When you’re shopping for a Central Vacuum, trying to make sense of the specifications can be a little bit daunting.  You might run across two machines with nearly identical specs, but one costs a few hundred dollars more. Here’s how to make sense of Central Vacuum specs.

The Important Specs

Air Watts: This is essentially a measure of how much air the central vacuum can move under no-load conditions. It gives a general idea of how powerful the motor is, but of course, the motor never runs under no-load conditions.

Water Lift: This is a measure of how much actual suction the unit can provide under load.

HEPA Filter: This is an acronym for “High Efficiency Particulate Air” filter. This type of filter removes at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and other particles with a size of 3 microns or larger.

A/C Power: Most Central Vacuums run on 120v AC, and draw less than 15 amps of power. This means that you can plug them into a regular, dedicated household electrical outlet. Some very powerful units require a dedicate 240 volt A/C outlet.

Bagged, Bagless or Hybrid: Some manufacturers began promoting Bagless central vacuums as a savings to a customer. Other manufacturers followed suit, but Bagless is not a good thing. Firstly, because emptying your CV bucket is a dirty job, and more importantly, because the vacuum loses suction as the primary filter clogs up. If the primary filter develops a tear, or is dislodged, the dust can damage the motor, especially with a flow-through motor. With a bagged system, every time you change the bag, the vacuum is back to its original suction level. Hybrid, of course is a vacuum where you can choose bagged or bagless. We recommend always using a bag.

Muffler: This is an accessory that installs on the exhaust port of a central vacuum, and reduces the vacuum noise quite effectively.

Carbon Filter:  Central Vacuum motors all use Carbon Brushes in the motor. The brushes transfer electricity to the spinning motor armature, and are made of a material similar to very hard pencil lead, but bigger, of course. As the motor rotates, these will wear down, and eventually need to be replaced. The wear produces a find black dust which can sometimes get deposited on nearby walls.  Some Central Vacuums have a Carbon Filter, which captures the carbon dust.


Central Vacuum Accessory Kits

Air Kit: This Kit is suitable for houses with a minimum of carpet. The floor brush is plain, and does not have a beater brush. The handle usually has a switch to turn the vacuum on or off

Turbo Floor Brush: If you have a modest amount of carpeting, such as on stairs or some area rugs, then you may want to purchase a separate “Turbo” floor brush to go with your Air Kit. This brush has a beater brush that is powered by the airflow.

Electric Kit:  This kit is suitable for houses with a lot of carpeting. It contains all the items in the Air Kit, but also includes an electric beater brush, and electric wand, and an electrified hose. At the wall end of the hose, the hose will have a short power cord that you can plug into an outlet, or in some cases, the hose end contains an electrical plug which plugs into the vacuum outlet along with the hose end.

Hose Cover: This is a knitted cloth cover that goes over your hose, making it much easier to drag along the floor and around furniture

Garage Kit: This is an inexpensive kit dedicated for the garage. It contains a lightweight 30 foot hose and accessories, but no wand. Keep this in your garage, so you don’t have to carry the heavier household hose, and get the hose cover dirty.

Motor Types

Flow-Through Motor

How it works: With this motor, filtered air is sucked in through the turbines, and pushed out through the inside of the motor. This generally makes for a smaller motor, and efficient cooling because of the huge amount of air flowing directly past the armature (spinning coils). This motor is vulnerable to dust damage if the permanent filter is damaged, and heat damage if there is a blockage and the motor continues to run.

  • Provides good performance at a reasonable price
  • Not suitable for very large homes
  • Must ensure that filters are clean and undamaged


Tangential Bypass Motor

How it works: This motor sucks filtered air in through the turbines, and pushes it out a separate vent. The filtered air that the vacuum sucks in never enters the motor chamber, the motor is cooled by its own fan. This motor is typically a little larger, but less vulnerable to dust or heat damage.

  • Very good performance
  • Suitable for all size homes
  • May be somewhat more expensive
  • Longer lasting, on average