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Roomba

RoombaMy wife and I both have our own careers, we do not have a maid, and we both hate vacuuming.  So, a couple years ago, I bought a Roomba vacuum cleaner from Costco as a Christmas present to ourselves.  This robot vacuum has been a huge upgrade for our home.

Before we bought the Roomba, I was skeptical.  But then a friend from work told me she had bought one the year before, and that it worked great.  She has a dog and a cat and lives in the country, and her Roomba still managed to keep the floors clean.  She told me her only regret was that she had not bought the model one level up, because it would have returned to its home base charger station and recharged itself after cleaning the floors.

Our Roomba Upgrade

Based on my friend’s report, we bought the Roomba 550 from Costco.  At the time, Costco had it discounted by maybe $30.   Now, you can find it online here.  Also, the 550 and 551 models seem to be unique to Costco, so it you are hunting for a similar one from another store, look for a model number in the 500 series.

You can schedule the Roomba 550 to run at any time once a day, and it will return to its home base and recharge itself. We have ours set up to run during the day while we are at work.  When we walk back in the door, it looks like housekeeping has come.

Many models come with a couple of accessories, like extra filters, and, in our case, “virtual walls”.  These are 5″ high towers with infrared emitters on top.  You set up the towers to keep the Roomba from going into another room.  I have read that they also help the Roomba navigate back to the home base.

You do have to empty the bagless bin each day and clean the brushes every couple of days.  But the whole process takes about 2 minutes.

What everybody asks

Everybody asks us two questions:

  1. Does the Roomba go from hard floors to carpet without stopping? and
  2. How would my dog react to the Roomba?

The Roomba goes straight from hardwoods or vinyl floors to carpet.  In our house, that means going up and over a runner dividing the hardwood floor in the foyer to the carpet in the living room.  Our Roomba just goes right up over the runner and has never had a problem making the transition between floor types.

Also, our dog, Sam, is a Jack Russell mix.  At first, she barked a few times at the Roomba.  Now she just moves out of the way.  Otherwise she ignores it completely.   Above, you can see a video of her interacting with it.  Of course, your dog’s results may vary.

Roomba Maintenance Issues

We have had three maintenance issues.

First, about 10 months after we bought it, the Roomba stopped picking up dirt.  The suction still worked, but the brushes weren’t spinning correctly.  The Roomba was still under warranty,  and iRobot sent out a replacement part assembly.  5 screws later, and we were back in business.

Second, after the one-year warranty expired, the battery died.  I found this one on Newegg.com.  It actually holds a charge longer than the original equipment battery, so the roomba cleans even longer.

Third, almost three years after we bought it, the roomba refused to move.  It would start as scheduled, and move just off its home base, but then it would spin in place, and after a few minutes of spinning, it would beep 9 times and then stop.  Roomba’s website suggests this can be caused by dirt inside the sensors that determine when the roomba has hit a wall.  But after cleaning the areas with compressed air as iRobot recommended, the roomba still did not work.  iRobot offered to replace the robot itself with a new one for $129.00 because ours was out of warranty.

Roomba IR emitterLuckily, I found a very helpful website that showed how to fix the problem and where to buy the necessary parts.  Apparently, the sensors work like an elevator eye.  When the bumper is pressed (by a wall or other object), a lever is pushed between an infrared beam inside the sensor compartment, breaking the beam, and telling the robot’s computer that it needs to spin to get out of the way.  The problem is that the infrared LED had failed, so the computer thought the beam was always broken and the robot needed to just keep spinning.  The parts to replace the infrared beam and infrared sensor transistor for the left and the right sensors cost me $3.95 plus a priority mail cost of about $8.00.  This fix took 3 or 4 hours and required my wife’s steady hand to bravely hold the sensors’ very small printed circuit boards that I had to solder the new parts onto.  But the Roomba runs great once again, and it saved us about $110.00.

(Still) Love to Roomba

For us, adding this appliance really has been a huge home upgrade.  We still have to break out the upright vacuum about once a month, but the Roomba has freed us from daily vacuuming to keep up with everyday floor cleaning, including our dog’s shedding.  And while Sam initially barked at the Roomba, she quickly got used to it.  Now, she just gets up and moves out of the way.

Do You Roomba?

Does your Roomba work for you?  Is it worth the cost to you?  Would you buy another one?  For the upstairs? Leave a comment below and let folks know what you think about your Roomba.

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