Saturday, November 12, 2011

Custom Hose Hanger

I had to share this.  One of my customers in Oak Brook, IL has a woodworking shop in his garage, and enjoys making things.  His home has a Filtex system installed in it, which of course came with the standard hose, attachments, tool bag and a hanger for the hose.  But he went a step further, creating a custom holder for the hose, wands and tool bag.  Check it out:

All I could get was a quick cell phone picture, and he later informed me that the wands are actually supposed to fit in the two slots under the hanger.  Even so, it’s clear that this is a work of art and craftsmanship, plus I’m sure does a better job of relieving strain on the hose than the standard metal hose hanger.  Now if I could only get him to build a couple more for my system…

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Suction

  A vacuum cleaner is basically an air moving device, in the same category as a hair dryer or a ceiling fan. In fact, Murray Spangler, who in 1907 invented what was to become “The Hoover Suction Sweeper”, used a ceiling fan with its blades cut down as the heart of his invention. Logically, then, judging the air moving capability of a vacuum is a good way to rate one against another. However, this capability as it relates to vacuum cleaning is difficult to simplify into just one or two measurements. In this article I hope to take some of the measurements used in the vacuum industry and explain what they mean, and how they connect to the actual purpose of a vacuum cleaner, that is, “sucking up dirt”.

 Amps: Simply an electrical consumption measurement. Any device that uses electrical power uses a certain amount of amps – there is no direct connection to air movement. The origin of amperage as a vacuum cleaner rating was when manufacturers would take a given vacuum design and install motors which ran at different speeds (and thus drew greater or fewer amps) to create different “models” using the same design. So, the basic model might be rated at four amps, the middle model might draw seven, and the high-end model could be rated at ten. Since the motor design and vacuum design were the same, the higher amperage did indicate higher airflow and suction. Other manufacturers, seeking to compete, only had to find a motor that drew the same amount of amperage to use in their machines, without paying attention to the efficiency of the motor or the vacuum it was put into. Thus, two vacuums drawing the same amount of amps could deliver quite different amounts of suction to the cleaning tool. Likewise, a vacuum using fewer amps has the potential to be as good or better at cleaning than one using more. Underwriters’ Laboratories limits the amount of electricity a portable vacuum can draw to 12 amps – is it any coincidence that many vacuums on the market today draw exactly 12 amps?

 Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM): A measurement of air movement. Seen more often in central vacuum systems, this always refers to the rated maximum CFM of the motor or motors, not taking into account the orifice of the cleaning tool or the various hindrances to air movement present in the design of any vacuum cleaner or vacuum system. The maximum motor CFM indicated on a spec sheet will never be encountered during actual use – a vacuum cleaner whose motor can produce a maximum of 100 CFM may only be moving 20 CFM once the restrictions in the airflow path and filtration system are taken into account.

 Inches of Waterlift: A negative pressure measurement; indicates the “pull” of a vacuum cleaner motor. Industrial vacuum systems are commonly rated in inches of mercury (Hg). To convert an inches of Hg measurement to inches of H20, simply multiply by 13.59. In residential vacuums, this rating is nearly always taken at a seal, with no air movement. Therefore, the maximum (sealed) waterlift measurement is nearly useless as an indicator of cleaning power – the greater the orifice size, the lower the waterlift measurement. A much more useful measurement is inches of waterlift at a given orifice size, or “Working Waterlift”. This reveals the pressure at which the air is moving – not how much pressure the machine is capable of generating when it’s fully sealed.

 One big difference between CFM and waterlift is that with waterlift, as long as a vacuum has no leaks, the maximum waterlift produced by the motor is the maximum waterlift at the cleaning tool. However, the maximum CFM produced by the motor is choked off by filters, bags, hoses, etc., so that the maximum motor CFM is never seen at the cleaning tool. The most important measurement in vacuum cleaning is also one that’s very seldom seen; that is, velocity at the cleaning tool. While very difficult to measure, this reading translates very directly to the rate of dirt removal – the faster the air flows, the faster the dirt flows. Factors that influence air velocity include the distance from the vacuum motor to the cleaning tool, design of the cleaning tool (orifice size and shape), and filtration system design.

 In traditional upright vacuum designs, the fan is located before the bag, as close to the nozzle/brushroll area as possible (typically a few inches away). The dirt-handling fan moves lots of air, and doesn’t need to generate very high pressure, due to the directness of the airflow path. These uprights tend to be phenomenal carpet cleaners due to the high velocity they generate at the nozzle opening. However, they tend to be rather poor at above-the-floor cleaning, since they cannot generate the pressure needed to move air effectively through a five- to eight-foot cleaning hose. More recent upright vacuum designs include onboard hoses, which can be connected either to the brushroll housing or to smaller cleaning tools for above-floor use. To produce strong suction at the end of the hose, the fan is typically placed after the bag and made with closer tolerances to produce higher waterlift. However, since household portable vacuums are limited in the amount of current they can draw, this is done at the expense of airflow. So, once the hose (typically 1 1/4 inches) is connected to the much larger brushroll housing, air velocity drops to a level much lower than is present in the hose. Consequently, these cleaners (like canister vacuums) tend to be weaker at carpet cleaning.

Canister vacuums rely on the same high-waterlift, low-CFM motors as newer upright designs, but separate the vacuum unit and the cleaning tool by a five- to ten-foot cleaning hose. Often the carpet cleaning tool will have its own electric motor and brushroll, but the motors still may not use more than twelve amps. Thus, power used to run one motor is potentially taken away from the other motor.

The third main category of vacuum cleaners is that of central vacuum systems. These systems permanently mount the vacuum unit in an out-of-the-way area, and provide wall inlets around the home for connection of a long cleaning hose. One of the benefits of a central vacuum (there are others, like less noise, less dust, more convenience, etc.) is that the motor unit can be made as large and powerful as needed, so that the end of the hose has much greater cleaning power than the hose of a portable vacuum. However, there’s also a potential to choke off all that cleaning power the unit produces – things like restrictive filtration designs, improper power unit sizing, poor piping installation and outdated hose construction can rob a central vacuum system of its power, causing it to clean poorly.

 As you can see, the many factors at work in how well a vacuum does its job require quite a bit of attention to design. Nowhere is this more critical than in central vacuum systems. A central vacuum should be a versatile, long-lasting tool that provides intense cleaning power for any application. Many central vacuums don’t live up to their expectations, for the reasons outlined above. At JCV, ours do – if you purchase one of our systems, my promise to you is that you’ll get your money’s worth, and you’ll never regret your decision.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Vintage Central Vacuum Systems, Pt. 02

My friend Tom at the Vacuum Museum surprised me again.  Another individual contacted him, with another antique central vacuum system which they wished to donate.  Well, not having room for yet another huge, heavy monstrosity in the museum (already very full with 400+ vacuum cleaners), he contacted me to see if I was interested.
Of course, I wanted to know more.  It was a “TUEC”, Tom said.  Though I had never seen one in person, I had heard of this brand before.  Operating on the opposite principle from the Arco Wand systems, these created massive CFM but very low waterlift.  To make an effective cleaner, this type of system had to employ large hoses and pipe lines, and unrestrictive filtration systems.  Tom forwarded this photo of the machine:

How excited I was to see this!  Not only was this TUEC in its original location and in excellent shape, but were those hoses and tools I saw?  Yes!  Original, nearly 100 years old, and in excellent shape.  This was the “Mona Lisa”.  I made arrangements to drive to Des Moines and pick up the unit.
After making the 5-hour drive, I sized up the situation.  Wow, this was going to be much tougher than I thought.  Not only is the unit bigger (and HEAVIER) than it looks, its exhaust was connected to the chimney flue by 4” cast iron pipes, which would need to be cut out, removed, and the hole cemented over.   I definitely should have brought a helper.  Too late now!  I had to make a trip to the nearby hardware store for some more Sawzall blades (I learned how much harder iron pipe is to cut than PVC) and hydraulic cement to patch the hole in the chimney.  Even after disconnecting the piping and getting the unit out onto the driveway, the hour-long battle to try to get it into my truck with nothing but some 2x6s and a fridge mover caused me to contemplate leaving it there and saying, “Thanks anyway!” 
Finally I was able to tilt and roll it into the truck, and started on the drive home, figuring I’d deal with the sore muscles later.  I already knew the pain would be worth it – before I removed it, I couldn’t resist turning it on.  Without hesitation, it wound up to full speed, sounding quite a bit like a jet engine.  Here’s a video:

The TUEC is now enjoying its retirement in my care (you’d need a rest too if you had been cleaning up dirt for nearly a century), though I fire it up every once in a while to keep the motor bearings lubricated, and do some 1910s-style cleaning. 
I’m including the scanned pages of a TUEC booklet from the same time period, which I acquired (also from Tom) a few years ago.  The contents reveal how much design and engineering went into these early systems, and how popular they once were:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Vintage Central Vacuum Systems, Pt. 01

My good friend Tom Gasko is the curator of the Vintage Vacuum Cleaner Museum in St. James, Missouri. Three years ago when the museum opened, I drove down to see it (not every day do you see 400-some vintage vacuum cleaners, all beautifully restored, arranged by decades in period-furnished rooms), and to install the museum’s central vacuum system. Tom has always known about my passion for all things central vacuum, and in the past has given me some very early (1910s) literature about central vacuum systems.

Well, last year Tom called me and said that an “Arco Wand” central vacuum had been donated to the Museum. The Arco Wand is one of the very earliest residential central vacuums, made from about 1910 into the 1920s. Never having seen one in person, I made plans to go down and pay Tom a visit as soon as possible.

Here’s the machine, in a picture provided by the donors before they removed it from their basement. The biggest thing on our minds was, “does it run?” I was aware of the hazards in applying power to something that’s nearly a century old, and probably hasn’t been used in decades. So, we dragged it outside – easier said than done, since it weighs a good 300 pounds. Plugging it in, it sparked and smoked, the motor slowly turning but never getting up to speed. After some investigation, I adjusted the carbon brushes, finally getting it to run. It had some rust holes that needed to be sealed, but ran just as well as it did 90 years ago. Here’s the result, captured for eternity on video (thank goodness for camera phones!):

This system, with its positive displacement “Roots” blower, generates lots of waterlift, but low CFM. The system was designed to make optimal use of this – 3/4” hose and wands, narrow-slot attachments. While the suction feels weak by today’s standards, it was better than any portable vacuum at the time.

This Arco Wand now sits in the 1910s section of the Vacuum Museum, ready to be fired up for any curious visitor.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Installation Issues

When servicing existing systems, I often notice parts of the installation that “could be better” – this could be a power unit mounted at an inconvenient height on the wall, inlets in less-than-optimal locations, etc. The most common issue I take note of, though, is poorly installed tubing. Take a look at a few photos from recent jobs:

I believe the installer here roughed in the pipe with an elbow turned out, then didn’t bother connecting the unit properly (it would have required one elbow and about five extra minutes), choosing instead to arrange a piece of flex hose into a U-turn configuration. Not only does this arrangement reduce performance, it’s also very clog-prone.

Here are two sections of pipe from the same job. The connection on the left (sweep 90-tight 90-sweep 90) was replaced by a sweep 90 and a 45 elbow. On the right, the pipe was coming from one direction next to an I-beam, then went up and over back toward the same direction on the other side of the I-beam. This also was re-done much more efficiently.

This was a section of pipe on a basement ceiling leading down to the power unit. Two sides of the three-way tee have more turns than necessary, and the three-way tee itself (gray fitting) is clog-prone and not recommended. The fittings in this picture (three-way tee and four 90-elbows) were replaced with one 45 wye and three 45-degree elbows. This system, which had clogged several times in the past, should not clog again.

Not only do we make existing central vacuum systems work better and more reliably, we also specialize in the design and installation of new systems for residential and commercial applications.  For more information on sales, service or installation of built-in central vacuum systems, visit or call us at (630) 608-0175.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Schedule 40 Plumbing Pipe for Central Vacuum Systems

Recently, adapters have been offered for sale on the Internet that allow 2”ID Schedule 40 plumbing pipe to connect to 2” OD Schedule 20 central vacuum tubing, facilitating the installation of the piping system (from the sharp 90 behind the inlet to the power unit intake) with the more commonly available Schedule 40 plumbing pipe. There are several issues relating to the use of this material for a residential central vacuum system, which I believe outweigh the benefits.

The first is the simple fact that all fittings made for use with Schedule 40 plumbing pipe have been designed to carry slow-moving liquid waste, not the fast-moving air and dry debris that a central vacuum system conveys. This means many of the fittings are going to have a less than ideal bend radius, and have not been designed to take into account the venturi effect that can pull debris into unused branch lines at tee connections. Only a few of the many types of DWV fittings available are suitable for vacuum system usage.

There is also a design element of PVC plumbing fittings that makes them more susceptible to clogging than vacuum fittings. The area where the inside of the fitting hub meets the nominal interior diameter of the fitting does not have a flat shoulder (as vacuum fittings do) but a beveled shoulder. Unless the pipe is beveled to match, there will be a gap where the pipe bottoms out in the hub which can catch debris and lead to a clog.

In addition, the common availability of Schedule 40 pipe and fittings at home centers (one of the main advantages given by promoters of the adapters) makes it easier for improper installation to occur, as opposed to central vacuum fittings usually sold by specialty retailers having the expertise to instruct on the proper fittings for certain applications.

Another purported advantage is that the larger interior diameter of 2” DWV (being actually two inches instead of the 1 7/8” interior diameter of vacuum tubing) reduces friction loss, providing for greater airflow. In most residential installations, the friction loss is inconsequential. There may be a perceptible difference in airflow with larger systems (especially using a power unit generating high CFM), however, the disadvantage which I believe can outweigh this benefit is the fact that the air will be traveling at a lower velocity, making it possible for dirt to remain in risers and horizontal lines instead of being carried to the unit. Commercial multi-user systems are laid out so that each section of tubing is large enough to support the required number of users, but small enough to ensure adequate velocity (40 feet per second being the minimum). Residential single-user systems are designed to work optimally with vacuum tubing, nothing larger.

Finally, professional installers use specially designed vacuum tubing cutters which leave a clean, square edge on the tube with no deburring needed. There are no such cutters available for Schedule 40 PVC, meaning the only way to cut the pipe is with a miter box or hacksaw. Even if the cut is square, it will need to be deburred to avoid catching lint and forming a clog.

In summary, the reasons not to use Schedule 40 PVC for vacuum systems are that the fittings are not designed for conveying air and debris, that there is a greater potential for improper installation, that the larger diameter will reduce the air velocity and cause debris to remain in the pipe, and that it is more difficult to properly cut the pipe, as is critical for vacuum system installation. I believe the small additional expense of sourcing proper tubing and fittings for the installation of your vacuum system will more than repay itself in a more effective, trouble-free central vacuum that will serve you for many years to come.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Effect of the Vacuum Hose on Airflow

The element of a central vacuum system that is most restrictive to airflow is the hose. Comparing the airflow at the end of different types of vacuum hoses proves this. I use a device called a Baird Airflow Meter, which measures airflow on a 1 to 10 scale. While not very useful for comparing your measurements to the manufacturer’s specs (which would be given in CFM), for example, it’s perfect for applications like this.

Starting with the Baird meter plugged directly into the wall inlet, you can see that this system pulls the indicator to 10 – lots of airflow. In fact, anything less than a “10” at the inlet usually indicates a rather underpowered system, or a problem with the power unit or the piping network.

Above is a picture of the Baird meter connected to a 30 foot, 1 1/4” ID crushproof hose. At the end of the hose, it still “feels” like quite good suction, but the Baird meter reveals that the hose has choked off 60% or more of the airflow at the inlet. In order to deliver more cleaning power to the end of the hose, you can either shorten it, or increase its interior diameter. In a residential central vacuum application, shortening the hose isn’t usually practical; the system is designed around a 30 foot hose length so anything shorter wouldn’t reach everywhere. That leaves us with using a hose with a larger interior diameter.

The picture above is the Baird meter connected to the end of a 30 foot, 1 3/8” ID crushproof hose. The reading of just under 9 tells us that this hose is delivering substantially more airflow to the cleaning tool, resulting in faster and more thorough cleaning.  While this additional cleaning power is beneficial no matter which type of attachment is being used, it shows itself most when using a turbine-driven power brush.  An air turbine brush like the Turbocat will spin much faster and groom the carpet much more thoroughly when connected to a 1 3/8" diameter hose with smooth interior surfaces.

Better still would be a 1 1/2” ID hose, but at this size hoses begin to get rather cumbersome for residential use. You might have noticed that the hoses in this example are “crushproof” type hoses, in contrast to “wire-reinforced” hoses. In testing a crushproof hose against a wire-reinforced hose, I have found the wire-reinforced hoses to be considerably worse for airflow, owing to their more corrugated interior surface.

So…what does all this mean for you? If your system could use more cleaning power, don’t pay for a service call or look into replacing your power unit just yet – look at the hose! A new hose will fit right into your existing inlets and attachments, and could provide up to 50% more cleaning power.

JCV stocks 1 3/8” lightweight durable crushproof hoses to fit nearly all kinds of systems, old or new. Call us at (630) 608-0175 or visit for more information.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dual-Motor Vacuflo and Massive Electrical Service

I had to take a picture of the mechanical room in one of the homes I recently visited:

There’s the central vacuum on the left, a dual-motor Vacuflo 760. I like that model a lot – lots of power. What really amazed me, though, is the size of the home’s electrical service to the right. A main feeder panel that’s easily 800 amps, and four 200-amp subpanels (the fourth was in another mechanical room on the other side of the basement)! Gone are the days when you had to worry about using the toaster and the microwave at the same time!

Here’s another massive electrical service I found in a home I was working in:

I love it when things are “commercial-grade”. This house was cleaned by three Vacuflo systems, a 960 and two 560s. Pictures below:

With that system, you really could have four people vacuuming at once. Talk about speeding through your housework.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

DIY Pipe Repairs

I had been out to the Oak Brook, IL home of one of my good customers several times to unclog her system. Any time a system clogs repeatedly, I know there is a piping issue that needs to be corrected. Walking through the basement, I found this:

This rubber plumbing fitting had been installed in place of the original vacuum fitting. The homeowner indicated that in the process of remodeling a few years ago, a line had to be moved. Apparently the homeowner or contractor did the work themselves, using this fitting instead of the proper components. While it seems to fit properly from the outside, comparing the inside diameter with that of a central vacuum sweep 90 makes it clear why this system kept clogging:

This is a 1.5” ID fitting, which ends up being about 2” OD. While a vacuum fitting is technically 2” OD, its thinner wall makes for a much larger interior diameter. With the proper fitting installed, I don’t expect this system to clog again. Fortunately, this was the only place that the system had been modified. Here’s what it now looks like :

Homeowners and contractors, it’s completely understandable not wanting to pay for a service call to move a line, if you are able to do the work yourself. However, if you opt to, please use the proper pipe and fittings! Just Central Vacuums has what you need for just a few dollars. Give us a call at (630) 608-0175 and we can send the fittings right to your jobsite.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

20 Years working with Vacuums

“Huh? You’re only 22 years old. How could that be true?” Here’s the story of how I came to be in this business, starting with this photo, taken in April, 1990:

My passion (obsession?) for vacuums and central vacuum systems started when I was about two. Where it came from, I have no idea. Quickly, I became bored with the toy vacuum in the photo and began to acquire “real” ones, at one point having close to a hundred in my parents’ basement. Old ones, new ones, all kinds of them. While this stood in the way of playing games and having sleepovers in the basement like all the other kids did, and irritated my parents to no end, it did afford me a unique opportunity to acquire lots of knowledge about the different kinds of vacuums, their strengths and weaknesses, how to take them apart, repair them, and put them back together again.

From an early age, I knew about central vacuum systems, having seen them in several friends’ houses. At about eleven years old, I started to want one for myself – for no reason other than that I viewed them as the "ultimate vacuum cleaner.” I wrote away to different manufacturers, requesting literature, videos, installation manuals, price lists, everything I could get. I read it all over and over, and even figured out how I might install a system into my parents’ home in Naperville. My attempts to gain their permission failed, for reasons I didn’t yet understand (what parent wants their 12 year-old cutting holes in their walls and running pipes and wires through their attic?).

At that point though, I was working on the weekends helping the owner of a local vacuum store with odd jobs. Instead of working for cash, I asked to be paid in merchandise of my choosing. In this way, I was able to acquire the installation materials bit by bit. All I had to do then was wait until Mom left the house for a few hours, and work a little bit on the system. After a while, she started to notice the wall inlets, which I put in one by one. Every time Mom would find one, she would yell, “You do not have permission to install this!”

Not one to be discouraged, I continued until all seven inlets were in place, and the piping connected in the attic and basement. I saved up and bought a power unit and attachment set, the final components to my system. Finally, my project was complete! And how impressed I was the first time I used my system! As time went by I became more and more partial to central vacuums, and grew less and less interested in my collection of upright vacuums, eventually giving them away to other collectors.

Curiosity about the vast variety of central vacuum products available drove me to acquire many different power units, hoses, attachments, and other components, old and new. My parents’ home has had over a dozen different power units installed in it, and countless different hoses, power nozzles and attachments have been used. I learned the advantages and disadvantages of each product, and the different applications for which each system was best suited.

My growing passion for central vacuum systems slowly morphed into a business, and by fifteen years old I was installing and servicing systems in customers’ homes. I owe a big thank you to my early clients, for realizing that the little kid at their door was there to fix their central vacuum, not to sell them Cub Scout popcorn! My focus ever since then has been to expand my knowledge and deliver an ever higher level of service and expertise, while still maintaining my passion for this business. To all my customers, THANK YOU for your business, and happy vacuuming!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Air-Flo Central Vacuum Systems

One of the most common brands of existing systems that I service (and historically the most common system installed in the Chicagoland area) is the Air-Flo system, made for and installed by Central Vacuum, Inc, which for many years operated out of an office on Division Street in Chicago. Some of the first incarnations of this brand were brown and tan in color and from the early 1980’s. Manufactured by Thoro-Matic, they had one, two or three motors and looked like the system below:

The next ones were blue in color and made by M.D. Manufacturing in California. There were two models available, each using either two or three of the same motor. The CFM-2, with two motors and 8-gallon bag capacity, is still available as the Modern Day Model B2. Below are some of the CFM-2 units I have serviced:

Available concurrently with the CFM-2 was the CFM-3, which had three motors and used 12-gallon bags. Typically installed in larger homes, these units were always hard-wired to a 30-amp circuit breaker. The smaller CFM-2 was plugged into a standard wall outlet on a 15- or 20-amp circuit. Here are some pictures I have taken of various CFM-3 units:

Note, even though the CFM-3 is no longer in production (the recommended current unit has two larger motors, instead of three smaller motors), all parts including bags, filters, motors, hoses and attachments are available through Just Central Vacuums, Inc.

Air-Flo units were installed with proprietary inlet valves, manufactured exclusively for Central Vacuum, Inc., which looked like this:

These inlets, based off the old Filtex “Automatic” inlets, turned on when opened, and had an opening slightly larger than industry-standard, meaning that “universal” central vacuum hoses purchased today fit poorly. The good news is, Just Central Vacuums not only has hoses to fit these old inlets (including electrified hoses), we also are able to replace these inlets with new industry-standard inlets that allow you to use a hose with a fingertip on-off control, eliminating the need to unplug the hose to turn the system off. An added benefit is that since the new inlets turn on only when the hose is inserted, they eliminate the loud rush of air when the inlet door is opened.

Even though Central Vacuum, Inc. stopped installing these systems and closed its Division Street offices nearly ten years ago, JCV continues to provide support to the many tens of thousands of systems they installed over the decades. If you have one of these systems, call us at (630) 608-0175 or go to to get a coupon good toward your next purchase, plus a service sticker to affix to your central vacuum unit. We look forward to helping you keep your Air-Flo central vacuum working for many years to come.