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.