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.

Cal062125 Ave Flooding.jpg


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.


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.

boiler, plumbing, calgary, yyc

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.



Your Furnace

A wise, although tragically destined, family once said: Winter is coming. Unlike Westeros, our winters, usually, only last months instead of years. Wouldn’t it be nice if during those months the heat stayed on? With that in mind we bring you part four of Do It Yourself Plumbing Tips: Your Furnace. We are going to tell you three things that you can do yourself to help keep your furnace running through those cold winter nights.
The first tip is an easy one: batteries. Make sure that your thermostat has fresh batteries. Every year we get calls from frantic customers about a lack of heat and when we arrive it is nothing more than a dead battery. Your thermostat is the starter for your heating system. Without a signal from the thermostat your furnace does not know when to turn on, so keep those batteries fresh.
Tip number two is almost as easy as the first tip, change your furnace filter frequently. This tip is especially important for mid-efficient to high-efficient furnaces.  Starting in the early 80’s most furnaces featured some kind of mother board. If these boards get covered in dust and heat up they can malfunction. The same goes for the motor that circulates the hot air throughout your house. We recommend using a cheap flat furnace filter and changing it every month to maintain airflow and keep the core components of your furnace dust free and cool.
Finally, the last tip is to turn on your heat well before you need it to make sure everything runs flawlessly. Fire up your furnace for an hour or two on a semi cold day and listen for any abnormal noises. Doing this will ensure that when we get that first really cold day you will not be left to shiver!

As always, Firefly Plumbing is available to professionally tune-up your furnace if your problem is not one of the three quick fixes listed here …or even if it is but you want an expert to handle it!

5 DIY Plumbing Tips Part 3

DIY Plumbing Tips to Avoid Calling a Plumber – Part 3

Toilet Flappers

One of the most common calls we receive is about toilets running constantly, wasting water and keeping people awake at night. This can be caused by many things but the most likely culprit is your toilet flapper. This small part is easily changed by most people and costs anywhere from $5 to $15 dollars at any hardware store. To have a plumber come to your home and change this part can be expensive the highest we have heard of in Calgary was close to $400!

All of that being said not all flappers are the same. Dual flush toilets work on a completely different kind of flushing system and certain brands have their own designs that are hard to find and require going to the manufacturer or a plumbing wholesaler. The biggest offenders of these special designs are Kholer, American Standard, and Toto. Most of these brands feature larger diameter flappers to try and provide a little more power to their flush to make up for new low water consumption requirements. For these brands you will need to either contact your plumber for the part. This DIY post focuses on the brands that are found in about 70% of bathrooms.

  1. First, turn the water off to the toilet. If your toilet shut off won’t budge and your main house shut off will not work call a plumber. Without the proper tools and knowledge trying to force the shut off could result in snapping the valve and turning a simple repair into a flood, causing much more damage to your home than just replacing the valve.
  2. Take off the lid to your toilet tank.
  3. Hold the flush lever down to drain the tank of as much water as possible. *The water must be turned off before this step!!*
  4. Remove the toilet flapper’s chain from the flush lever and pull the flapper rubber tabs off of the flush tube (large pipe in the center of the toilet tank).
  5. To avoid multiple trips to the store, take this flapper with you to ensure you are getting the correct flapper for your toilet. Too many times we have seen when “universal” doesn’t necessarily mean “universal”. Take this opportunity to also pick up a toilet dye tab.
  6. Reverse steps 4 – 1 to install the new flapper. The chain on the new flapper will likely need to be adjusted, leave a little bit of slack but not too much and cut off any excess chain.

There you have it! Once the new flapper is in and the water is back on place a toilet dye tab in the tank and allow it to dissolve completely. Return in 15 minutes to see if any of the dye has leaked into the toilet bowl. If you find dye in the bowl the toilets flush valve is likely warped and will need to be replaced which should be done by a plumber. If the toilet continues to run after attempting the flapper it may require other parts.

Hopefully everything goes smoothly. If not, we are always here to give you a hand!

Watch for our How To video series coming soon

Kitchen faucet, kitchen tap, kitchen sink

5 DIY Plumbing Tips Part Two

Plumbing Tips to Help You Avoid Calling a Plumber Part 2:

The Kitchen Faucet

This weekend I went out to a call that was completely avoidable. Kitchen plumbing can seem daunting, but the thing is that with just a few maintenance tips you can avoid these types of calls.

Let me tell you about the call. I received a frantic phone call from our client, lets call her ‘River’, who told me that her kitchen sink was leaking, spilling water all over her floor. I hurried over to River’s house to find towels all over the kitchen floor and her cabinet soaked with water.

“I think my tap is broken. The water is coming from the bottom of it.” River said, looking distraught “how much is a new tap going to cost me?”

“Well let me look at it first”

I took a look at her faucet and sure enough there was water coming out of its base. I opened the cabinet doors to look under the sink and saw water running down the hoses. I stood up and pulled the spray head from the body of the tap and then turned the faucet on, water sprayed from where the hose meets the head.

“Its shot isn’t it?” River said.

“No” I replied “the hose just needs to be tightened.” And then I tightened the loose hose back onto the faucet head. A simple fix that costs much less than a new faucet.

The point is this was a very simple fix and a very common problem. Almost half of the calls we receive about kitchen faucets are due to loose hose connections to the spray head. It takes five minutes to tighten and can save you a call to your plumber. This crucial connection loosens up over time and only needs to be snugged up once in a while, but can save you hundreds of dollars on a repair or buying a new tap if you did not this simple trick and decided to replace the whole faucet.


5 DIY Plumbing Tips Part One

DIY Plumbing Tips to Avoid Calling a Plumber Part One

Clean Out Your Traps to Avoid Slow Drains


Most of our calls here involves slow drains. These calls can be costly, especially if you call the wrong plumber. The thing most people don’t know is that 90% of all slow drain calls are completely avoidable. This is especially true when it comes to bathtubs, showers, and bathroom sinks. Every plumbing fixture in your home is protected by what is known in the plumbing world as a p-trap. A p-trap is, simply put, a trap that keeps a small amount of water in them  in order to prevent sewer gasses from escaping. This keeps your bathroom smelling like daisies instead of what you just put down the drain. Unfortunately, these p-traps can also trap other things. The main contributor: hair.

Most of us are losing our hair, there I said it. Whether you are a man, woman or child we all lose hair when we take a bath or shower. Mix this hair loss with a dense material like conditioner and you have a mixture that can remain trapped in the bottom of the p-trap which, over time, will cause the drain to run slowly. This is true for sink drains as well, toothpaste, shaving cream, and small hair all get caught in the bottom of the p-trap slowing down the flow of water. Not only do these small clogs slow down the water in the pipe they can also create noxious odours.

So how do you fix this?  There are two solutions to the problem; you can use a special tool available at any home improvement store for under $10 called a Zipstrip, that can be slid down a drain opening and into the p-trap, the ridges on this tool catch on the hairball mixture that is built up and when you pull it back out of the drain opening it brings this bombastic hairy abomination back up with it.

Another method to clean your sink p-traps is to place a bucket under them and unscrew the union joints that attach it to your sink piping, slowly work the bottom half of the trap off and dump its contents into the bucket and then tighten the trap back into place. Just insure that the joints the the p-trap are tight or you could end up with a leak.

Whichever method you choose to deal with your hairy dilemma, one  last tip is to avoid products that use chemicals to remove clogs. Often times these products will sit at the clogged area to melt their way through. The potential harm comes if you have metal piping, these chemicals will also wear holes in the pipe, leading to a much bigger problem than a slow drain.

That was just tip one. Follow the blog for the rest of our series on avoidable plumbing calls.


Union P-trap

Rainwater, rain harvesting, sustainable plumbing, calgary, yyc, plumbing

Harvesting the Rain

It was a busy week at Firefly Plumbing but a good kind of busy. We spent two days at the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) boning up on some of the latest rules, regulations, and technologies relating to the harvesting and use of rainwater. With more and longer lasting droughts as well as the depletion of drinking water we felt it was important to become accredited professionals through ARCSA and become more involved in sustainable plumbing practices.

Calgary’s unpredictable weather is a perfect reason to begin catching rainwater; it gives us the opportunity to capture this free source of water and store it during the spring’s weeklong torrential downpours and use it later during our scorching hot streaks in the summer. By storing rainwater in this way we can reduce our use of city water, lowering our water bills and avoiding any water restrictions imposed by the city. With a properly sized rainwater system the days of laying a Frisbee upside down on your lawn can be a distant memory.

At the moment rainwater can only be used in Alberta for irrigation and for use with toilets. Cities continue to place more and more restrictions on water use and with the depletion of potable water you can be sure that rainwater harvesting will become a big part of the solution.  Cities such as Okotoks have already imposed heavy restrictions on water use in the summer months including purchasing a permit to use water during certain days of the week for gardening purposes. The potential per season catchment if you were to use only the roof of a standard 20’ x 25’ detached garage to catch rainwater in Calgary could be up to 3,366 gallons or roughly 12,741 liters. Not too shabby for something the city can’t put a meter on.

hands holding green plant

Rainwater Catchement