DIY Central Vac

on Wednesday 20 June 2007 - 08:33:44 | by Tripper
One of the items we wanted in our new house was a central vac system. If you have ever priced these bad boys out, you will see they can be very expensive for just a base system. Fortunately, I found a system that can be built for a fraction of a purchased system and so far, works as well or better. Unfortunately, the article isn't published on the web however the magazine is BackWoods Home and the issue is #97, January/February 2006. Visit their site at I used David Lee's information to get a basic idea of how to design my system however made some changes which of course added cost but gave us the full central vac effect. I won't compare every change I made but the basic differences in our system vs. the article are hose and attachments as well as vacuum placement. Dave suggested a pool cleaning hose and placement of the vac outside in a weather-proof cabinet. As you will read, I took a different path on both.

For starters, lets look at the business end of the system. If you are trying to build your vac in a weekend and are concerned with keeping your costs as low as possible, go with the pool hose and your existing Shop-Vac attachments. These will work well but to enable a powerhead attachment, you will have to either purchase something that will require extension cords and modifications or hack up a yard sale special. Either way, you will probably end up with a mishmash of components duct taped and wire tied in an attempt to keep things in some order. I didn't want to fight with this section of our setup so I opted to purchase a kit from Think Vacuums. They have a nice selection with more attachments than you will probably use or need but nonetheless, put out some very nice products. Our specific kit is the Chateu Collection III for Hayden.

In addition to the accessory kit, I ordered the vacuum ports and a VacPan kit. The ports are direct connect which means the power for the nozzle is suppled from the port, through a wire in the hose and to the head. The other option is pigtail in which you use a normal house receptacle located close to your vac port for power to the head.

The VacPan is one of the greatest inventions in history. Perhaps that is an overstatement but as far as household cleaning goes, this thing rocks! These units are basically permanent mount dustpans with a lid and low voltage contacts. When you hit the kick switch, the pan opens and connects the contacts which turn the central vac on. You sweep debris into the pan and it is whisked away. They mount under cabinets or in a wall at the floor level. When you are done, you hit the rocker switch and everything closes up and shuts down. I went ahead and ordered the installation kit to make sure everything installed and worked smooth. You can check them out here..

So that takes care of the usable portion of the system. Now comes the items that make the system work. As Dave points out in his article, a Shop Vac makes a great central vac workhorse. First off, they are fairly cheap when compared to a "real" central vac unit or even a decent vacuum cleaner. On top of that, they are extremely powerful, easy to clean and empty, and typically can be found at most yard sales. We have had ours for about 6 years and it was used then. I picked it up from my friends father when he was moving for about $10.00. It is actually a Sears Wet/Dry vac which is more than likely a Shop Vac rebranded. Sears has a habit of rebranding items. (Most of their Kenmore appliances are actually Whirlpools). Anyway, it weighs in at 2.5 hp and has always worked great. Newer versions run around $180.00 from the store and offer upwards of 5 hp.

For the time being, I mounted the vac on a scaffold that was set up in our basement, placed the vac hose onto the existing pvc coming from our laundry room to the basement and used duct tape to keep things as air tight as possible. I also blocked up the shop vac to prevent it from rolling off the scaffold during use. The suggested method by Dave was to place it in a cabinet outside the house. I decided to keep ours in the basement/garage/workshop area. No need to build a custom cabinet when we have 1200+ square feet to work with and its out of the way.

So the tubing is in place, the access port is mounted, and all the accessories are ready for use. At this point, I could turn the vac on and go upstairs to vacuum and then back down to shut if off however that would become mundane awful fast. Enter the brains of the system, which really aren't that complicated.

The idea is to get the shop vac to turn off and on when needed from a remote location. This involves some low voltage contacts, a relay, and a transformer to supply the low voltage. I picked up a relay from Radio Shack for $9.00. They only had one relay that would work for this at our local store and it required 12VDC to operate. Fortunately, I have collected a large quantity of old electronics power supplies so the transformer was effectively free. Instead of typing out the setup, take a peek at this schematic.

I condensed the relay and shop vac outlet into an old network box. Again, this is my temporary setup so forgive the black and duct tape.

Once I had everything wired up and stabilized for temporary duty, it was time to try it out. I proceeded back upstairs and plugged the hose into the port. The hose we have, has a rocker switch on the handle. I pressed it and could hear the vacuum pressure rush through the hose. I couldn't hear the vacuum actually running which was great. (Part of the reason to have one of these systems). Strangely enough, the power nozzle wasn't on. I thought perhaps there was some wiring issues until I realized there was another setting available on the handle switch. I flipped it to the other side and waalaa, the power nozzle started up and this thing was no joke. I know it is tough to get excited about a vacuum but I was ecstatic. I donned the 14" floor brush that came with our kit and removed kitty litter, pet hair and paint/spackle chips from the tile floor. The power nozzle worked extremely well. No more running over junk 3 or 4 times to pick it up and it seemed to refresh the carpet. Granted, the carpet is only a few weeks old but high traffic areas get beat down fast, especially moving and unpacking.

So with everything working, I went down and inspected the setup to ensure I didn't smell burning wires or see smoke. I then mounted the storage hanger in the laundry room.

Overall, this is one of the best devices we put in the house. I have to finish installing the VacPan but that should be in place by the weekend. Feel free to hit me up for info if you decide to install one yourself and thanks to Dave Lee for the insight and inspiration.

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