The Honest Buyers Guide

I have been installing central vacuums since 1987. I have sold and installed more than any other person in the UK (up to 3 installations per week during this period) and have over 20,000 existing customers.

During the 25-years I have been in the business, I have learnt that my customers want three main requirements from their central vacuum:

Great suction – Much better than an ordinary vacuum cleaner.

Reliability – Paying considerably more to obtain the benefits over conventional vacuums is not enough, it must last 20+ years.

Ease of use – It must be easy to empty and clean and not require expensive filters changes, bags or maintenance.

I lost sight of this and must apologise to my customers who have been inconvenienced over the past three years. I am rectifying these issues at huge expense to me and will never make the same mistake again.

I got seduced by the manufacturer’s claims and influx of high tech gadgetry that started to be the norm on central vacuums. In hind sight, I now realise that most customers never look at the digital displays and performance monitors. The heat, blockage and filter shut down facilities are mostly to protect cheap, fragile motors and were never requested by, nor truly designed with the customer in mind. These superfluous additions help justify unnecessary, expensive service calls; make it very difficult to diagnose and resolve problems over the phone and make it virtually impossible for a customer to undertake a simple repair. It also provides a reason to justify increased prices and up-selling, but mainly just increases gadgetry and therefore the likelihood of problems.

Central Vacuums have changed in the past 10-years, and not for the better. Sales within the UK have declined, and not just because the building market slowed. The slowdown has predominantly been due to cheap, over complicated, unreliable products being made and the customer’s requirements being ignored.



Around 2008 a large part of the industry adopted “AIRWATTS” as criteria to determine vacuum performance. This criterion was invented in 2000 and is used by the traditional vacuum cleaner market. Airwatts has very little to do with end of hose performance and simply defines the efficiency of a motor. A small motor can provide excellent performance for its size and will therefore have very high airwatts. Conversely, a larger more powerful motor that has better end of hose performance can have much lower airwatts.  In addition, the airwatt reading is taken at the motor aperture and takes no account of the filter type, pipe-work or suction path to the vacuum cleaner hose end.

The electrical wattage is also a poor indication of the vacuum suction.

Soft start motors do last longer by approximately 15%.



honest buyers guide





  This motor can be found on the  Internet for about £40, is 12.5cm                                tall and weighs 1.5kg. The central  vacuum manufacturer that uses this                      motor gives a 2-year guarantee.











   This motor can be found on the Internet for about £200, is 23cm tall and weighs           4.65kg. The central vacuum manufacturer that uses this motor gives a 25-year           guarantee.







The number of stages in a motor refers to the number of turbines. As a rule, the more turbines, the more suction.

If a small motor produces similar performance to a larger motor; it stands to reason that the smaller motor will be working harder and therefore have smaller tolerances when it comes to failure. There is only one reason manufactures use smaller motors; they are much cheaper, but this is not always reflected in their central vacuum pricing. Heat is what kills motors prematurely and small motors work at higher RPM and generate more heat.

There are three different types of motor used in central vacuums:

Thro-Flow discharge

Thro-flow discharge











This type of motor can be produce great performance and usually has high airwatts. The sucked air travels through the motor and straight into the motor housing, contaminating the motor and electronics with exhausted air that will contain fine particles of dust.   The air through the motors is the only form of cooling and it is much more susceptible to heat damage should the intake become blocked.  Never use with a wet pick-op attachment.

This type of motor is fine in budget central vacuum, but stay away from single turbine (1stage) versions (see the white motor above) that requires massive speed (In excess of 35,000RPM) to achieve great suction.  Stick to two turbine (2-stage) models like this.  Only consider a thro-flow motor in your central vacuum if it is accompanied by a healthy guarantee from the supplier.

Peripheral discharge

peripheral dischrge



This type of motor can produce great performance but usually has less airwatts than a thro-flow.

The sucked air is vented out of the slots around the top of the turbines straight into the motor housing contaminating the motor and electronics with exhausted air that will contain fine particles of dust. However, the motor chamber can be partitioned to prevent the exhausted air from mixing with the electronics and being drawn back in via the cooling fan on the top.

The motor cooling is provided by a separate fan within the black plastic housing on the top and as a result is much less susceptible to heat damage. Stick to two turbine (2-stage) models like this. Much more robust and reliable than a thro-flow motor

Tangential Discharge

Tangential discharge











This type of motor can produce great performance but usually has less airwatts than a thro-flow.The sucked air is vented out of the exhaust port located on the top of the turbines straight out of the motor housing and completely clear of the motor and electronic compartment.The motor cooling is provided by a separate fan within the brown plastic housing on the top and as a result is much less susceptible to heat damage. Only use two (2-stage) or three (3-stage) turbine models. During the past 25-years, we have experienced less than 2% failures of this type of motor in domestic applications. Much more robust and reliable than both of the other two types and therefore, apart from our smallest budget unit, THE ONLY MOTOR WE NOW USE IN OUR CENTRAL VACUUMS.



There is no such thing as a self cleaning filter. Choose one that is easy to clean and maintain.

There is no such thing as a central vacuum that shouldn’t be vented externally. Unless there is absolutely no other option, always vent your central vacuum externally. This is possibly the most important advantage; when vented externally, a central vacuum is the only form of cleaner that can boast 100% filtration or dust removal from the home.



Keep your hose a short as possible and definitely don’t use more than 9m/30ft. If possible reduce this further to 7.5m/25ft. The shorter the hose the easier it will be to use and the better your end of hose performance.

Low voltage hoses or those with an on/off switch on the hand set are the norm and many customers like this feature. Virtually all companies promote these as a necessity. They are not. If the phone or door rings, it does provide the ability to switch your system off and attend to your caller, but usually you pass the plug-in point on your way and can easily un-plug your hose. However, it represents another potential weak point. If the hose breaks, your system will not work and replacements are expensive. Very few manufacturers offer spare hose ends should they break, they will push you to buy a new one.

Standard hoses are considerably cheaper and activate the system immediately when you plug-in. There is no low voltage wire incorporated in the hose and is mostly crush-proof and very hard wearing. If the ends break, they are simple to replace. If the hose breaks, it can simply be repaired using a hose to hose coupler. A standard hose WILL last a lot longer than a powered hose.

Power adjusting hoses use a sliding control on the handset to adjust the motor RPM and therefore the suction power. These hoses only work with the same make central vacuum and were predominantly made to ensure you buy any replacements from the same manufacturer. All hoses have power adjusting bleed valves that use no complicated electronics and is as effective at reducing power when cleaning curtains or blinds with the correct attachment.



Dirt collection bags do not lose power unless they are crammed full. They offer the cleanest and most convenient way to empty your vacuum, but add a perpetual cost (other than electricity) to the running of your system.



Ask what you want from your central vacuum and keep those advantages at the heart of your decision making.

  • Take a look in the power unit motor housing at the motor.
  • Feel the suction power.
  • Ask to speak with existing customers
  • Ask about the guarantee and how longer the supplier has been in the industry.
  • Keep it simple if you want ease of use and longevity.

by Spencer Harvey