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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a built-in vacuum system?
A built in vacuum system is properly placed vacuum inlets connected by 2" piping with a low volt wire running to all inlets. The vacuum power unit is installed in the garage, basement etc. As one can see one inlet covers a large part of the home; 3 inlets is average for the typical sized home, not including the garage where the unit is usually hung (there is an inlet on the power unit).
Floor plan with vacuum system

What are the advantages to a Cana-Vac built in vacuum system?

Why purchase from us
I have been installing vacuum systems for 25 years. I do not have a large vacuum store that just sells. By purchasing from us you get invaluable tips from my years of experience. I spent many hours creating the Tips and FAQ pages. I will do everything to solve my customer’s personal installation problems through email. If you have to use the phone I will make long distance phone calls (after 7PM PST) if you have a toll free number or except collect calls or if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area. A built in vacuum system is easy to install, so do not be intimidated. I will help you through it.

Why is a central vacuum better than a HEPA canister or upright?
All uprights and canister vacuums exhaust dust into the home.   The exhaust from a HEPA filter is a fine micro dust.  It is not possible to stop all dust from passing through the filter otherwise the air flow would be cut off and no vacuuming would occur. Also the HEPA filter cuts down on the air flow, hence the cleaning power and is expensive and has to be changed frequently.   The HEPA vacuums do exhaust less but the dust that gets by the HEPA you are breathing!  A central vacuum system exhausted to outside.

Can a vacuum system be installed in an existing home?

It is possible to install a built-in vacuum system in most homes. Some homes are easy, like single floor homes, and those on hillsides where under the house is accessible.  The Tips file gives instructions on what to look for in your home for installation, and provide tips for installing.

Is it easy to install?
Yes, it is. Anyone with basic tool skills and with access to some simple tools that most homeowners would own, will have no problem installing a Cana-Vac Vacuum System.  Cana-Vac has an installation manual that can be downloaded which will give you the details; download our Tips for extra help.  Click this page for some photos of plumbing.

Is it necessary to hire a licensed vacuum systems contractor to install the vacuum system.
In California (all States have their own laws),  anyone doing business as a contractor is required to be licensed in the field he or she is working in.  If you purchase the equipment from us and hire someone to install the vacuum system, who is not in business as a central vacuum system contractor he does not need a "central vacuum contractors" license. He does need to have a contractors licensed for any job over the maximum of $300 (the last time I looked, it could now be $500). If it is more than the maximum, just get a licensed contractor that can do plumbing like a plumber, handy person, general contractor (in California there is a classification for handyman and home improvement contractor) etc. If the job is less than the maximum, just get someone that is good with plumbing (and keep an eye on him.)  Working with him is better that way you will know how it was installed and there will be times when he needs a second hand.

How do I decide which power unit to purchase?
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding which power unit to purchase. Here is a list of the things you need to consider which power unit to purchase.   For simplicity we created Packages which are listed in the price sheet.  Detailed explanations on what would be best for your home is in the Ordering Tips file.  These are the main factors to consider when selecting which package to purchase.

Do you have Wet/Dry central Vacuum system?
No. We do have a wet dry canister.   As a service person I have a problem with central vacuums picking up water.  The problem is no matter how strong the unit is, water and dirt make mud.  Mud will line the tubing and sticks there.  Eventually it will build up and restrict air flow and then clog the system.  It will be very difficult to clean it up.  Central vacuum tubing is thin walled and will rip up with a typical snake machine.  Most drain companies will not run their snake in a vacuum system.  If wet pickup is necessary purchase a small wet/dry shop vac it will save your central vacuum. 
From my own experience, I use a wet/dry canister and have used it to clean spots in carpet a few times.  When I made some changes to my piping I discovered a layer of dried dirt lining the tubing.  Just rinsing it the inside of the tubing did not remove the mud, had to be wiped. Static electrical charge keeps it there just as it keeps dust on blinds and other plastic and other materials.   I will now only use the wet dry canister to pick up water in emergencies.

What is "Inches of water lift,", CFM and Air Watts.
CFM is "cubic feet of air per minute". This is measured at a 2" opening at the unit.  It is a measurement of airflow volume. In other words, how much cubic feet of air moves by in one minute. Airflow is lost by resistance caused by the tubing walls and will of course drop the more dirt it has to carry. The longer the air has to go to get to the power unit and the more elbows it goes through, the more airflow is lost.
Sealed vacuum (sv) is measured in "inches of water lift". This is measured at the unit opening "sealed" at sea level. The original gauge was based on how far it lifted water in a tube. That is why it is "inches of water lift". It measures the "vacuum strength". Sealed vacuum is lost with leaks (around face plates, power unit gasket or piping leaks).  Sealed vacuum is measured with in a closed system, which is not the way one vacuums.

The higher the altitude the more sealed vacuum you will need, (you loose sealed vacuum as you raise in altitude). Sealed vacuum in a central vacuum is the "strength of pull", needed for pulling uphill and bulky heavy items.

Air flow is needed for moving the dirt. The more air flow the more volume of dirt that can be moved. Air flow is lost do to with resistance, (longer distance to power unit) and leaks. Air flow is what causes the dirt to "jump" into the vacuum wand without touching it. Once in the hose or pipe both CFM and water lift come into play. There is a balance between them in a central vacuum system. One is not more important than the other. Sealed vacuum is what you feel when you cover up the end with your hand. Demonstrating the vacuum by picking up a lead weight is a gimmick and is not indication of how will the vacuum will pick up dirt. You do not vacuum with it sealed, that makes air flow to zero!  A scientific paper could be researched and written of a comparison of CFM and water lift and ability to clean in various types of vacuums, central, upright, shop sawdust vacuums, portable shop vac, etc. kw

A trick to show that sealed vacuum is not everything is to poke a pin hole in a business card put the card over the opening an a vacuum gauge over hole in the card. to measure the sealed vacuum. The sealed vacuum will be maximum!  You cannot vacuum through a pin hole!

Why do some vacuums use watts and others use horsepower?
Watts is the measurement for power, so is horsepower. Power over time is measured in energy using joules, BTU, kilowatt hours or hp-hours. Watts is calculated my multiplying current (in amps) times the voltage. The average voltage in most homes is 120V.  In reality, it is a volt or two less. This means that the most wattage one can get from a 120v 15 amp circuit is 1800 watts. This is not safe. The maximum "safe" device that can be used on 120v circuit is 13 amps, 1560 watts. When start they surge and need more "room".  A 13 Amp motor should be on a 20 amp circuit.
1 horsepower is 745.56 watts. 1560 watts is 2 HP. I do not know how companies are calculating horsepower for electric motor powered equipment like shop vacs and electric chain saws, these days, and can rate vacuums at 4 hp or 6 hp 120 volt circuits. If anyone has that answer please email us.  I understand that the industry drove this new type of HP rating. Central vacuum companies are generally not using HP to rate their power units any more.  Personally I think horsepower should be dropped (it should have gone with the horses). 

Look at the sealed vacuum and air flow (same size opening) of the units to compare vacuum power.  One 2 HP motor have more vacuum/suction power that another 2 hp motor because it is more efficent.   Air watts is helpful by not by it's self as long as everyone is calculating it the same way.  This may seem like a obvious thing but it not necessarily so.  Until a number of years ago music amplifiers and speaker power ratings were not standardized.  It took law suits to get the industry to standardize.  They used every trick to make their equipment seem more powerful than it was.   For instance 100 watt speakers.  They could be two 50 watt peek to peek power, peek  power or music power. (each company defined this rating).  RMS power is the true power rating now the Federal standard.

I am still researching how electric motors and the central vacuum industries rate their power units and if there is a Federal standard or is it just a industry standard not enforced.  If anyone can help me on this please email me.

What is PVC glue and what if I spill it, how do I clean it up?
PVC glue is just a PVC solvent (clear liquid that dissolves PVC plastic) mixed with powered PVC plastic. The solvent dissolves the plastic and makes a "goo". Do not use clear solvent to glue PVC plumbing, it is very volatile and will not have enough time to dissolve the two surfaces together before evaporating. The PVC "goo" fuses the surfaces of the PVC pipe and fittings together like welding. This is different from soldering and brazing that fastens two surfaces together by sticking to both of them. METHYL ETHYL KETONE (MEK), is one of the solvents of PVC. It will clean up spilled glue and thin, thickened solvent. Be careful it can dissolve other things as well like some carpet and plastics. Test it first.
Make sure the pipe is dry.   Also high humidity and cold will effect the fussing of the plastic.  If the glue gets wet or is too cold it will not set and usually will turn white.  It is best to at least have the solvent at room temperature or a little warmer if gluing pipe in the cold.  Keep the sealed can in a bucket of hot water while not using so that it stays warm.

PVC solvent glue and MEK are toxic and flammable, keep them out of the reach of children. MEK can be found in most hardware stores.   There is PVC glue that will work wet. It is more expensive and I have only seen it for professionals in large cans.

What if the piping gets clogged?
The best way to deal with clogs is to prevent them.  The way to prevent clogs is use the vacuum properly and to install the system correctly,  (see the Tips file for installation hints and unclogging details on unclogging options).    When using the vacuum system and finished an area,  before shutting it off, allow the unit to stay on for a minute or so.   This will give the dirt time to get to the power unit.  Problems can arise when the objects are too massive.  While the dirt is moving, there is no problem but when stopped the stuff loses its momentum and just sits or barely moves when you vacuum again.  Pick up the big stuff before vacuuming;  you will be surprised how fast a sock gets picked up!  Nails, large hairpins, pencils and other things that are long, can be picked up and most of the time make it to the power unit but sometimes can get caught on the way. Pick these things up before vacuuming.  Sawdust will clog it up because it is too massive and damp.  Systems designed for sawdust are much more powerful with large piping. If somehow you get a clog there are a number of options.  Rent a heavy-duty commercial shop-vac and vacuum from the inlet that you noticed the clog first (this pulls the clog backwards), then vacuum all the other inlets. You can also call a central vacuum contractor or call a drain cleaning company; a rotor snake will clean it out.

I am remodeling and need to spread out the expense, is it possible to get just what I need to install the system?
In house under construction and a remodel this is called a rough-in. It is common for a customer to put off finishing the system. The rough-in parts, tubing, wire and fittings cost a fraction of the power unit plus hose and attachment set plus face plates.
What you need to order is tubing and inlet kits. Use a 30-ft rope to place and determine how many inlets you will need. The placement and number of inlets you need is made with by considering how much overlap you want. Make room for corners and furniture. The Tips cover this in detail.
Using a floor plan you can get an estimate on how much tubing you will need. You can also get an estimate on what fittings you will need. If the piping is installed under the house it is usually straightforward. If you have a multi-floor home or a single floor home with the piping running above, then it gets complicated and will use more tubing and (much more fittings than come in the kits). If you need extra fittings I keep them in stock but you will be charged extra handling and shipping. Read my FAQ and Tips, we mention about using 2" OD water pipe but is still has to be our tubing to the face plates and unit. We can only sell tubing in 80' bundles. 80' should be enough for up to 6 inlets, at the most depending on the house. The length of the house is a good start (a single floor house that is 100 feet long will need more pipe). I would recommend starting with 80'. You can purchase another bundle later. Returning tubing not used is costly and not worth it since because of shipping charge and, UPS charges an oversized fee. It would cost more for a round trip than it is worth!

I have a home with a unknown vacuum system installed without a unit or hose.  How can I tell if it is compatible with Cana-Vac parts?
Most central vacuum systems today use the same face plate connections.  Some older systems are a different story. Look on the tubing sometimes the make will be printed on it.  Also take a face plate and look at it sometimes it will have the make printed on it. Ask a neighbor, most likely they will have the a system installed by the same company.
The hose end contacts have to make electrical contact with the contacts in the face plate so they need be in the correct position.  Also the hose needs to fit tight but not too tight.  That is why replacing the face plates is the best option then it can be done.  If Cana-Vac's face plates fit your wall brackets then the face plates can be replaced.  There is no way to be sure but to try one.  Take the face plate out and measure the inside diameter of the face plate on the face side end and the inside end, it is tapered so they will not be the same diameter, (you will need a inside caliper), the measurement needs to be accurate.  Also measure the depth of the face plate.  Then measure the distance between the screws that fasten the face plate in and the diameter of the opening in the bracket.  Measure the distance between the contacts and the distance they are from the front of the face plate, (see drawing.)   There is only a fraction of an inch difference in makes and Cana-Vac will fit in some. This will tell us if there is a chance that the Cana-Vac plates will work.
Each inlet needs a 2 wire cable wired between each face plate.  It probably is daisy chained from one plate to the other not home run).  Plates are wired in parallel. You will find the wire(s) at the place where the unit is mounted.  With the intake and you might find a exhaust tubing coming out of the wall or floor which will not have a wire with it.   Sometimes there will be two or more intakes which will have to be "Y"d or "T"d to the unit.
Vacuum systems use 2" OD vacuum system tubing. (Pipe is measured inside and tubing is measures outside.  Pipe is thicker and tubing is thin walled.)  A few old systems used a smaller tubing and some older systems used a metal vacuum systems tubing. I have also seen some people use black ABS plumbing pipe both 2" and 1 1/2" pipe (see tips about use of ABS and PVC pipe).  When I converted old systems over, I need to try the hose or face plate to be sure, so measuring will help but is no guarantee. Email me the measurements (metric or tenths of an inch please).   If they are the same as Cana-Vac's then you have a chance otherwise,  you need to find out the make. Sometime if the measurements are close it can still work with tape or longer screws etc.

Can I call for help on deciding which package to purchase?
This is a self service site.  The only way that we can offer the 10% discount is if the customer does all the work. We strive to make the purchasing as easy as possible.  Unless you have a very large home or a small home like a mobile home, our kits will work for you.   We can not return calls.  If we do pick up your call you will be charged full prices. We do respond to e-mail questions not covered on the site.  Up to now 98% of all the e-mail questions we have received to this date were answered somewhere on the web site.  Please read the tips, ordering information, FAQ before sending a question by e-mail.   Please do not call, they will not be returned except if you are local to the San Francisco Bay Area.   In that case we will quote full prices and send you a bid.

My hose broke, can it be fixed?
If it is a hose with wires either low volt or just on/off switch the chances are the switch will not work again.  You can replace the hose end with a standard one so that the unit goes on when plugged into the vacuum inlet.  If the hose is broken in the middle there are couplings to fix the hose. If it is on the handle side a replacement handle can be glued on.
Again the chances are the wiring will be broke or have to be cut to fix it, (can not leave a wire loose in the hose to cause clogs. If you have a non-switch hose just clean out the broken part in the handle or end and glue and screw it back!   The hose can still be used for the garage or under the house. Do not junk a broken hose both ends can be fixed.

There are so many vacuum systems what is the difference in power units?
Despite what any company says 98% of the power units use motors made by the same manufacture! The vacuum system unit is simply a can with a motor and some kind of dirt filter, low volt system and separation system. The designs are different. Companies have different concerns when designing their units.  Some even have a separate can for the motor and dirt separator with a pipe between them!  There is a wet/dry system that is connected to the sewer instead to using a dirt separator.

Here are some of the concerns when companies design a power unit:

Ease of repair and replacement of parts. Some units are designed so the service person can take the motor relay module out in seconds! With others it means taking a lot apart to get the motor and parts out. I have worked on some old systems that were not possible to repair. They were clearly design to be used once and then replaced. They had no access to the second motor to replace it or replace brushes! Cloth filters can be hard to remove and installed so companies design them to be "user friendly". Some power units I worked on in the past could not be taken apart without special tools. I could not even do the simplest repairs like replace motor brushes or check relays or breakers.
Dirt can verses a bag. The can is messy but cans will hold 4 to 7 gallons depending on the size. The problem with them is when you take it out stuff falls from the unit to the floor. (To solve that problem I tell customers to have a garbage sack ready and cover the unit when the can is taken off. This will keep dirt off the floor.) Some units are mounted it closets with carpets and this is messy. The problem with bags is they restrict air flow. When they fill up they restrict air flow even more.

What is the difference between filter verses cyclonic.
Cyclonic is a system that creates or is suppose to create a spinning in the dirt can that causes the dirt to drop out in the eye of the cyclone!

They claim they do not need a filter. I have serviced many cyclonic systems in enclosed spaces without venting and the rooms were covered with dust,(under houses and in closets). These systems had little or no secondary filtration only, some had a sponge filter.

Dust is suspended in the air easily, micro dust is so light it is suspended in air with the slightest movement and stays there a long time. Unless the new cyclonic have some new technology, I am sure that they will exhausted dust.
The exhaust goes through the motor to cool it so this dust will shorten it's life. The cyclonic units with a filter solve that problem, but eliminate the main advantage of a cyclonic no restrictions of the exaust airflow! A pure "dusty" cyclonic system exhausted outside, (not under the house) it will solve the dusty exhaust problem, but the dust will stillgo through the motor shortining its life.

Now since you know my opinion on cyclonic power units, I will list the pro's and cons.

Pure Cyclonic, (no secondary filter)
Con Pure Cyclonic with filter
  • Depending on the filter, only micro-dust makes it through the filter
  • No need to vent (maybe), some installations venting is difficult to impossible
  • Better protection for the motor, one more barrier.

  • Con
  • Filter restricts air flow
  • looses air flow as dirt receptacle fills up
  • Filter needs to be cleaned, shaken in a garbage sack works.
  • If something damp is picked up the filter will have to be removed and washed to remove the mud.

  • The way I see it a cyclonic with a filter is just a central vacuum with a filter, like Cana-vac,Beam etc. The point of a cyclonic is to eliminate the filter that restricts the air flow.

    So you see they have their advantages and disadvantages. Since I think like a service person I am more concerned about the long term problems. If one is concerned about the slight air restrictions of a filter then one could purchase a slightly stronger unit.

    Can motors be rebuilt?
    Yes they can, but it is not cost effective.
    I used to bebuild them for my own use. Replacing brushes can be done easily but usually the motor has to be removed.  There is not always a warrantee with rebuilt motors. Usually when the brushes wear out so has the armature and commutator, so replacing the brushes gives the motor a little more life if any at all.
    Once the motor is taken apart and bearings replaced you need special equipment to align the bearings perfectly. I used them for temporary replacements in customers power units while the replacement motor was ordered.  These motors worked but some not for long.  I stopped rebuilding them years ago since it was not worth my time and there were so many types of motors in power units now.  I discarded a large box of old motors and motor parts many years ago.