
Other options include placing the vac canister in the basement, or in a main-floor closet and venting the exhaust through an outside wall. In a two-story home, you might reach top-floor inlets by running pipe through a clothes chute, plumbing chase or interior closet.

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Bio: The official instructable for Popular Mechanics magazine, reporting on the DIY world since 1902.
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