Dynamic Duo of Heating: You And Your Furnace

Every great hero has an equally great and often overlooked weakness: Superman has kryptonite, Achilles a bum heel, and Batman famously cannot let go of the past. Now imagine you had your own hero in your home. A mighty hero that kept your family from freezing, your pipes from bursting, and your furry family members from cowering in the cold of winter. Now imagine this hero that does so much to keep your fortress of solitude from becoming a den of ineptitude had a weakness. The hero, neutralized by its kryptonite cannot stop old man winter from unleashing his freeze ray (does old man winter have a freeze ray?) upon you, your home, and your family. Terrifying I know. However, much like these great heroes you can play the part of the side kick and ensure their safety and success. The hero: your furnace. Its weakness: A dirty filter. That’s right the insignificant little piece of paper and cotton that you forget about most months of the year could be the downfall of the one thing that keeps you from the bitter cold. This small seemingly insignificant, easily forgettable piece of material is the one thing that protects several key components of your furnace.

The blower motor on your furnace is the engine in the machine. It is what moves all that sweet sweet hot air throughout your home. Without the blower motor there is no heat, period. Many newer furnaces feature safety switches that will disable the flow of natural gas to the furnace if the blower motor does not come on. So, what does your furnace filter have to do with the blower motor? Simply put, dust. Like any electrical system dust wreaks havoc on your blower motor. Without frequent filter changes dust can build up on the blower motor causing it to over heat and burn out. At best this will reduce its ability to reach full air flow capacity, at worst the motor will completely burn out and cease to work. In extreme circumstances when the filter is completely clogged they can become like a cloth balloon expanding and eventually under the pressure of the motor get sucked into the fan itself. When this happens, they can cause the motor to seize and be rendered useless. Depending on the kind of motor that your furnace has repairs can cost anywhere from $150 all the way up to over $1,000 in emergency situations.

If blower motor problems sound ominous and expensive then the next key component that the filter can affect will be downright terrifying. Your furnace mother board is the brains of the whole operation. Everything in your furnace is controlled by this small piece of silicone and wire. Much like the blower motor if the mother board gets covered in dust it can over heat and short out. Without the furnace mother board nothing will work in your furnace. Safety switches will not be able to tell the furnace it is ok to fire, motors will not be allowed to turn on, and above all else there will be no heat. Mother boards come with possibly hefty price tags as well, pricing depends on brand and the age of the furnace, but you can expect to pay $400 and up to get one replaced.

All of this does not sound pleasant, and its not. Anyone who has had to deal with a home without heat in the middle of winter can attest to that, and anyone who has had to try and get service done on their furnace after hours can tell you how much money it cost to get a technician to your door. So, lets wrap up the bad news, depending on the brand of your furnace, dust can get on some of the key safety switches inside your unit and disable them as well. Flame rod sensors, high temperature limits, and other key parts can keep your furnace from working properly. Now these parts are cheap in comparison to the other parts that we have already discussed but it can be costly and time consuming to diagnose and find exactly which one has been disabled.

Now for the good news, while individually all these parts may fail on their own a lot of trouble can be avoided simply by ensuring your furnace filter is changed regularly. The best recommendation is to change your furnace filter at least once per month. Now you may think that using expensive filters will extend this time and protect your furnace but his is not true. Expensive filter often make use of more tightly knit media which can build up dust and clog faster. The best kind of filter to use is a cheap filter that allows air to move freely. It is a fine balancing act between allowing air to move and keeping dust out of your furnace. A cheap disposable filter changed often is usually the best solution to the issue. If you have people in your home who require a high level of filtration to help with their health it is a better idea to invest money in a different form of air quality such as an electronic air cleaner or a UV filter. So be a good side kick, put on your cape and help your super powered friend protect your home and your family, keep its weakness from becoming its downfall. Go now, change the filter. Firefly over and out.

The Importance of Preventative Maintenance

Let’s be honest, no one wants to call a plumber. Whenever a plumber receives a service call it is because a homeowner’s house has turned against them and they need to call in the big guns. The secret to avoiding that call and keeping your house on your side is: preventative maintenance. The plumbing and heating systems in your home, much like a car, require maintenance to keep them running at peak efficiency. Everyone can easily spot the difference between your well maintained and loved car versus that scrap of metal your teenager is running into the ground. Let me ask you, when is the last time you changed your furnace filter? How about cleaned out your drains? Don’t remember? Well we are about to tell you the same thing you likely nag your teenager about: preventative maintenance will keep your things running smoother, longer, and in the long run save you money. If properly maintained, and there are no manufacturers defects or improper installation, the plumbing and heating systems will run as designed for years and years to come.

There are many options to maintain the conveniences that modern plumbing provides however, not all are created equal. For the handy amongst us there is the option of keeping up to date on the required maintenance and taking on the job yourself. This option, while cost effective, can be time consuming. The easiest items to handle on your own, that will save you money on repair bills in the future, and can cause the most damage is: changing furnace filters once a month, using a preventative drain cleaner such as Bio-Clean, and draining your hot water heater once a year.

Another option that is growing in popularity among plumbing companies are monthly membership programs. This option gives you a “plumber in your back pocket” for a monthly fee. Many of these programs offer incentives such as; being first in the call line, a yearly plumbing inspection, and a percentage off any repairs. This option works well for homeowners who have limited knowledge of the plumbing and heating components in their homes. The draw back to these programs is that no maintenance work is performed. The homeowner is often handed a list of maintenance work to do with a little price tag beside each option. While this list is handy and can provide you with an idea of how much it costs to repair your home it does not resolve or prevent the issues presented. It can be a bit frustrating to pay a monthly fee only to be told that nothing has been maintained and your plumbing and heating systems are on the verge of failure, most likely on a night when it is as cold as Finnegan’s feet on the day they buried him.

The last option is ideal for homeowners who don’t have the time or knowledge to spend the time cleaning drains, draining hot water tanks, and changing out anode rods is to have professionals maintain their home for them. You still pay a fee but at least actual work is being performed. A technician comes to their home and performs detailed inspections and replaces commonly worn parts to keep your home running smoothly. This style of program is typically the costlier option yet most comprehensive.

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a maintenance program for your home and equipment. It is best to decide what your needs are and consider your options.  Keeping these valuable parts of your home running properly will ensure that your life remains uninterrupted. Taking that time today will ensure your home lasts longer than your teenagers car.

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Maintaining your Hot Water Heaters

Hot Water Heater Preventative Maintenance

While you may never look at it or think about it much, your hot water tank is the heart of your home. It isn’t just about hot showers either, surviving a day with no running water is very trying. We’ve been living with the miracle of hot water for so long that no one really thinks about how this happens. Well lucky for you, Hot Water Tanks are the topic of this week’s blog post.

First, cold water enters the tank and thanks to the theory of relativity sinks to the bottom of the tank. Here the tank’s heating element increases the water temperature. Then when a hot water tap it opened that water surges out and provides you with the toasty warm shower that you’ve grown to expect and love. In Calgary, the average lifespan of a water heater is seven to ten years without preventative maintenance. The hard water in our city can wreak havoc on the internal parts of your water heater but with simple preventative maintenance you can keep that tank providing you with a steamy embrace for fifteen to twenty long years

  1. Drain Your Tank Once a Year:

Draining all the water from your tank once a year and then filling it back up helps to remove any built-up sediment that can cause your heating elements to fail prematurely. It also keeps this sediment from making its way into your pipes or clogging the hot water outlet of your tank.

  1. Inspect the Pressure Relief Valve Once a Year:

The pressure relief valve on your hot water heater is located on the side of you tank and is one of your warning signs that there may be something going wrong. Your pressure relief valve will start to drip water if there is an excess buildup of pressure or temperature in the tank. When you drain your tank each year this part should be inspected to make sure that it is not leaking.

  1. Replace Anode Rod Every Five Years:

Inside every natural gas hot water tank is a sacrificial anode rod. This anode rod gets dissolved by harmful elements in your water keeping any metal parts in your tank from rusting out. If this anode rod is replaced every five years, or every three years if you have a water softener, you can prolong the life of your tank by up to twenty years.

 Tankless Water Heater Preventative Maintenance

Tankless water heaters are a fantastic investment, they take up less space and are more energy efficient than a traditional hot water tank. Unfortunately, too often we see this brilliant piece of technology not properly installed, programmed or maintained. The two greatest enemies of your tankless water heater are scale buildup and lack of maintenance.

  1. Flush Tank Once a Year:

Having your tankless water heater flushed out and descaled once a year will save you a lot of headaches. This preventative measure prevents a buildup of calcium and other minerals from building up within the tubes of a tankless units heat exchanger. This buildup, unchecked, will destroy the heart of your tankless heater leading to a costly repair bill or a replacement tank.

  1. Pre-Filter To Prevent Calcification:

You can help to prevent this buildup with the installation of a water softener or at the very least a filter to help remove harmful minerals from entering the tank.

And as with every blog post, a shameful plug reminding you that if you would prefer to be out living life instead of maintaining your hot water heaters please give Firefly Plumbing a call, we would love to do it for you!!


Why is my Toilet Running?

Three parts that are cheap and easy to replace to stop your toilet from leaking 

It can be extremely frustrating when your toilet is constantly running or seemingly flushing on its own. Not only does it waste water but it can keep you awake at night or simply get on your nerves. Fortunately, most toilet leaks are caused by three parts inside of your toilet tank that are relatively cheap and easy to replace if you are handy.

1.      The flapper: This is the simplest part that may be causing your toilet leak. The easiest way to diagnose the flapper as the culprit is to place a leak detector tablet or a few drops of food colouring into your toilet tank. Wait 10-15 minutes, then check your toilet bowl. If there is coloured water in the bowl the leak perpetrator is most likely your flapper.

To change the flapper simply turn the water off to your toilet (can be found on the supply line to the toilet), flush the water out of the tank, remove the old flapper, then replace it with a similar flapper. Repeat the dye test, if your water is clear you have fixed your leak. If you still have dye in your toilet bowl continue to step two for an alternate fix.

2.      The Flush Valve: Your toilet flush valve is the tube in the center of your toilet tank which holds your flapper in place. Over time the plastic can become warped causing the flapper to not sit properly. This fix is a little more involved and may require calling a plumbing professional, we recommend Firefly Plumbing.

Step one, as always, is to turn off the water to the tank. Next flush out the toilet water and use a wet vacuum to remove any remaining water. Once the tank is dry you will need to loosen the bolts that hold the toilet tank onto the toilet bowl. Then loosen the nut to detach the water supply tube from the tank. Once you have lifted the tank from the bowl you should see a large foam ring which you will need to remove. Under the foam ring will be a large plastic nut holding the flush valve in place which you will need to unscrew. Now remove the warped flush valve. Reverse the process to install the new flush valve ensuring to replace the foam ring and check to make sure all nuts and bolts are tight. Perform the dye test again and if there is still a leak and you still want to avoid calling a plumber then move onto step three.

3.      The Fill Valve: The fill valve on your toilet is located directly above the water supply tube. Over time these fill valves can become loose causing them to allow water into the toilet tank when it is not required causing a self-flush situation.

To replace the fill valve, you will begin with turning off the water to your toilet tank. Dry out any remaining water using a rag or wet vacuum. Once the toilet tank is dry, loosen the nut connecting the toilet supply tube to the tank. You should find a nut on the bottom of the toilet tank holding the fill valve in place, loosen off this nut and pull out the old fill valve. Reverse the process to install the replacement fill valve and test the toilet for leaks. You may need to adjust the height of the water in the tank to keep the toilet from self-flushing again.

Hopefully at least one of these fixes has solved your issue! If any of these fixes don’t work there may be a larger issue and you should call a plumbing professional to find a solution.

DIY Plumbing Tips Part 5

DIY Plumbing Tips Part 5

Winterizing Your Hose Bibbs

The beginning of winter is a stressful and cold time. There is a lot to do around the home to prepare for the cold weather and winterizing your hose bibbs should be on the top of that list. This simple act could save you a ton of money from damaged ceilings, flooded furnace rooms, and calling a plumber to repair the culprit: a burst pipe.

Older homes tend to have a lack of insulation, this, mixed with pipes filled with water can be a recipe for disaster. When the water in your hose supply pipe freezes and expands it can crack the pipe, then, when spring arrives the ice melts and water gushes through the burst pipe, flooding your home. Preventing this disaster is simple. Every outside hose bibb should have an accessible shut off valve featuring a small removable cap on its body. All you need to do is turn this shut off valve to the full off position, open your outside hose, and then remove the cap on the valves body allowing the water to drain into a bucket. Once all the water is drained from the pipe you can close your outside hose and you are ready for winter.

To find your shutoff valve simply follow the waterline back from where it leaves your home, you should find some version of the shut off valve on the line. In some older homes the valve will be located close to where the water line leaves the house and in newer homes it is often in the furnace room. Depending on the age of the home it may not have been required by code to install a valve to the outside hose, this unfortunately means that some builders chose not to install one.

In the spring, all you need to do is turn the valve back to the open position and open you outside tap until all the air is bled out of the line. If you cannot find a shut off valve, there is no drain on the valve, or there is no valve at all, give us a call and we will be happy to come out and install, find or replace your valve!