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. https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Central-Vacuum/ 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

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

Step 3: 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

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

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

Had enough yet?...

Step 7: 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

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

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.



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    55 Discussions


    3 months ago

    Excellent write-up. Great pictures and suggested steps to best understand total costs. Thank you for your contribution.


    5 years ago on Introduction

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


    8 years ago on Step 2

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


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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

    8 years ago on Step 9

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


    10 years ago on Step 9

    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.

    1 reply
    Mr Stevedowns

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 9

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


    8 years ago on Step 9

    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


    10 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

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

    Donny Bahama

    9 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1 reply

    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... :)


    9 years ago on Step 9

    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. ;(


    10 years ago on Introduction

    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


    10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    4 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.