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.


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.


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.

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.


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

Why Should I Get a High Efficiency Furnace or Hot Water Heater?

With the new carbon tax, energy conservation is a contentious issue in Alberta these days. However, your furnace and hot water heater do not care about your political beliefs. All new homes a high efficiency furnace and hot water heater are mandatory. We do enough service calls to know that some people are still trying to hold on to their old units, this blog is for you. We are going to focus on the few key benefits to you and your home.

They Will Save you Money

If your furnace or hot water heater was installed before 1995 there is a good chance that it is only 75% to 80% efficient. Just like people, as these appliances age, they get caked in dust and dirt and lose even more efficiency. This loss in efficiency means money out of your pocket in the form of higher utility bills.

New condensing appliances can save you anywhere from 25% to 35% on your utility costs. I have personally seen these savings in my own home in what I admit is an extreme case. I purchased a house in Calgary that was over 100 years old that contained a furnace that was over 60 years old. One winter it decided to die on me forcing me to change it to a high efficiency model. My natural gas bill on the old furnace averaged $350/month, after I changed the furnace I was paying $175/month. Those savings made me a believer.

In 2017 They will Save You Even More Money

How can a high efficiency appliance save you more money? Well the Alberta Government is rolling out a new program in 2017 to promote the installation of these appliances. They will be paying the installation cost. Although the full dollar amounts of this program have not been released free installation is nothing to scoff at. Depending on the age of your home, the new code requirements can increase the costs to upgrade your furnace and hot water heater but those may be negated by this new program! Keep an eye on the Governments website to see how much you may qualify for.

They Can Save You Space

Technology is a wonderful thing. Think of how many devices you used to use daily before you had a Smartphone. The world of heating your home and water is moving in the same direction. New technology such as NTI’s GF200 combination water heater, furnace combine a high efficiency furnace and water heater to give you one unit that is the size of a furnace. This option is great if you are developing or renovating and would like to save space in your home. It also saves you additional money by using one burner instead of two and according to energy rating costs roughly $200 a year to run.

They Are Environmentally Friendly

Like it or not most governments in the world are moving towards reducing their environmental impact. This means that these appliances are going to become the standard in most nations and if you can’t beat them you might as well join them. The environment impact one of these high efficiency appliances creates is minimal compared to their predecessors and you can go to sleep at night knowing that you have drastically reduced your carbon footprint.


Window Condensation

What Does It All Mean & How To Deal

During the winter your furnace finally starts pulling its weight around the house. Which, while it is nice that it is doing something other than taking up too much space in the very little storage you have, it also means you now must deal with an annoying phenomenon: the buildup of condensation or frost along your windows. If you get too much buildup the water may damage your frame and it is hard to spy on your neighbors. There are probably four questions you yell out every time you notice the condensation, and we are going to answer them for you!

Why Does This Keep Happening?!?

Essentially, when warm, moist air (from your furnace) encounters cooler surfaces, the excess moisture in the air condenses. That’s because the cooled air next to the cool surface (your cold window) can’t hold as much moisture as the warmer surrounding air.

But my home is not that old shouldn’t this phenomenon be a thing of the past?

Over the years we have become better and better at sealing our homes from drafts, reducing the breathability of our homes. While this seal allows us to retain more heat it also prevents the drafts that used to help prevent condensation from building up on windows.

…Should I be Afraid?

You should be. While natural it is also a warning sign that your house may have excess humidity. If it is building up on your windows it may be causing damage somewhere else.

Alright Fine I’ll Deal With It … How Do I Stop It From Happening?

There are several ways you can take control of the situation:

  • Use the fans in your home to move the air around the house and bring in fresh air. Most newer homes are equipped with a ventilation air fan, if you turn this fan on it will bring fresh air into your home and remove old stale air. The drawbacks to using this method is that the fresh air it is bringing in is crisp cold winter air. Opening a window will also give the same effect but will be extremely cold, and as my dad used to say “ARE YOU TRYING TO HEAT THE WHOLE NEIGHBOURHOOD?!”
  • Upgrade your thermostat or install a humidistat in an easily accessible area. This option gives you better control of your humidifier if you have one. A standard flow-through humidifier is generally connected to your furnaces fan. When your furnace turns on to heat your home so does the humidifier. The right thermostat can control your humidifier which means you can turn it off and on at will instead of whenever your furnace turns on. This will help you remove some moisture from the air and keep condensation down. A steam humidifier also enhances the level of control you have over humidity levels in your home.
  • Install a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV). A HRV is the most effective way to prevent condensation buildup. These units exchange cool outside air over a heat exchanger with the stale air from inside your home. An HRV can recover 75 to 85% of the heat from your stale old air as it expelled from your home. This heat is then transferred to the new incoming air. These units are miles ahead of any of the other mention methods of preventing condensation buildup.

Even though this annoying buildup of water can be troublesome there are ways to stop it! Give Firefly a call we can give you some more detailed advice over the phone or come by and give you a quote on one of these options! Don’t worry though we won’t open your windows and tell you to put on a sweater unless we must.



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.