Updated on 11.02.11

Saving Pennies or Dollars? Roomba

Trent Hamm

saving pennies or dollarsSaving 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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  1. Gem says:

    I agree. For our house, the Roomba does not work well as a standalone vacuum. However, it does save my sanity :) We have a toddler that gets crumbs everywhere all the time. We run the Roomba almost every night on the main level, which is fairly open, and it does a good job of picking up small crumbs. We also rotate through the less-used rooms upstairs so they get vacuumed once a week. However, I still need to use the full-size vacuum a couple of times a month in order to keep the carpets clean and the stairs decent.

  2. krantcents says:

    Time is money! My wife and I both work and have a cleaning lady come in once a week. It saves us much more than the few bucks we pay. My wife and I earn much more than the cost of the person.

  3. Matt says:

    I think you’re being quite generous to the Roomba. I got one several years ago and it had issues with too-thick carpet, long hair getting easily tangled, and getting stuck in corners. It also kept “forgetting” where its base was and dying in the middle of the room. More recent ones may be more advanced – but I doubt they’ve been able to get around all these issues completely.

    With kids around, we don’t use the Roomba anymore – vacuuming is always preceded by picking up things off the floor, and the floor generally stays clean only just long enough to vacuum. It’s easier to just do it by hand.

  4. Anthony says:

    Roombas work well for certain situations: we have a dog that sheds a lot (on dark carpet) and two toddlers. For the floor to be reasonably clean, it needs to be vacuumed every day, but it’s not practical for us to get the full-size vacuum out every day, on top of all the other chores that need doing.

    So for us, we get a cleaner floor and less stress (fewer chores, more time for other things) with a Roomba. On the other hand, it does take a fair amount of maintenance: it’s needed major repairs about once a year, in addition to regular cleanings. So they are a big investment: without a hairy dog it wouldn’t be worth it to us either. With it, we have a clean(er) house with less labor.

  5. Josh says:

    I think this series has run its course.

  6. Angie says:

    ^ I think the negative comments have run their course.

  7. Andrew says:

    Is it too negative to point out that the correct term is not “gifted”. (as in “the Roomba we were gifted”) The proper term is “given”–as someone who purports to be a writer should know .

  8. Steve says:

    You spend 2 hours vacuuming? (30 minutes * 1/0.25)

  9. Larabara says:

    Several years ago we bought a Roomba to help pick up hairs from a heavy-shedding dog. Turns out the dog didn’t like the Roomba and kept barking at it and attacking it as it made its way around the house. Nothing we could do made the dog calm down when the Roomba was running, so for us it turned out to be a waste of money.

    To be fair, the dog barked at the vaccuum cleaner too, but the vaccuuming was just for a few minutes vs. running the Roomba for much longer. And the dog eventually got used to it, but never got used to the Roomba.

  10. CNM says:

    I know that this post was intended to determine whether a roomba is money well spent, but really, it just made me want to buy a roomba! Our dog is always shedding and getting dirt all over the floor. But yikes are they expensive! They’re between $300 and $500 dollars and they appear to be temperamental, too.

  11. lurker carl says:

    There was a Roomba display at a national chain store several years ago. It couldn’t pick up Cheerios or fine dust (flour) and repeatedly hung up on the edge of the carpet. I was embarrassed for the folks demonstrating it.

  12. Ruby Leigh says:

    I bought a Roomba on craigslist for $35, couldn’t be more pleased for the money I spent.

  13. Michele says:

    “It was these factors in combination that caused us to not use the Roomba we were gifted very much.”

    Trent- This is the most HORRIBLE sentence I’ve seen in your blog. And- there have been many. Many of them have been in the past year; formerly, you had fewer grammar errors. I tried- I really tried. I think you need more sleep…or, education.
    I may have to unsubscribe from the blog. I can’t believe as a blogger, you wrote something like this.
    You’ve given some good advice over the years; I’ve ignored the spelling and grammar errors, but this is awful.

  14. Maureen says:

    We LOVE our Roomba. It has its limitations, but mostly does a credible job on the larger areas.

    I agree with the previous comments about ‘gifted’. Ugh!

  15. Katie says:

    We’re all ignoring the serious value added by the hilarity of cat/roomba interactions.

  16. Tamara says:

    And let’s not forget DJ Roomba. :)

  17. Tracy says:

    “We’re all ignoring the serious value added by the hilarity of cat/roomba interactions”

    So true! That alone would make it worth it! Plus, yes, it’s great for pet hair. I really love mine. They show up on woot pretty often, which cuts the price down.

  18. Cc says:

    I love the scooba we got as a wedding gift- it isn’t quite as clean as a good hands and knees scrub, but we do that like once a year. Mostly my husband and I sit around and try to predict where it’ll go, so not much time saved since we just watch it the whole time it’s running. I enjoy having a cold drink and lifting my feet when it comes my way…. Ahh, the robots are here, and it’s awesome! They’re washing my floors! Viva la robot revolution!

  19. denise says:

    what about how you get some exercise vaccuming.

  20. Kate says:

    We were given a Roomba. I named it Robby, since how could I *not* name my first robot Robby? :) I *love* it. Our kids are grown and gone; our two black cats shed, and our tile floors are light in color.

    But something to bear in mind: a Roomba can save more than time. For those of us who sometimes have trouble hauling the full-sized vacuum around, a Roomba can save our backs a great deal of pain!

  21. Paula P. says:

    Love our Roomba! Got the $300 model still in the box on Criag’s List at half-price. Three kids, hard-wood floors – I felt like I could never get the grit off the floor with just the broom, but the Romba does a great job. Worth every (half-priced) penny!

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