MANY OF THE ITEMS YOU PUT IN your homes appeal to buyers on an emotional level—a luxurious whirlpool tub that takes buyers' breath (and stress) away or a state-of-the-art entertainment room with all the bells and whistles. Sure, these items are way cool and look great, but do they really make life easier for the buyer?
The whole-house vacuum cleaner does. Manufacturers say it is among the most useful items you can put in your homes, but of the more than 1.7 million single-family homes constructed last year, only about 200,000 had a central vacuum system. Vacuum makers say you are missing a great opportunity to add a desirable feature to your homes as well as an easy way to increase your profit margins.
A central (or whole-house) vacuum cleaner is a built-in system that consists of a power unit, collection canister, and a (typically) 30-foot hose. Special pipes installed within interior walls, crawl spaces, attics, or basements connect the central part of the system with low-volt wall inlets. “The power unit has a large stationary motor, filtration, and dust collection,” says Larry Hartley, marketing director for Webster City, Iowa–based Beam Industries. And because this motor is located in the basement or garage, the system is quiet, powerful, and efficient, he says. Moreover, the 30-foot hose allows homeowners to reach about 700 square feet of floor space.
One of the major arguments for a central vacuum system is the healthy indoor air that the product promotes, says Greg Calderone, general manager for floor care at H-P Products in Louisville, Ohio. “People don't realize that the air from their standard upright goes right back into the room, so it recirculates the dust,” he says. A central vacuum deposits the dust into the canister in the basement. “It's much healthier.”
The power and quiet performance of the system make a good case for itself, too. Atypical set up, for instance, is three to five times more powerful than a conventional upright. Perhaps the most salient feature of a central vacuum, however, is the ease it offers home buyers. “Central vacuums are used much more often than upright vacuums, which is why 99 percent of participants in our consumer study say their house is much cleaner,” says Grant Olewiler, general manager of M.D. Manufacturing in Bakersfield, Calif. “People vacuum more often because it is easier to use.”
So why, then, is market penetration so dismal among single-family builders? It surely isn't the money. The installed cost for a basic entry-level system is as little as $800, says Olewiler, who ran his own central vacuum installation business for 15 years. A high-end system might run about $2,000, though it could cost less.
Hartley acknowledges the low numbers but says the shortcoming is mostly in entry-level housing. “One-third of all luxury and move-up homes are getting a central vacuum installed or at least getting the piping put in,” he says. (By comparison, about 90 percent of all new homes in Canada either have a central system or have the piping installed, manufacturers say.)
Awareness among consumers also plays a role in the lagging numbers; only about 50 percent of home buyers are familiar with the system, Hartley estimates. The result is that home buyers have no idea what a system costs or they think systems cost a lot more than they actually do.
Unfortunately, manufacturers say, not many builders offer the systems; and this, perhaps, is the biggest problem. With a basic system costing just $800, builders are missing a great upgrade opportunity. “The consumer perception is that it costs more than it really does,” says Hartley, so builders are missing out on 25 percent to 30 percent margins.
“We look at central vacuums as a differentiator, especially in this market where builders have to work hard to sell homes,” says Calderone. He adds: “The thing about a central vacuum is that it is easy to put in, easy to maintain, low maintenance, and a desirable feature in the home,” which makes it easy to sell and easy to make a profit.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Iowa City, IA.