glossary of terms

Learn More about Central Vacuum Systems in the GTA

Terms and Jargon
It’s hard to make sense of descriptive literature when you’re not sure of the meaning of some of the industry-specific terms and jargon used. In an effort to ensure that our customers are fully informed The Vacuum Shoppe presents this glossary of industry terms that might be problematic or confusing to the layman. Still, have questions? Contact our office to talk to a professional or to schedule a service appointment.

CFM (Air Flow Capacity: Cubic Feet per Minute)

CFM refers to the number of cubic feet of air that moves through a vacuum in a minute. Without a sufficiently powerful air flow, dirt and debris might not be carried to the holding area or bag. The size of the opening in the tool or accessory also plays a part in effective dirt removal. The larger the opening, the more CFM is necessary in order to lift and remove dirt and foreign objects. For example, one can easily trap and move a peanut by lightly sucking air through a paper straw. Attempt the same thing using a 2-inch diameter pipe, however, and the air flow generated is insufficient to affect the peanut.

Water Lift

The “water lift” of a vacuum system refers to the number of inches a vacuum can pull water up a tube, as opposed to CFMs, which measure air flow. A vacuum’s water lift provides a “sealed suction” measurement to measure the effective suction force produced by the suction force of the motor. Water lift is what allows the stereotypical smooth talking salesman to lift a bowling ball to show the power of their vacuum model, however unless you often have occasion to remove a scattering of bowling balls from your carpeting, the real world applications of this ability are limited. A vacuum system that provides an effective combination of CFM and water lift ratings is the best tool to clean your carpets.

Air Watts

It is important to keep in mind that a vacuum system’s CFM and water lift ratings reflect the maximum performance of these components and are not an accurate indicator of a vacuum’s real-time capabilities. Air watts is a calculated measurement that takes into account the true CFM and water lift measurements during actual operation of the system, as well as the diameter of the opening in the hose, tool or brush you are using. One of our trained technicians can answer all your questions about CFMs, water lift, and air watts.


Amps refers to amperage, which is the amount of electricity that is needed to operate the vacuum’s motor efficiently. A motor that requires more electrical amperage is not necessarily using that amperage efficiently.


The armature is the central component of a motor that rotates in order to transfer electricity across the motor and enable the motor shaft to spin. An effective armature is mounted on ball bearings and protected from contamination from incoming vacuum air and dirt.

Bypass Cooling

Air that is sucked in by the vacuum does not come into contact with the electrical components of the motor. Rather, there is a separate stream of air that is used for cooling purposes. Generally, this stream is powered by an independent fan that is completely separate from the vacuum air intake.

Conversion of Watts to Amps

Wattage to amperage can be expressed mathematically using the equation Amps = Watts / Volts. Thus, if a new motor draws 200 watts at 120 volts, it will pull 16.66 amps. Alternatively, if you know the amps and volts you can multiply them to arrive at the watts.

Cyclonic Action

Cyclonic action in your vacuum system is much the same as the natural action that operates in a tornado. In a vacuum that uses a cyclonic filtration system dust and debris swirls downward in a cone-shaped pattern and the majority of debris is separated from the air stream for collection in the dirt container. Remaining dust is removed by a secondary filter if present; otherwise it is expelled from the vacuum through the exhaust vent.

Fans and Fan Stages

A vacuum fan is made up of blades that spin to generate air flow and create the vacuum effect. Often vacuum systems contain 2 or 3 layers of fans on each motor, which are referred to as ‘fan stages’. A motor that contains 2 fans is called a “2-stage” fan; if it has 3 layers it is a “3-stage” fan, and so on. Each additional fan layer serves to increase the water lift or sealed suction measurement while decreasing CFM. Air driven power brushes, for example, work more effectively when equipped with a motor that has more fan layers.


The acronym HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particle Arrestor, which is a filter that is used to reduce the incidence of contaminants in indoor air. A HEPA filter will trap or eliminate up to 99.97% of all particles that are .3 microns or larger in size. HEPA filters are an important component of ‘clean rooms’ and are essential in medical applications and in the manufacture of computer components. However, HEPA filters are of limited usefulness in vacuums and only a handful are designated as “HEPA Certified.” In addition, HEPA filters are expensive and must be discarded rather than cleaned after use and they clog easily, which leads to reduced air flow and lessened performance.

Motor Speed

A vacuum system’s motor speed is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM) and is an indicator of overall efficiency. Otherwise known as “Measure of Fan Efficiency,” motor speed can be expressed with the formula: Air Watts / Input Watts.

Paper Filter Bag

Used for collection of dust and debris by many vacuum systems, paper filter bags are one of the most effective ways to filter debris, ensure a safe and healthy disposal method and a non-contaminating exhaust.

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is a common plastic polymer that provides top quality appearance and long lasting performance. It is competitively priced and offers flame retardant properties.

Sealed Bearings

Sealed bearings are often found in high quality vacuum motors because they serve to prevent dust and debris from entering the motor area and affecting armature operation.

Soft Start

Used to reduce initial voltage spikes, a “soft start” refers to an electronic means of starting a vacuum at a slower voltage and then gradually increasing voltage to operational levels. It is not yet known if soft starting has any beneficial effect on motor performance or longevity.

Thru-Flow Motors

Some vacuum models cool the motor by drawing air flow directly through the motor itself. Not only does this allow dust and debris to possibly contaminate the motor’s moving parts and affect operation, it also is not as effective in cooling the motor as clean air provided by a separate air flow intake. Thru-Flow motors have a tendency to overheat if they are operated for an extended period of time.

Voltage or Volts

As pressure is to water, so is voltage to electricity. Voltage reflects the electrical potential employed by a motor. Typically, most motors can operate using common household current, which is 110 or 120 volts in North America and 240 volts in other parts of the world.


Watts refers to the electrical power consumption of an operating motor.