Central Vacuum - Rules of Thumb for System Installation
By Wes Taggart
Proper planning is the key to a successful central vacuum installation:
• Plan the layout
• Plan the process
• Plan the performance
Whether at an existing wash or new construction, it can be accomplished in four simple steps: You begin by installing the vacuum equipment in either an equipment room, adjacent to the point of vacuum, or even on the outskirts of the property. This is followed by the selection and installation of the filter separator. Then you install the support structures and vacuum manifold, as identified per the construction drawings and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instruction. Lastly, electrical systems such as the disconnect, motor starter or VFD, and turbine(s) are wired for use.
Whether you intend to hire a distributor or to do it yourself, you should first determine the best location for the vacuum equipment — both for the convenience of your customer when the equipment is in use and for ease of access by your staff. The location will affect the ease of installation and, more importantly, the cost. Every vacuum drop you plan for will raise the cost of a central vacuum system and increase the possibility of air leaks, which decrease the system’s suction. With this in mind, plan carefully and follow the installation design instructions provided to you by the manufacturer.
Though central vacuum systems are easiest to install in new construction, they can be retrofitted into most existing washes with relative ease. Just how easily depends on your site or, more specifically, on access to the equipment room, tunnel area, or exterior mounting areas that attach to the vacuum manifold. It is important to design the most efficient and effective layout for your car wash’s new central vacuum system, and to install it as it was designed.
Central vacuum producer installed inside an equipment room vented outdoors.
Plan to locate the vacuum producer in the equipment room, an outside utility area, or adjacent to the vacuum area. If installed in an equipment room, plan to position the vacuum producer on or near an exterior wall so the exhaust line can be easily routed and vented to the outdoors. Don’t put the vacuum equipment where temperatures may get excessively hot, as the turbine requires good ventilation for long life and proper operation. Begin the installation of a central vacuum system by mounting the vacuum producer to the ground and assuring it is level and has isolator pads between the ground and feet of the turbine.
Remember: Choose the Appropriate Vacuum Producer
Your vacuum producer is the heart of your central cleaning system — it must be strong, durable, and dependable. Centrifugal vacuum producers are built to exacting standards. With a central vacuum system, you can enjoy operational peace of mind with very little maintenance. Choose from a 3”, 4”, 6”, or 8” centrifugal vacuum series based on the size of the wash and number of simultaneous users on the vacuum system.
The manufacturer should help you navigate the selection process by considering several questions such as:
• How many people will use the system simultaneously?
• How long is the “vacuum run” (distance between the end users and the vacuum producer)?
• What are the electrical requirements (single or three phase)?
• Are there special circumstances at the location such as high altitude or out-of-the-ordinary debris being vacuumed?
Whether you have just one user and need a small direct vacuum, or 100 users who need multiple 40-hp vacuum producers in series, the manufacturer can help make that recommendation.
STEP TWO: SET THE FILTER SEPARATOR
The filter separator is typically mounted adjacent to the producer, while allowing enough space for routine maintenance of the equipment as needed. Though methods may vary according to the manufacturer, each manufacturer should provide installation instructions to show you the basic install techniques.
Central vacuum producer installed adjacent to point of use.
Remember: Choose the Filtration Devices
You’ll need to separate the dirt and debris from the airflow before it returns to the vacuum producer. In standard central systems this is accomplished with a filter separator immediately before the air enters the turbine. Larger systems call for the addition of primary separators near the vacuum users. In each separator, waste is deposited into convenient dirt containers for easy disposal. There are various sized filter separators: primary separators, hopper separators, cyclonic separators, island pal separators, and even hybrid separators. All separators should be carefully engineered and fabricated to maximize airflow and minimize clogging by capturing between 95 percent and 99.9 percent of particles at 3 microns. That’s a fancy way of letting you know that separators are hardcore.
Support structure and vacuum manifold.
STEP THREE: SET THE SUPPORT STRUCTURES AND VACUUM MANIFOLD
Install and attach the vacuum manifold. These can be stanchions, arches, trusses, and/or canopies.
Be sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s installation drawing(s) and account for the called out parts.
Though vacuum manifolds are best installed overhead, they may be installed underground as necessary or to be esthetically pleasing but can be more difficult to maintain and service when/as needed. The layout of the manifold is critical to the vacuum system.
Vacuum manifolds are subject to both vertical and horizontal runs. The best runs are short, straight, direct whenever possible, and where the line loss calculations for the manifold have been considered for optimizing the vacuum flow.
Installing a central vacuum system in an existing car wash can be easy, or can take a bit more time, depending on how the manifold is to be laid out. Start by selecting parking stalls throughout the site for the vacuum system’s hose drops. Space the drops so the vacuum hose can reach both sides of the vehicle. Make sure there is an appropriate amount of space between each parking stall (a minimum of 12’ is recommended). Once you’ve established the location of the vacuum drops, be sure they allow the vacuum’s tool to reach all sides of the vehicle. Don’t forget to consider obstructions such as open doors, posts, and trashcans.
Most systems can be totally customized.
Remember: Plan the Piping, Canopies and Support Structures
Piping systems delivers “dirty” air to the separator and clean, dry air to the vacuum producers. Piping systems should be engineered to maximize suction all the way down the line. Whether you are vacuuming 20 feet from the producer or 200 feet, you should receive ample and sufficient suction. Piping systems are available in a variety of materials to suit your application and fit your budget (ABS, steel, zinc, etc.). There are many choices out there to give you the freedom to customize your trusses and canopies. All options are modular and expandable, so the truss system can grow with your business. You choose the size, color, and shade material. Most systems are totally customizable.
Connect all the hose drop kits. Be sure that all parts are properly connected to insure a complete seal (inlet valve, cuff, and hose).
Typical piping layout.
STEP FOUR: MAKE ALL ELECTRICAL CONNECTIONS
This is the time to wire the disconnect, motor starter or VFD, and vacuum motor. It is highly recommended that a licensed electrician complete these tasks; many manufacturers will void the warranty if this equipment is not wired by a licensed individual. Yes, this task is that important to a successful completion of the installation of the central vacuum system. Always check the rotation of your vacuum to insure proper wiring.
Remember: Select Your Motor Controls
Aside from the basic electrical wiring that powers your vacuum producer, you will also need some type of motor control. These range from standard magnetic starters and disconnects to software-based power management systems incorporated within a variable frequency drive. Some manufacturers offer a programmed variable frequency drive that works dynamically with the vacuum motor to provide vacuum on demand. Sounds complicated, but it’s actually a very simple and effective way to “go green.” This technology can cut energy consumption by 70 percent, often more. It provides tremendous cost savings and extends the life of the equipment because the vacuum only works as much (or as little) as needed to match the demand for suction. And for you techies out there — a remote-monitoring system lets you check in on your system from any Internet connection, even your favorite WiFi equipped vacation spot.
Lastly… sit back, relax, and enjoy your new central vacuum system.
Wes Taggart is the owner and CEO of AVI Vacuum and Air Systems LLC (“Auto Vac”). You can visit Auto Vac online at www.autovacinc.com and peruse the company photo gallery at www.avicarcare.com.