Roomba: A cost-analysis

A robotic vacuum cleaner like the Roomba may save you time, but it's probably not worth the expense

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    Robotic vacuum cleaners, like the Neato XV-11 All-Floor Robotic Vacuum System shown in this file photo, are convenient, but probably not worth the exorbitant price tag.
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Saving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Larry writes in: What so you think the value is in the saved time of a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner?

The difficulty in evaluating a device like the Roomba is in the sheer number of factors to consider…

How often do you actually need to vacuum? A single person who isn’t at home very much doesn’t need to vacuum nearly as often as a family of five with three children under the age of six.

What is your standard of home neatness? Some people feel the need to vacuum on a very regular basis. Others vacuum on occasion. Some rarely vacuum at all.

How big are your rooms? Roombas work much better in areas with significant open floorspace. They tend to work in a redundant fashion (meaning that they don’t clean as much floor space per charge) in smaller rooms, particularly with crowded floorspace.

How empty is the floorspace in your rooms? If you’re looking at rooms with just a couple of chairs and perhaps one table, a Roomba will do a very good job. If you’re looking at rooms with tons of obstacles (like a child’s play area), a Roomba won’t do as good of a job.

It was these factors in combination that caused us to not use the Roomba we were gifted very much. It worked really well in two rooms in our house. It was useless (or nearly so) on the stairs, in many of the bedrooms, and in the room where most of our children’s toys were.

In other words, unless you live in a residence with a single floor and a very open floor plan, a Roomba is only going to supplement a normal vacuum cleaner. This, of course, means that the reason you would buy a Roomba would be solely as a time saver, not as a money saver.

So, is it a time saver? As I mentioned above, it was very useful in specific rooms. We could set it to run in our living room and in our carpeted hallways and it did a great job. It would also do a “good enough” job in my office and in most of the family room.

The real advantage is that one person could multi-task with the vacuuming. I could set up the Roomba in the living room, then vacuum the stairs. This would directly reduce my vacuuming time to some extent. My estimate is that the entire house could be vacuumed in about 25% less time, saving about 30 minutes per vacuuming.

For me, that means a savings of about 12 hours per year, all told. Is that worth the $300 I’d have to invest in a Roomba, plus the energy cost of charging it (a few dollars a year)? This, of course, assumes that the Roomba works flawlessly and never has a problem, because any problems cut directly into that time saved.

I was glad to have it as a gift, but I would not spend the money on one as a time saver. It does save a little time, but not $300 worth of time.

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