Is It Time To Revisit The Central Vac?

Real Estate

The affects of indoor air quality is top of mind as we spend more time at home

The EPA cites indoor air quality (IAQ) as one of the top five environmental risks to public health. Since the pandemic’s March shut down, many people have been inside nearly 24/7. Our homes have been doing quadruple duty as office, restaurant, theater, school. We got a reprieve during the spring and summer when we could at least do a lot of things outdoors, but colder weather and shorter days are not far away – and we’ll be back inside once again.

While you’re trying to keep your space clean and free of germs, you’re likely doing lot of vacuuming. And recent research from University of California, Davis and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, shows that while we typically imagine influenza viruses spreading via respiratory particles, they can also spread through the air on dust, fibers and other microscopic particles.

Are you doing more harm than good by vacuuming?  

A Good Vacuum

When you vacuum, you suck up dirt and fine particles into a canister. And, while your vacuum does have a filter, if it’s an old vacuum, it’s likely not doing enough to contain the tiniest particles, which will then just blow back into your home. If you or your family members are prone to allergies, this is a problem.

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Harvard’s Healthy Building Program suggests that you vacuum regularly – but use a vacuum with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter. These filters, according to the EPA, “can theoretically remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns.”

Yet, even with a HEPA filter, if the vacuum is not sealed well or the filter is faulty, jostling the vacuum is enough to release particles into the air. (To see this explained check out this video from Vacuum Wars, a vacuum cleaner review and comparison channel.) So if you buy a portable vacuum, invest in one that has a HEPA filter with a sealed system. And, when you empty the canister, don’t do it in the house.

Go Whole House

If only there were a vacuum system that you didn’t have to schlep from room to room, that sends dirt and particles directly to a separate canister and that only has to be emptied a couple of times a year. Oh, wait, there is, and it’s been around since the 1950s.

The central vacuum is one of those great inventions that has had trouble catching on. A typical central vacuum system has about a six-gallon collection bucket located in a garage, crawl space or attic; ductwork in the walls; connection points or inlets in several rooms (a 2,400-square foot home only needs four inlets) and a 35-foot hose (it can be retractable) that you connect to the inlet.

So why isn’t central vac as mainstream as central A/C and other built-in appliances and mechanicals? It may come down to price. A central vacuum runs anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 installed (add about $500 if it’s a retrofit). That’s a tough sell when you can buy a good vacuum for under $200.

Sean Finnerty and his son Dennis Finnerty co-founders of HausVac are trying to change perceptions of central vacuum systems by, among other things, offering courses to architects and design professionals. Based in the Hamptons on the east end of Long Island, Haus Vac manufactures and installs its own central vacuum components. The company’s niche may be luxury builds, but Dennis says that about 10% of homes in the U.S. are equipped with central vacuum systems and that it’s easy enough to install a central vacuum in an existing home. In fact, according to Green Builder, “one-third of all central vacuums sold in the U.S. are installed in existing homes without tearing out sections of walls or ceilings.”

“People have seen it as a niche item,” says Dennis “but it’s a vital health imperative particularly now with concerns about viruses and a renewed focus on indoor air and health.”

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