How Big Is A Central Vacuum System? [And Which Size To Choose]

A central vacuum system is an appliance to add to your home. It is more powerful and easier to maneuver than a standard vacuum. If you consider getting one installed in your home, you may wonder how big a central vacuum system is. We've done the research to answer this question for you. 

The size of a central vacuum system typically refers to two measurements. The average range of water lift, or suction, is 80" to 155". The average range of airflow, or air watts, is 450-1040. 

What do these measurements mean, and how can you determine what size you need? We will briefly explain the measurements you need to look for and describe the ideal vacuum size to match the size of your home.

Woman cleaning a carpet with central vacuum cleaner. How Big Is A Central Vacuum System [And Which Size To Choose]

Measurements Explained 

Before you can choose the correct vacuum, you need to understand the measurement used to describe the size of your vacuum. 

Air Watts 

Air watts refer to the amount of power that the central vacuum system uses. The higher the air watts, the more power, and better suction your vacuum will have. 

Water Lift 

While a high water lift indicates that your vacuum will have strong suction, the measurement actually refers to how many inches your motor can lift a one-inch column of water. The water lift is a good indicator of suction because it tells you how easy or difficult your vacuum will have to lift debris and dirt off of your floors. 


Airflow isn't discussed when determining the size of your vacuum, but it is an important measurement, nonetheless. It measures the amount of surface area your vacuum has the power to clean. It is measured in CFM or cubic feet per minute. 

Hose Length 

This measurement is self-explanatory, but it is important to consider when purchasing your central vacuum system. The host length describes the length of hose that is needed to install the system properly. The bigger your home is, the more hose your system will need. 

Vacuum Recommendations By House Size 

Recommended measurements will vary based on the size of your house. For example, a vacuum that would work poorly in a large home may have more than enough power to clean a small home. Let's take a look at the recommended vacuum brands and measurements for each house size. 

Small Homes: Up to 3,500 Square Feet 

A small home is best served by a central vacuum system between 500 and over 600 air watts. The water lift should be between 105 and 120 inches. 

NuTone PurePower 550 

The NuTone PurePower 550 has a suction power of 550 air watts, and the dust canister holds up to 6 gallons of debris. It is recommended for small houses up to 4,000 square feet. 

Click here to see this vacuum power system on Amazon.

Hayden Zircon 

The Hayden Zircon has 600 air watts, a 120" water lift, and an airflow of 117 CFM. The canister capacity is a little smaller at 3.8 gallons, but it surpasses all recommended measurements for a home up to 3,500 square feet. 

Drainvac Little Giant 

The Drainvac Little Giant has 648 air watts, a 128" water lift, and an airflow of 148 CFM. It is recommended for homes under 5,000 square feet. 

Click here to see this vacuum power system on Amazon.

Medium Homes: 4,000-9,500 Square Feet 

Medium homes need stronger air watts than smaller homes, with 600 air watts being good and over 800 air watts being best. 

Purvac Stingray

The Purvac Stingray is recommended for homes up to 6,500 square feet. With 727 air watts, an airflow of 148 CFM, and a water lift of 125 inches, it is moderately more powerful than the vacuums recommended for smaller homes. This model provides a choice of hoses depending on what is needed for installation. 

Click here to see this central vacuum system on Amazon.

Duovac Star 

The Duovac Star offers 756 air watts and an airflow of 151 CFM. The water lift is 140.5, making this model a good option for homes up to 9,000 square feet. 

Drainvac Turbo 

The Drainvac Turbo is one of the strongest central vacuum systems for a medium-sized home, but it is a good choice for a home up to 12,000 square feet as well. 

Click here to see this power system on Amazon.

Large Homes: Over 9,000 Square Feet 

Large homes should have a vacuum system with at least 1,000 air watts, but a system with 1,400 air watts provides the best suction. 

Dirt Devil CV3400 

This Dirt Devil is recommended for homes up to 18,000 square feet. It has 1010 air watts and an airflow of 228 CFM. Dirt Devil is a well-known brand that might make homeowners feel more secure about installing a central vacuum system. 

VacuMaid SR64

The VacuMaid is also recommended for homes up to 18,000 square feet. It has slightly higher air watts at 1040 and a comparable airflow of 220 CFM. The water lift is 123. One feature that the VacuMaid has that other models don't is a larger dust canister with a capacity of 9.5 gallons. 

Click here to see this model's power unit on Amazon.

Drainvac Twin Turbo 

As powerful as the Drainvac Turbo model is, it is no wonder that the Drainvac Twin Turbo is one of the strongest systems on the market for a large home. The Twin Turbo has 1436 air watts and a water lift of 221. This model can be used in homes up to 20,000 square feet. 

Click here to see this power unit on Amazon.

How Do I Choose A Central Vacuum? 

To choose the correct vacuum for your home, you need to first determine the total square footage of all the areas of your home that will be using the vacuum. You will also need to determine where you are going to install the system.

Take measurements of the area so you can ensure that the vacuum you purchase will fit in its designated space. After you have these measurements, you can go shopping for a vacuum. Choose the system that is powerful enough to service the square footage of your home and has a system that will fit in the area where you will install it. 

How Do You Measure Central Vacuum Suction? 

Suction power is directly related to airwatts, in almost all cases. The higher the number of airwatts a vacuum has, the more powerful the suction will be. When looking for a vacuum with a powerful enough suction to service your home, choose a vacuum with the number of airwatts recommended according to your home's size.

For example, a vacuum with 600 air watts provides superior suction for a home under 4,000 square feet but vacuums with 1,000 to 1,400 air watts are the best choice for a home over 10,000 square feet. 

Are All Central Vac Inlets The Same Size? 

Yes and no. Central vac inlets come in various styles for decor purposes, so they vary in size in that regard. However, the inlet opening is 1.5 inches on almost all models, so they are compatible with any central vacuum system. 

What Size Is A Central Vacuum Pipe? 

A central vacuum pipe measures 2 inches in diameter, and length will vary depending on how much pipe you need for the system. Vacuum pipe is made from material that is about 1/16 " thick. 

Click here to see this central vacuum pipe on Amazon. 

Can You Use Regular PVC Pipe For A Central Vac? 

You can use regular PVC pipe for a central vacuum, and because it is so much more widely available, many central vacuum owners opt for this choice. However, vacuum retailer Think Vacuums advises against it. Regular PVC pipe has a rough interior that may cause blockages when used for vacuum purposes. While regular PVC may seem like the way to go at first, it can be costly and time-consuming to repair blockages later. 

How Much Does A Central Vacuum System Cost? 

The cost of central vacuum systems varies depending on what size home you have and how much power you need. Full systems can cost as little as $400 and as much as $1,500. 

How Much Does It Cost To Install A Central Vacuum System? 

The cost to install a central vacuum system varies almost as widely as the system itself. In some cases, the installation will be included in the cost of the system. Vacuum retailer MD Central Vacuum estimates installation costs between $1,200 and $3,000 with the system included.

In Closing

When choosing a central vacuum system for your home, the system's air watts, airflow, and water lift are the most important measurements to compare. These measurements let you know exactly how powerful the system is and how well you can expect your central vacuum to clean your home. Because there is a range of recommended measurements for each size of house, you can choose the system that gets the job done within the budget you have for this addition. 

For more information about central vacuum systems, take a look at these articles: 

Types Of Central Vacuum Systems – A Breakdown Based On Components

Do Central Vacuums Need To Be Vented?

How Long Does A Central Vacuum System Last?

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