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.

Radon, What is it?

There has been a lot of talk about radon gas in homes recently which has led a lot of our customers to ask: what is radon? Should I be concerned about it?

What is Radon?

Well as many of you know Radðn is a type of gravity magic. You can use Radon to lift huge tracts of land underneath the enemy, tilt them, then forcibly drop them to the ground, ultimately crushing your enemy. Then I realize that the customer is probably talking about Radon gas. Radon gas is a natural by-product caused by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. It is a chemical element with symbol Rn and atomic number 86. It is a real thing, not just a public scare hoax. This naturally occurring phenomenon is radioactive, colourless, odourless, and tasteless making it hard for the average homeowner to know whether it is in their home.

Should I be Concerned About it?

This question is a little trickier to answer. Radon gas can be tested for using special equipment. If it is found in your home in unacceptable levels then there is some concern. Radon gas has been linked to lung cancer and other harmful diseases and precautions should be taken to limit your exposure to it.

What can You Do?

Radon extraction fans can be installed in your home to remove some of the gases that may be leaching in or resulting from the breakdown of old construction materials. There are solutions available and they vary depending on the age of your home and the levels of radon present.

Be Aware

Unfortunately, as with any kind of invisible dangerous gas there are many unscrupulous contractors out there who are trying to cash in on this threat. When contacting a company to test for radon gas ensure that they are licensed and insured, if they are asking for a deposit make sure that they are bonded. Do your research, find out if your neighbourhood is in a high-risk area. At the moment, the areas in Calgary with the highest radon levels are the NW and SE. Okotoks and High River are also a major concern as they have some of the highest concentrations in Alberta.


Kitchen faucet, kitchen tap, kitchen sink

So, Your Drains Are Running Slow…

Plugged drains are the worst! We have all been there, watching the water drain so slow you aren’t sure if it will ever end. Then the awful knowledge that soon you will most likely deal with a shower full of water, a basement full of sewage, or just a smelly kitchen drain. Its ominous even for plumbers. The fact is no one wants to deal with any of these scenarios, even the poor plumber you may have to pay to come out and unclog it. So, what can you do about it?

The easiest way to avoid a major issue is preventative maintenance. How do you prevent clogs from happening? Easy!

          Install hair catching devices in your tubs and showers;

          Use a biological drain cleaner such as Bio Clean in your drains that will eat clogs before they start;

          Try not to put large amounts of food into your kitchen drain, there are starving kids somewhere in the world after all;

          Avoid chemical drain cleaners which may dissolve metal fittings or pipe;

          If you live in an area prone to root damage have your pipes inspected, use a root treatment product, or install a water softener (roots do not like salt water);

          Clean any traps under your sinks;

If you already have a clogged drain there is not a lot that can be done without proper equipment or knowledge. Drain snakes, if used properly, can help to get most drains running again but a more thorough cleaning may be needed to open a pipe to full capacity.

Many drain clogs happen steadily over time and a little bit of preventative maintenance can go a long way to avoiding catastrophe and expensive service calls. For tips on how to perform any of this maintenance feel free to give us a call, check our older blog posts, or book an appointment.




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