Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Depression, Noise and Shopping for a Vacuum Cleaner


Recently I tried shopping for a vacuum cleaner by Internet. I've done so before, but this time I was shopping for one to be used in California, not in France. My search for ratings and specifications was directed at a couple of the largest on-line retailers, those whose reputations led me to expect that they, if any vendor, would supply shoppers with the numbers I was seeking. They did not supply the numbers. I was disappointed, none of the data (other than wattage or amperage) was forthcoming.

The Challenge

A difficulty was that what little I knew about vacuum cleaners sold in France was useless because of the difference in electric power supply. In France, as in most of the industrialized world, electricity is served to consumers at about 230v (50 Hz) whereas Californians receive 120v at 60 Hz (cf. Wikidepia article on mains electricity by country; the most surprising exception may be Japan at 100v). Some of the same brands are sold both places, but many others are sold in only one or the other. Consequently, I set about trying to compare vacuum cleaners using the ratings and specifications given for them, even though those might be theoretical and not very realistic. In this respect, I proceeded much as any first-time shopper would.

Shopping Procedure

I do not often shop for appliances. Most appliances I've bought have lasted a long time, so I'm willing to spend some time doing the shopping (my time investment will be amortized). I begin by identifying my criteria for performance. For a refrigerator, that might be volumes (measured in litres) of the refrigerator and freezer compartments, freezing capacity per day (measured in kg), hours maintaining cold without power. I also consider usage costs. For a washing machine, that would be water and electricity per wash cycle. Then I can weigh the additional cost of an A+++ rating versus an A++ rating against the energy cost savings.

Once I have my ratings and costs, I can rank the options and decide whether a better machine is worth the extra cost, or a loss of performance is acceptable for the cost savings it would gain.

Vacuum Cleaner Criteria

What I want from a vacuum cleaner is that it suck up the dirt. It should suck up dirt fast, and keep it inside (preferably in a sack) not broadcast it as dust; HEPA filters and such give me confidence that it will not broadcast the dust. It may be noisy, but preferably not too noisy. It should have perennial availability of replacement sacks--either some industry standard (are there some?) or come from a manufacturer that is sure to stay in business. Then there are accessories, cord length and so on.


"Depression" is the word for it in French, and in meteorology (on barometers). It is measured in kpa, thousands of pascals. Looking at a couple of advertising brochures from French retailers this week, there is one at 31 kpa, one (Dyson bagless) at 28 kpa, and a Hoover at 36 kpa.

Noise (db)

Noise levels are measured in decibels. Not all the vacuums I've seen in France are rated, but most are in appliance vendor catalogs; so are dishwashers and washing machines. This week's advertising brochures do not provide decibel data, however. I have ear protectors to wear.

Volume (dm3/s)

I'm not sure how important this is compared to depression (or suction) but I suppose that if two machines have the same kpa rating then the one that has a higher volume will get the cleaning done faster. I do not know to what extent a lower kpa rating can be offset by higher volume (or patience). This week's machines, as examples, are indicated as rated at 44 dm3/s, 32 dm3/s, and 46 dm3/s.

Power (W)

Finally, and in the absence of other ratings, one can consider the wattage consumed by the cleaner. If the design is poor, the efficiency is low, the bags and filters it incorporates generate a high level of resistance then a higher wattage may not provide more suction and cleaning capacity. Wattage does suggest how much it will cost to operate, and how much it will heat your house during use. This is also the aspect in which American models and French models differ the most. To power appliances at a given wattage, say 2000 W, requires twice as much amperage at 115v as at 230v, so Americans would need fatter wires to not risk starting a fire at that flow rate.

For example, this week's (same) machines draw 2000 W, 1400 W and 2400 W. The most powerful bagged cleaners (among the eight right this minute on BestBuy) listed for the American consumer market are 12 amps (which converts to 1440 W = 12 amps * 120v), about the same as the least powerful in France. There seem to be some 220v models for sale in the U.S. too, but I've excluded them since "normal" houses do not have that voltage available.

Noise and Depression

All I found in the catalogues of American vendors were prices, wattages (or amperages) and customer comments. In other words, noise. It was a disappointment, a little depressing.  "Emptor" running on empty.

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