Monday, November 19, 2012

Inlet Valves, Pt. 1: Standard Inlets

Most central vacuum inlet valves made in the last twenty years (and some even older than that) have an industry standard configuration, with mounting screws four inches apart, vertically centered on 1.5” ID inlet neck.  They connect to the tubing system via a mounting plate, shown below:


The mounting plate goes behind the drywall, and is held in place by the sandwiching action of the inlet valve.  In new construction, the plate is nailed or screwed to a stud.  While all-plastic mounting plates are most often used today because of their lower cost and greater ease of installation, in the past metal plates were common:


Beam Industries pioneered what was to become the industry standard form factor in the 1950s, and their first inlet valves looked like this:


These metal inlet valves were of excellent quality and lasted for decades, even in commercial use.  In fact, they are still made today and are an excellent choice for heavy use or floor mount applications.  Around thirty years ago, a less-expensive plastic version became available, and is still made today:


An advantage of this “round-door” type inlet is its easy-to-open design which provides a built-in alignment keyway for low- and dual-voltage hoses.  Downsides are its rather obtrusive appearance on the wall, and the fact that the door, which only opens to 90 degrees, can be prone to breakage.  For the sake of appearance, the screws should be painted to match the color of the inlet.  Though painted screws are included, they are not long enough to work with most plastered or paneled walls. 

In the late 1980s, Hayden Industries developed two new inlet styles, the so-called “square door” and “full door”, both shown below:

BI-9227-11 BI-9223-1

Both styles are arguably nicer-looking than the round-door type, with the full-door doing the best job of blending into the wall.  The full-door also offers the benefit of opening all the way to the wall, reducing the potential for breakage.  Until recently, neither had a provision for hose alignment, meaning that low- or dual-voltage hoses could twist during use, causing the switch to stop working.  This annoyance has been remedied on current versions of these inlet valves. 

All of the above are good, functional choices for your central vacuum.  However, here at Just Central Vacuums we use the VacuValve, manufactured by Canplas Industries:


This is an attractive full-door design which has proven to be very durable over the 20+ years it has been on the market.  The hinge design enables the door to open all the way to the wall, preventing failure.  The valve features hose alignment tabs (visible in the open view above), and can be mounted up or down without revealing any unsightly gaps.  Mounting as shown, with the hinge at the top, is our standard practice for several reasons.  First, it allows the door to rest on the hose, rather than the hose on the door.  This lessens wear on both.  Second, it places the low voltage contacts at the top of the inlet neck, to prevent accidental activation from a metal object such as a coin resting inside the inlet valve.  I once witnessed an example where liquid ingested into the system traveled down into a basement inlet and pooled on the contacts, shorting them and causing the power unit to run with all the inlets closed.  An unusual example that nonetheless could have been avoided by mounting the inlet with the contacts at the top.  Lastly, in the unlikely event that the door spring fails, the door will remain closed when the system is not running.  Spring failure in a round- or square-door inlet (unless mounted upside-down) will cause the door to stay open, significantly reducing the suction at other inlets.

Stay tuned for Part Two of our fascinating discussion, which will cover non-standard inlets used in the past and present!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Save money with Central Vacuum Tune-Ups

One of the services we offer to our customers is a comprehensive “tune-up” of the entire central vacuum system, which includes inspecting, cleaning and servicing the power unit, tubing system, inlet valves, hose and attachments.  We recommend that most residential systems be serviced every three years, or more often as needed for large homes, heavy use applications, or commercial environments. 
Many people choose to wait until “something breaks” before they call a technician.  This applies not only to central vacuum systems, but to most things in and out of the home, like furnaces, plumbing, electrical, roofs, automobiles…the list goes on.  One of the biggest ways that preventive maintenance can save you money in the long run is by catching a problem while it’s small, before it gets bigger and more expensive.  I came across a perfect example just the other day:

This is a picture of the bottom of a central vacuum motor, with the working air fan intake in the center.  In every central vacuum system, a gasket is used to provide an airtight seal between the motor and the central vacuum canister.  The gasket adhesive here has failed, causing the gasket to “creep” from the motor’s heat and become sucked into the fan blades.  By the time we saw this, the motor needed replacement:

Had we serviced this system regularly, the gasket alone could have been changed, at a cost of about 5% of the entire motor assembly. 
For more information about our various tune-up options or to schedule a tune-up for your system, visit or call us at (630) 608-0175.  I look forward to helping you!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tubing Clogs

Quite a few central vacuum service calls involve removing clogs from the tubing system.  While the biggest symptom of a clog is poor suction, that doesn’t mean that poor suction is always caused by a clog.  Check out this article for more information on some other causes of low suction, as well as a few home fixes to try. 
Properly installed systems, in my experience, rarely develop clogs.  Proper power unit sizing, careful fitting selection and tubing layout, as well as neat, methodical installation practices will all make it very unlikely that a clog will occur.  This is why JCV offers a lifetime guarantee against clogs in our installations.
Here are a few photos of installation errors that led to clogs:

This is a section of tubing removed from a vacuum system in a restaurant.  The power unit was located to the left, with inlet branch lines extending from the right and top.  The assembly consists of two 45-degree elbows, one 90-degree elbow, a tee and a coupling.  This would appear to be a proper installation, but the demanding use of a restaurant reveals a weak point…

Here is what the inside of the tee looks like from the right side.  Plainly visible is the large buildup of solidified grease deposited over the years.  The nature of the tee fitting means that debris is introduced to the main line at a 90 degree angle, and momentum causes it to hit the back wall of the tee before making the turn to go through the rest of the system.  Restaurant vacuum systems ingest small particles of food, as well as airborne grease, in addition to common dust and dirt.  This mixture adheres to areas in the tubing system where the air is forced to make a sudden turn, and over time hardens and builds up.  It’s easy to see how restricted the passage has become, leading to repeated clogs. 
The solution was to replace this section with a wye fitting, which introduces debris from the branch line at a 45-degree angle facing the main line.  This type of fitting is much less susceptible to this type of buildup, and will definitely decrease the need for future service on this system.  I also took the opportunity to use 30 degree fittings instead of 45 degree fittings on the left side of the assembly, and I installed the 45 degree wye in a horizontal position, which eliminated the need for the 90 degree elbow.  I don’t have an “after” photo, but needless to say, this system now works better than it ever has!


his section was removed from a residential system only a few years old.  Hairpins are just long enough to become wedged sideways in the tubing, and thus are a common culprit for clogs.  Even so, it took a sloppy connection to create the potential for this clog to occur.  Let’s look a little closer:

Notice how the end of the hairpin has lodged between the end of the pipe and the shoulder of the fitting, due to the pipe not being pushed far enough into the fitting.  When replacing this fitting, extra care was taken to push and twist the end of the pipe (after cutting it squarely with a tubing cutter, and deburring it for a smooth finish) completely into the fitting.  You can vacuum up hairpins all day long and they won’t get hung up in a properly installed system.

This last example wasn’t clogged, but it certainly needed to be replaced.  A child’s toy Matchbox car had been inserted into one of the inlets, and the momentum it gained while traveling through the pipe caused it to blow the side of this tee completely out!  It’s a pretty dramatic and unusual failure, but serves to reinforce the benefit of using a wye instead of a tee.  By forcing the object to make only a 45 degree turn instead of a full 90 degrees all at once, the impact on the back wall of the fitting is lessened.  There’s a good chance that a wye would have survived this treatment, and the customer could have avoided the need for a service call.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I’m Back!

Those of you who follow this blog have certainly (I hope) noticed the long, long delay since my last post!  Things have been so busy and I have neglected to make a new post.
One of my recent new construction projects was a home in Hinsdale being built by my friend Noel Talty, of Talty Carpentry Construction (  The level of detail in this home is very unusual, and I couldn’t help but take a few pictures…

This (almost-finished) fireplace is in the mahogany-paneled study, and features vintage tile. 

I’ve always thought one of the uglier things on a wall is a big, white stamped sheet metal return grille.  Sure, you can paint it the color of the wall, but that doesn’t approach the coolness factor of what Noel did in this house – the returns are router-cut right into the baseboard, so they blend right in. 

So, quick poll everyone:  How often do you see vintage-style mortised rim locksets, complete with skeleton keys, in new construction?  As an enthusiast of old houses, this really caught my eye and certainly helps to make this home seem like it’s “been there forever”. 

One thing, though, that clues you in to the fact that this is brand-new premium construction is all the technology in the home…geothermal heating and cooling, a full multiroom audio system, and a hard-wired lighting control system.  Every light fixture in the place has its own home run to those two big panels on the right.  Stuff like this just impresses the heck out of me.
Obviously my work in the home occurs when it’s still under construction, so these pictures were taken before things were all wrapped up.  I’m really hoping for the opportunity to see the home when it’s finished, cleaned up and ready for occupancy!