Trump vs. Plumbing

Let’s talk about tariffs. I know this is the least sexy opening for a blog post you have ever read, unless of course you study eukaryotic organisms for a living. Perhaps you believe that unless you are an economist or doing business directly with the states you do not need to know about tariffs, but it needs to be discussed because it affects you in more ways than you know. For instance, that because of Canada’s retaliatory tariffs the cost of Heinz Ketchup and frozen pizza has left me without anything to make for my kids. For our purposes we will limit the conversation to the steel and aluminum tariffs that the US government has imposed on Canada. Don’t worry we are going to try and stay out of the political realm and stick with the good stuff, what it means to plumbing no matter how many great Trump memes there are. Bottom line a lot of plumbing material is manufactured in America therefore the cost of getting plumbing done around your home is about to go up.

Quite a few hot water heaters and furnaces are manufactured by the US using imported aluminum and steel. What this means to you if you need a replacement water heater or furnace is that these appliances will now cost you 10 – 20% more than they did before the tariffs came into place. There are brands that are not manufactured in the United States of America that will not be affected such as some Rheem water heaters, and Giant. However, these are not the brands that we would recommend. The unfortunate part of the tariffs aside from the price increase is the fact that quite a few of the better brands of water heater are manufactured south of the border leaving consumers with little to no choice but to choke on the price or purchase an inferior tank.The same is true for furnaces, the superior brands are manufactured in the united states, leaving either your home or your wallet colder with a 20% increase in price. Seems strange that in a county much colder than the most of the united states we do not produce our own furnaces.

An interesting side effect (depending on how you look at it) is that if you are in the market for a higher efficiency product such as a power vented hot water heater it will now be slightly cheaper to go with a tankless water heater. The amount of material used to create a tankless water heater is minimal compared to conventional sized water heaters which means the price increase puts these tanks below what was traditionally a cheaper tank. This plus the gas savings on a tankless water heater can save you even more money.

While it remains to be seen what will come of these tariffs and how long they may last there are still some options out there. Perhaps if they continue for a long period of time there will be more home grown options and voting with your wallet will become easier. For those stuck without a choice in an emergency you may unfortunately have to pay for the decisions of policy makers. Hopefully this will blow over and prices will return to normal but until then do as much research as possible and find a hot water tank that fits your budget and quality needed to last.

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Radon Gas: To Be Or Not To Be Afraid

Health fads and scares seem to always be a hot topic in media these days. From the Keto Diet to the dangers of Tupperware there is always something. While some of these health scares seem laughable, i.e. GPS tracker chips in flu shots, occasionally, a ‘boogeyman’ will come along. Just like the cheesy antagonists from an ’80s horror flick: you aren’t sure if you should laugh or be afraid. The newest hot topic is Radon gas, it is popping up on your TV, or maybe an ad on the radio, or more likely your social media feeds or the internet. This sinister boogeyman often seems founded in irrational fear, science, or, if you are more cynical, you may assume it was created by unscrupulous companies looking to cash in on your fear. No matter where you might have found the boogeyman, the discovery of it has most likely raised the following questions; What is radon gas? How do I know if it in my house? What can I do about it? By the time you are done reading this you will have the answer to those questions and hopefully the boogeyman won’t bother you anymore.

Radon gas is naturally produced by decaying radioactive material in soil. It gets into your home through your concrete foundation and you water piping. Depending on how well sealed your house is the gases can remain in your home and in your water. Over time this radon gas can cause health issues. Let’s get the scary part out of the way, one of the reasons you have been hearing so much about radon gas lately is that it believed to be the biggest leading cause of lung cancer next to smoking. While it seems that everything causes cancer, the second leading cause of lung cancer is scary and that is why Health Canada wants to educate you.

How likely is it that there is radon gas in your home? Radon gas is at dangerous levels in about 46% of Albertan homes or 1 in every 8 houses. There are many reputable maps displaying areas of the province that contain high levels of radon and can be found using a quick search of the internet. If you are in a moderate to dangerous zone you can confirm if radon is in your home using a DIY kit that can be purchased online or at a box store such as Home Depot or Lowes. If you are unsure about how to use a DIY test or if you would like to be certain you can hire a professional to come and do the tests. Testing for radon can take as long as a week in some cases however a proper test is the only way to confirm or disprove the presence of radon.

If you find that you have radon you have several options to either remove it or lower the chances of it entering your home. There are exhaust systems that can be installed to remove the radon gas. Some of these systems are relatively cheap to have installed while others can be quite expensive it all depends on the amount of work that is required to properly seal and then remove the gas. We highly recommend seeking out a professional who can give you options and explain the process in detail. Unfortunately, when a hot issue like radon gas comes up there is a sort of gold rush that occurs and many fly by night companies pop up to cash in on peoples fears so it is always important to find out if the people working on your home are licensed, certified, and insured.

While there is a lot of fear mongering going on over radon gas it is important to find out if it affects your home. There are quite a few resources to be found online but it may give you some reassurance to have the risk assessed by trained professionals. Radon is one boogeyman we can do something about so that should make the process a little less frightening and remember that the odds are in ever your favour.

Now You Are Cooking With Gas

You go shopping for appliances and there is an unbelievable sale on gas ranges, you can’t help it the price is too good and the allure of cooking with gas is too strong to resist, you can’t afford not to buy it! So, you buy the range and plan out your next family meal as the sales person assures you that installing a gas range will be simple and easy, no problem at all really, just call a local plumber or gasfitter and they will have you up and running before your roast is even thawed. You call a plumber to give you an estimate on running a new gas line and hooking up your sweet sweet new toy but *gasp* the cost to put the gas line in is more than you paid for the oven! How has this happened? The salesperson said this would be easy, did they lie? Why would a new gas line cost so much? The answer to these pressing questions can be learned right here, and luckily you know that before you make any large appliance purchase you read Firefly Plumbing’s blog first.

There are a few things that go into the installation of a new gas line, permits, proper pipe sizing, and certification. Let’s start with permits. Any alterations to your home’s natural gas line are required to have a permit issued. This is for your safety and we cannot stress enough the importance of having a new gas line properly inspected. A gas leak can cause much more damage than a leaky pipe, plus you would lose that sweet new range. Permits are not cheap. In the City of Calgary, the lowest possible cost for a permit is roughly $180 and goes up from there based on the cost of the job. Only licensed gas fitters can pull a permit, the municipality checks to make sure that the company asking for a permit has a license and that license insures that the company has a valid gas fitting ticket. Once a permit is issued an inspection can be performed to ensure the new gas line meets current codes and sizing, which brings us to…

The gas line must be properly sized. In a nut shell, gas line sizing is based on the British Thermal Unit (or BTU) load and the total furthest distance from your gas meter to your appliances. If a gas line is undersized you may experience issues with appliances firing or working properly and who really wants to be cooking Christmas dinner and have their furnace stop working? If a gas line is undersized this may mean that the gas fitter or plumber who is working on the line may have to increase its size to make sure you can run all your gas appliances without issues. Upsizing a gas line can be very costly so calling a gas fitter before you decide on adding any gas heaters or stoves to the line is crucial.

Finally, you want a certified gas fitter to do the job. Certification means that the installer has the knowledge required to install the new gas line in a safe and code compliant manner. Again, this is more for safety than anything. You wouldn’t hire a lawyer who hadn’t received any training to defend you on that pesky murder charge would you? Plumbing is similar, an educated plumber earns more than an uneducated one, but they will keep you from having much worse issues down the line.

All that being said, you’ll be happy to learn that Firefly Plumbing is licensed to do gas! So give us a call before, or after, you buy that range and we will be happy to come out to give you a quote.

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Calgary Floods 2018

It’s getting to be that time of year in Calgary, flood season. I know it doesn’t seem like it what with all the powdery white stuff outside covering the land in a blanket of frozen evil. However, what will happen when all that frozen evil thaws? It becomes liquid evil. Liquid evil that invades our storm drains, sewers and basements intent on its evil master plan of world domination. Silly humans, thinking we could tame this flood plain. So how do we stop this liquid menace in its tracks? Well thankfully there are a few brave souls out there with some answers, tools, and a willingness to put themselves in the line of fire (but not fire, because it is water) to keep your property and belongings safe. Who are these people, whose names are spoken with the same awe as Ghandi and Taylor Swift? Plumbers, because some heroes don’t wear capes some of them hold wrenches. Flooding has become a major problem in Calgary causing millions of dollars in property damage. While in some cases it is impossible to prevent the flooding from occurring or causing damage there are a few things that can be done to mitigate damage or at the very least save money on your insurance bill.

To prevent water from entering your home through the city sewer pipes a back-water valve can be installed. A back-water valve is closes itself off when a back up of water begins. This keeps flood water from the city sewer from entering your home. If you have ever had/smelt a sewer backup you know this valve is worth its weight in adamantium. Some insurance companies will even give you a break on your premiums for installing a back-water valve. You’ll remember in the great floods of 2013 many people were not dealing with overland flooding but sewer backups, so even if you do not live by the river the sewer is a very real threat.

What if it is overland flooding you ask. Good question. Overland flooding can be helped by installing a sump pump. A sump pump is fitted into a catch basin installed under the ground and imbedded in the concrete in your basement. When water tries to enter your basement via overland or a rising water table the pump will turn on and pump the damaging liquid out of your home and out into the world to menace someone else.

Several companies offer flood alarms that will go off in the event of water entering your home. This option is by far the cheapest although it doesn’t prevent any flooding, but it will let you know when it is occurring, and you can make some calls to help prevent the damage from getting worse.

There is no doubt about it flooding is not fun but with a few products and a little know how some of the pain it can cause can be avoided. Hopefully no one needs it this year but you never know. Firefly is always ready to lend a hand, capes not included.

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I Have Poly-B Pipe in My House Should I be Worried?

Polybutylene piping was used in many homes in Calgary throughout the late 70’s to early 90’s, it is grey in colour and can have plastic or metal fittings. The reason you might be asking yourself if you should be worried about the poly-b piping is that you have probably heard that it is prone to leaks or you have experienced a leak yourself. The short answer to this question is that while it is extremely hard to tell, that being said here are some warning signs that it might be time to get your poly-b removed:

  • There are multiple spots in your home where poly-b pipe has been removed and replaced
  • You have had more than three leaks in your home
  • The poly-b piping feels brittle to touch
  • There are water marks or calcium buildup on visible sections of pipe

The reason it is so hard to predict if the polybutylene piping in your home is about to degrade is because the failures occur within the pipe. While there are many causes for the pipe to fail you cannot visibly see any defects until a problem occurs. When purchasing a home, it is prudent to check over the pipes in the basement and look for sign of repairs or damage. We have seen many houses go decades without problems while some have multiple leaks in a year.

So, what are your options?

Replacing all of the poly-b piping in a home can be costly but it is the most sure-fire way to get rid of the risks the piping poses. Replacement may also result in lower insurance costs.

Install a water monitoring device. There are several devices that can be installed on your main waterline that detect leaks and turn the water off to your home reducing the damages one of these leaks can cause. The Aquatrip is our personal favorite and is far cheaper in comparison to a whole house re-pipe.

So should you be worried? Its possible, however having a professional come out and asses the piping in your home could help to ease your mind.

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The Superhero of Heating

In a chilly world shrouded in inefficient heating options and a shortage of hot water, one appliance emerges to become the piece of equipment you not only want, but the piece of equipment you deserve. Other less efficient pieces of equipment refused to speak its name in a vain hope that by not directly naming it they would hold off their eventual trip to the scrap heap. The fear that even the sight of this great appliance would turn their motherboards to sludge was a reasonable one. The appliance that should not be named: The GF200 by NTI.

Why is equipment so fearful? For the simple fact that the GF200 takes two high efficiency appliances and marries them in a holy union of super efficiency that can handle heating your home and your hot water. By installing a Navien on demand water heater into a furnace featuring a variable speed motor and running forced air over a water tube heat exchanger NTI has created the most efficient piece of equipment you can install in your home. The GF200 is 97% efficient and removes two appliances in your home replacing them with one compact piece of equipment that has a single gas burner which only runs when there is a demand for heat or hot water. That is the most efficient piece of equipment on the market right now. Hot Water Tanks were already on their way out, being replaced with tankless (on-demand) systems but high-efficiency furnace’s thought they were still top of the heap. But how can a homeowner say no to the GF200 when it means that they will save space, money on utilities (one burner instead of two), and the environment? They can’t, and their old appliances know this.

When is the GF 200 right for your home? If you have a mid-efficiency furnace or conventional hot water tank and either of them is ready to give up the ghost, the GF200 would be a good fit for your home. In the city of Calgary, you must install a high efficiency furnace if you are replacing your older heating appliance. The GF200 was designed to handle the heating needs of 90% of homes. It can heat enough hot water for 4 showers to be running at once and heat a home up to 3,000 square feet at the same time.

Like every superhero there is always a weakness. The GF200 has two not really weaknesses. The first is that in Calgary we have large amounts of calcium and minerals in our water, so you also need to install a water softner. If you do not it will dramatically reduce the life and efficiency of the GF200. The other not really weakness is that it does not qualify for the Alberta Efficiency Rebate program at this time even though the demand water heater built into the unit, on its own, does qualify. We are not sure why this is however, we do not make the rules. If we did everyone would receive a huge rebate on the GF200.

If you are interested in more information you can give us a call with any questions you may have. All of our technicians are well versed in the capabilities of the GF200 and can go over options with you. After all even if this is a fantastic machine it may not be the right fit for you but we can certainly help you figure out if it is.

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Energy Efficiency Alberta Tankless Water Heater Rebate

What is it?

The Alberta Government has rolled out a new program to provide homeowners with an incentive to switch their less efficient appliances with newfangled high efficiency appliances. This program can benefit any Albertan who currently owns a natural draft low efficiency hot water tank by giving you a rebate on the installation of a new tankless water heater.

How Do I Know If I Qualify?

Easy, if you currently have a hot water heater with a metal chimney, reside in a house or townhouse, and would like to lower your gas consumption then you qualify.

How Do I Get My Rebate?

First visit https://www.efficiencyalberta.ca/home-improvement/tankless-hot-water-heater/ and click on the find a contractor button. Then enter your postal code and find a local contractor who can provide you with a quote. Then shut down your computer and call Firefly Plumbing if you live in Calgary or the surrounding areas. The contractor will come and give you a quote and provide you with how much of a rebate you can expect before any work begins. Once you agree to the work your qualified technician will install your shiny new tankless water heater and take payment. The contractor will then provide all necessary documentation to the government and within 6 to 8 weeks you will receive your rebate!

How Much of a Rebate Can I Expect?

The amount of your rebate depends on the efficiency of your old equipment VS the efficiency of your new equipment. The rebate tends to be between $900 and $1,000.

How Much is a Tankless Water Heater?

There are many factors that go into the cost of a new tankless water heater including brand, code requirements, and materials. Therefore, it is in your best interest to have a qualified technician look at your home and make provide you with an estimate.

Is a Tankless Water Heater Really Worth it?

This is up to you. Tankless water heaters are extremely efficient. A typical natural draft water heater sits around 55% efficient while a tankless heater can be as high as 99% efficient. If installed, programmed, and maintained properly a tankless water heater can provide you and your family with seemingly endless hot water at a fraction of the cost of the older natural draft water heaters. Most tankless heaters can handle a typical two and a half bath house with no issues and no worry of running out of hot water. Knowledge and training are the biggest pitfalls when it comes to the proper installation of one of these appliances and ensuring that you are comfortable with your contractors proficiency in this area is a homeowners key to a successful installation.

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The New ‘IT’ Thing: Boilers

What are the Jones doing now? They are getting boilers installed in their homes. It always starts the same, you think you are on top of the world then at the next neighborhood party the darn Jones’ are talking about their newest fidget spinners or pet rocks, well now they have boilers. You get home and your wife is now insisting that you install a boiler immediately before everyone comes over for book club. After you’ve called Firefly Plumbing to put in your new boiler you are left wondering what exactly it is and how do you keep it working.

For most people, this mysterious item sits in their basement providing their families with hot water and heat and that is all they need to know. Well that is about to change! A boiler is a fantastic and efficient way to heat water however, like most appliances, they require maintenance and monitoring to provide this hot water consistently. Today, we are here to provide you with a very quick rundown of what you need to know to keep your boiler working perfectly and allow you to become the boiler know-it-all on your block.

The most important component of a boiler is what is known as the heat exchanger. This is where the magic happens. Heat is transferred to the water through the heat exchanger providing you and your family with hot showers and heat. If the heat exchanger gets damaged you are looking at a hefty repair bill or quite possibly replacing the whole unit. The easiest way to maintain the heat exchanger is to have it flushed out and cleaned on a semi regular basis, every one to two years.

The next component to watch is the pumps. Pumps are used to move this hot water throughout your home. There is not a lot of maintenance for pumps but there are some warning signs that they are about to give up the ghost. If you hear what sounds like gravel running through the pump it is a sign that there is air in the system. This can be fixed with added air vents but if it goes on for long enough the pump may need to be replaced. Another warning sign is if the pump gets extremely hot it is probably looking to fail.

One more thing that is important to keeping a boiler running at optimal performance is flushing and refilling the entire system once every five years. Glycol and water in a boiler system can begin to break down over time and needs to be replaced in order to keep components from getting clogged. Think of this like changing the oil in your car. If a flush and fill is not completed in a timely manner the critical components to a boiler system will become bogged down and stop working. The mixture of glycol and water needs to be correct as well, we’ve seen too many a boiler where a do-it-yourselfer thought pouring in 100% glycol would make the boiler run even better. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

Boilers can be a fantastic way to provide efficient heat and hot water but if they are not maintained they can become expensive and cumbersome. A little bit of maintenance can go a long way towards preventing large repair bills or much larger replacement bills.

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.

A Song of Water and Bills

The city of Calgary was once a peaceful land. Then one of the city’s major corporations decided to wage war on the hard-working families. They hid behind their meters and their monopoly on providing the life-giving water. Enmax thought that with enough threats and poor customer service they could get away with it. Then the righteous CTV broke the story and other families told their story. However virtuous these hard-working families were, Enmax seemed to still be winning. So, what exactly happened and how can other families protect themselves from these heinous bills.

A few houses in Calgary received Ludacris water bills, some of the bills were more than 20 times their average monthly usage. One man was even out of town with his main water shut off. When they called Enmax assuming that this must be some mistake, they were told they probably had a leaking toilet. According to the city of Vancouver, a leaky toilet can cost up to $750 a year, which still does not explain the thousands extra families in Calgary were being charged. Still, they called a local plumber and had them check the house for leaks, none were found. Enmax collected their meter and claimed it had been working properly. At this point believing in dragons and magic is just as logical as believing that a person would not notice the constant running water for a month. Enmax refused to back down from the bills, if their meters were right, the bills must be too. Only after the news story broke and the following investigation did Enmax back down from their bills. Who knows how many people have already paid these ridiculous bills before only pubic anger forced Enmax to do the right thing.

I don’t know about you but I know that if our little family’s water bill went from $100 to $4,500 it would send us into full blown panic mode, not many can afford that within the twenty days they give you to pay. So, what can you do to protect your pocket book and your family from this kind of attack?

Well you can hire a plumber to come to your home and search for leaks preemptively however, doing this will cost money and they might not even find anything. Our advice is to install a device that goes by the name of Aquatrip. This device is installed on your main water line as it enters the house and its sole purpose is to determine if there is a leak in your water lines. Once the Aquatrip determines there is a leak even one as small as a leaking toilet flapper, or dripping tap, and shuts the water off to the house preventing the leak from costing you money and damaging your property. As a bonus, some insurance companies will even give you a break on your premiums if you have an Aquatrip installed in your home. With Aquatrip installed, Enmax will have to find another reason for such a large bill.

How much does an Aquatrip cost? Well it ranges from company to company so it is in your best interest to call around and find a price and installer that fits your needs. One thing is for sure the cost of an Aquatrip is far less than the cost of a massive water bill from Enmax and the city. Just make sure Firefly Plumbing is one of those calls. Brace yourselves, leaks are coming.