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Home maintenance; electrical, plumbing and gas systems

Home maintenance

Maintaining the safety of your house is an important part of home ownership. Here are a few key elements of home maintenance.

Frequently

  • Smoke alarms: Test smoke alarms, smoke/carbon monoxide alarms, arc fault circuit interrupters and ground fault circuit interrupters monthly by pressing the test button on each device.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors: Smoke and smoke/carbon monoxide alarms have a battery back-up. The batteries should be replaced twice a year or as often as recommended by the manufacturer, and will beep at end of life or when new batteries are required.
  • Mechanical equipment: Maintain proper clearances around mechanical equipment, the furnace, the hot water tank and vent pipes.
  • Furnace: Change your furnace filter. This can depend on a few things like if you have pets, time of year and more. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended the filter be changed with the seasons. The filter itself should be checked on a monthly basis for condition and cleanliness.
  • Sump: On a monthly basis, complete a quick visual inspection of the sanitary sump.
  • Exhaust hoods: Ensure exterior intake hood openings are clean and free of debris.
  • Dryer vent: Check exterior exhaust hoods, specifically the dryer vent to ensure it is free of lint. Inspect the dryer vent connection and ensure it’s not kinked.
  • Ventilator: Inspect, replace or clean the filter inside the heat recovery ventilator if your home has one installed as a part of your ventilation system.
  • Furnace humidifier: Remove, inspect and clean or replace the furnace humidifier media.

Once a year

  • Water taps: In the fall, on your outside water tap (hose bib), the interior shut off should be turned off and the small drain on the side opened to remove water. Remove the hose from the tap to prevent freezing and damage to the tap or piping.
  • Backwater valves: The full port backwater valve requires servicing on an annual basis. Most backwater valves have a clear lid so a visual inspection can be done. The backwater valves on the pipe branches do not require annual servicing.
  • Water heater: Drain your water heater annually to help prevent any build up of scale inside the heater.

Every two years

  • Ducts: Have the duct systems cleaned every two to four years, depending on your home.

Every five years

  • Carbon monoxide alarms: Replace carbon monoxide alarms (or as indicated on the alarm).

Every 10 years

  • Smoke alarms: Replace smoke alarms (or as indicated on the alarm). ​​​​​​​

Hazard awareness

Common potential hazards that may exist in your home.

Window safety

Open windows that are high above the ground can present a falling hazard, especially for young children. In many large residential buildings, like apartment-style condominium buildings, the Alberta Building Code (ABC) requires windows to be protected by a guard or a mechanism that will prevent the window from opening wide enough to allow someone to fall through. This is not the case for all types of residential buildings. Whether you own a house or a condo unit, as a homeowner you should be aware that the protection for open windows is not required by the ABC in the following types of buildings:

  • Single family homes, semi-detached homes, and rowhouse and townhouse units where the units are not stacked one on top of another.
    • In these types of buildings, the ABC permits an operable window to extend down to the floor level. The ABC does not require these windows to have the protection described above – this can be a hazard where the window is high above the ground or deck outside, and especially for young children.
  • Rowhouse, townhouse and apartment-style units in buildings with a footprint equal to or smaller than 600 square metres and that are three storeys or less in height, with a window sill more than 450 mm (18 in) above the floor.
    • In these types of residential units, the ABC permits an operable window to extend down to 450 mm (18 in) above the floor. This is low enough that a child could easily climb onto the window sill, and could fall out if the window is open wide enough. The ABC permits this situation to exist in buildings as high as three storeys (if the building footprint is not more than 600 sq m), so the distance of a fall could be significant.
  • Rowhouse, townhouse and apartment-style units in buildings with a footprint equal to or smaller than 600 sq m and that are three storeys or less in height, where the window serves a room whose floor level is less than 1800 mm above the floor or ground on the other side of the window.
    • In these types of residential units the ABC permits an operable window to extend down to the floor level, as long as the distance between the room’s floor level and the ground or deck outside is not more than 1800 mm (6 feet). This is high enough of a fall that someone, particularly a child, could be injured. In this case, the ABC does not limit the height of the window sill above the floor – although the distance from the floor level to the ground or deck outside is only 1800 mm (6 ft), the window sill might be 900 mm (3 ft) to 1200 mm (4 ft) above the floor, which increases the distance of a potential fall.
  • Rowhouse, townhouse and apartment-style units in buildings with a footprint equal to or smaller than 600 sq m and that are three storeys or less in height, where the only opening larger than 100 mm x 380 mm is a horizontal opening at the top of the window.
    • In these types of residential units the ABC permits an operable window larger than 100mm x 380mm to exist as a horizontal opening at the top of the window. This usually will not be a hazard, but if furniture or other items are placed near the window and allow a child to climb to that height, there is the potential for a fall.

Preventing falls

The best way to prevent falls through open windows is to supervise the area when the window is open. If children are present, they must be supervised so that they do not climb out of the open window. Even if the window is closed, children are capable of opening many types of windows. Many children can easily open a sliding window, and may be able to operate the crank-type hardware on a casement or awning window, or even push the window open without using the crank.

A window screen is not an effective barrier against falls – the screen material is not very strong, and is designed to be removed, making it easy to push or pull out of position. Furniture is another hazard where children are concerned. Although the window sill may be high enough to be out of reach for a child standing on the floor, if furniture is placed near the window a child can easily climb up onto the furniture and gain access to an open window.

Special mechanisms are available that will prevent the window from opening wide enough to allow someone to fall through. Ask your builder or window supplier about installing this hardware. Before installing such hardware, be aware that at least one window in a bedroom must be large enough for a person to escape through it if there is a fire or other emergency. These windows are not permitted to have this hardware, because they will prevent the window from opening wide enough for a person to escape. If your home is protected by an automatic sprinkler system, there is no requirement for the window to be large enough for a person to escape through it, and therefore the hardware would be permitted in these homes.

Bedroom exit windows

The ABC requires at least one window in a bedroom to be large enough for a person to escape through it if there is a fire or other emergency. A door leading from the bedroom to the outside is also acceptable – it must lead to a safe place like a balcony, deck or the ground.

The window must be openable from the inside without the use of keys, tools or special knowledge and without the removal of sashes or hardware. The term “special knowledge” in the ABC is interpreted to mean that you must be able to make one simple motion to unlock the window, and one simple motion to open the window (such as pushing open a sliding window or cranking open a casement or awning window).

It must be possible to open the window wide enough that it provides an opening that meets both a minimum area and dimension. The window must open wide enough to provide an unobstructed space of 0.35 sq m (3.8 sq ft), and the length and width of the opening cannot be less than 380 mm (15 in). The window must be able to maintain this size of opening without any additional support; for example, a window that slides open vertically must stay open on its own and not fall down. When purchasing a bedroom egress window, you should ask the window supplier if the window complies with these requirements and measure it yourself to ensure it meets the criteria.

Windows serving a basement often require a window well because the window sill sits below the ground level outside. If a bedroom exit window is served by a window well, the distance between the window and the face of the window well must be 760 mm (30 in). If the bedroom exit window is an awning window, this distance might have to be even greater, because in this case the distance between the edge of the open window and the face of the window well must be 760 mm (30 in).

Protective enclosures like metal grates are not normally permitted to be placed over the window well where the window well serves a bedroom. If heavy objects are placed on the enclosures or the enclosures freeze to the window well in the winter, it can make escape from the bedroom impossible.

Security bars are not normally permitted on bedroom exit windows. They can prevent or delay escape from the bedroom in an emergency.

For more information, read the Egress Window Guidelines advisory bulletin.

Radon

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is invisible, odourless and tasteless. When diluted by the air around us, it does not cause problems. However, when concentrated in an enclosed space, it has been linked to serious health issues.

To test for radon in your home, you can purchase a do-it-yourself radon test kit or hire a radon measurement professional. Health Canada recommends testing during the winter months when windows and doors typically remain closed.

For more information on Alberta Building Code radon rough-in requirements, visit calgary.ca/radon.

Fire safety

The best way to be safe is to practice fire prevention and be prepared for a fire in your home.

View tips from the Calgary Fire Department

Maintaining drainage away from the home

The Alberta Building Code requires that surface water is drained away from your house and your neighbour’s property. This is to prevent overburdening of the weeping tile that is meant for drainage of subsurface water and to prevent leaks through the basement damp proofing. When a house is first constructed, the builder is required to provide the proper drainage. After you move in, the soil around the house continues to settle and can settle to the point where the slope is toward the house rather than away. Homeowners should watch for this and use additional material to ensure drainage away from the house. In addition to the surface drainage, downspouts for the roof drainage system should be maintained to ensure that they remain in place and provide effective drainage of the eavestrough. Maintaining the surface drainage and downspouts will help to ensure your basement will remain dry.

Maintaining clearance of materials from flues and chimneys

Furnace flues and fireplace chimneys are constructed to provide protection of the surrounding materials from heat that they direct to the outside of the house. They are installed in a manner that provides proper clearances to things that can catch on fire. You should be aware of these clearances and not store materials against them or place materials in such a manner that they could be displaced and fall against the flue or chimney. When inspecting your attic space, make sure your roof insulation has not become displaced and fallen against a flue or chimney. If you are re-roofing your house, ensure that the proper fittings are replaced on the flue to protect it from coming into contact with the roof construction and to protect it from water damage. If the flue is a sidewall-type, ensure that no materials are placed against or close to the termination of the flue to prevent any hot gases from causing a fire.

Maintaining separation from attached garage to house

The wall between a house and attached garage is required to be constructed as an airtight barrier to help prevent exhaust fumes from getting into the house. Any time you put a hole through the wall for any purpose, those holes need to be sealed. The door to the garage is required to be provided with an automatic closer and weather-stripping to contribute to the airtight barrier. If damaged, both the automatic closer and weather-stripping need to be maintained and replaced to keep this barrier effective.

Gas leaks

Gas leaks in your home are usually the result of poorly installed, badly maintained or faulty gas appliances. The most obvious sign of a leak is the smell of gas in your home. A pungent, rotten egg odour is added to natural gas so it can be detected in the case of a leak. There are also particular physical symptoms you may suffer from if there is a leak. If you are feeling lightheaded, ill, dizzy or nauseous you should go outside immediately. If the symptoms go away in the fresh air you could be feeling the effects of a gas leak or carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • If you smell gas inside your home leave the building immediately, leave lights and appliances alone and call ATCO Gas or 911 once you are outside.   
  • If you smell gas outside a building call ATCO Gas or 911 immediately, keep people away from the area and do not smoke or light any flames.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless, tasteless, colourless and poisonous gas. Exposure to high amounts of CO gas can lead to becoming unconscious, brain damage and possibly even death. Symptoms like headaches, nausea, dizziness, disorientation, fatigue and loss of consciousness are warning signs that you might have CO gas in your house.

  • If you or anyone in your house experiences the symptoms of CO poisoning or our CO alarm goes off, you should leave your house and call 911. Do not go back into the house until the Calgary Fire Department tells you it is safe to do so.

Click here for more information on carbon monoxide safety from the Calgary Fire Department

Sewer gas

Although toxic, the overwhelming stench of sewer gas will likely have you vacating the premises long before the concentration of toxicity becomes dangerous. The most pungent smell in sewer gas is ammonia. Sewer gas leaks caused by cracked drain pipes are often accompanied by water, so any new water leaks may be an indicator of sewer gases also being present in your home. Plumbing fixtures like floor drains, toilets and sinks have traps. If traps become dried out, water seals can be broken, allowing sewer gases to escape.

A floor drain that remains inactive for a period of time can dry up faster than you may think. Replenishing floor drain traps periodically can help to avoid breaking of the water seal. Try adding half a cup of mineral oil to the water in your floor drain trap. The oil will not evaporate as fast as the water and the trap will remain wet longer. This is especially helpful for seasonal properties.

Finding a leak can be difficult. You can take a quick look around your house for any obvious leaks. If the sewer gas is close enough to the furnace or air conditioner, the air exchanger may just be spreading the stench around, making it nearly impossible to locate its origin. Calling a professional may be the best option when having difficulty finding a sewer gas leak.

Sewer backup

Sewer backups can be caused by issues such as overloading due to weather events, clogged piping, broken or collapsed sewer lines, blockages due to tree roots, and sump pump malfunctions. Unlike other water damage issues that are caused by leaking waterlines or rainwater getting into your home, sewer water can do a great deal of damage and be hazardous to your health. It can lead to mould growth and damage, and the bacteria from the sewage will contaminate anything it comes in contact with.

To help prevent sewer backups:

  • Maintain your drains by performing regular maintenance and avoid pouring potentially harmful substances down the drain, like grease.
  • Get your sump pump serviced regularly by a professional to make sure it is running efficiently.
  • Install a backwater valve on below grade fixtures to help eliminate costly water damage.

Dealing with sewer backup:

  • Do not go into the affected areas, as they are contaminated and pose a risk to you and your family. Contact your insurance company. They will open a claim and can provide you with a list of recommended basement flooding cleanup companies.
  • If your natural gas appliances are affected by sewage back up, contact ATCO Gas.
  • If your household electrical installation or appliances are affected by sewage backup, contact ENMAX.

If you believe the blockage is on City of Calgary property, please contact 311.

Polybutylene piping (Poly-B)

Polybutylene piping (Poly-B) is plastic supply plumbing material that was installed in homes between 1978 and 1995. You can identify if you have Poly-B piping by its light grey color and the permanent markings on the tubing. The vast majority of Poly-B related issues were reported in the United States with few cases being reported in Canada. It’s not necessary to replace Poly-B piping in your home if you haven’t had any problems.

Tips for prolonging the life of your Poly-B piping:

  • Check all visible joints for leaks or cracks. Consider changing plastic fittings to copper or brass.
  • Keep your home’s water pressure between 40 and 60 psi to reduce pressure and stress on the pipes and fittings.
  • If you live in an area with very high chlorine levels, consider installing a water filter close to where the water enters the home.
  • If your Poly-B only distributes hot and cold water throughout the house, ensure your hot water tank is set to below 82 degrees Celsius.
  • Ensure no Poly-B pipe is connected directly to a hot water heater.

Click here for more information on Polybutylene piping from the Government of Alberta

Galvanized steel waterline piping

Galvanized steel waterline piping was commonly installed in homes prior to 1960. Galvanized piping can be identified by its silver/grey colour and the presence threaded fittings at the joints. Over time, galvanized waterline piping corrodes from the inside out, resulting in reduced water pressure, restricted water flow and an increased risk of leaks leading to potential flood damage. Galvanized piping has also been found to accumulate lead that has leeched into the water from the old lead service lines (no longer in use) as the galvanized plumbing corrodes and releases this built up lead back into the water.

Signs of failing galvanized steel waterline piping:

  • Rust around your pipe joints and pitted rust spots on your pipes.
  • Brownish water coming out of your pipes.
  • Lower-than-usual water.

Water leaks in your plumbing system

Water leaks in your plumbing system can cause serious issues, both immediately after the damage occurs and over time. From floods to leaky faucets, water leaks can cause major health and safety issues and in such should be treated as quickly as possible.

Dealing with leaks in your plumbing system:

  • Stop the flow of water. If the flooding has been caused by a burst pipe, shut off the main water line for your home. If the leaks are found at a fixture or appliance you may be able to shut off the valve serving the affected fixture or appliance to isolate it from the rest of the system.
  • Get rid of standing water as soon as possible. The longer the water sits, the more damage it will cause.
  • Dry out the area immediately. Opening windows and using fans can help to remove moisture. Use fans to remove moisture only if mould has not started growing, as fans can spread mould spores to other areas.

Mould can be visible, but it can also grow in air ducts, crawlspaces, rafters and between walls. If you can’t see any mould, but you detect a noticeable musty earth smell, you most likely have mould growth that you can’t see.

Click here for more information on cleaning up after major leaks or flooding from Alberta Health Services

Electrical systems

Here’s what you need to know about the key electrical system components in your home and important tips to keep in mind.

Electrical panel

You should know where your electrical panel is and how to turn breakers on, off and how to reset. A tripped breaker handle will be in the middle position. To reset a tripped breaker, first turn to the off position, then to the on position.

Due to types of loads in the home like heat loads or motor loads, you might trip a breaker. If this happens too often or the breaker will not reset, please contact a City of Calgary licensed residential electrical contractor.

Keep one metre of clear space in front of the electrical panel and do not use for storage.

Electrical life saving devices

Know the location and ensure you have the instruction manuals for smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) and ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI). GFCI and AFCI can be a breaker, outlet or a blank face. These devices should be tested monthly by pressing the test button on each device.

Smoke, carbon monoxide or combination smoke/carbon monoxide alarms will be at multiple locations throughout each floor and will be interconnected.

Smoke and smoke/carbon monoxide alarms have a battery back-up. The batteries should be replaced twice a year or as often as recommended by the manufacturer, and will beep when new batteries are required. Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years and carbon monoxide alarms should be replaced every five years or as indicated on the alarm.

GFCI protected circuits include:

  • Outlets located within 1.5 m of sinks, showers and bathtubs. 
  • Outdoor outlets within 2.5 m of finished grade. 
  • Switches located within 1 m of showers and bathtubs. 
  • Hot tubs and jetted bathtubs.

AFCI protected circuits include every outlet inside and outside the home and garage, with the exception of the kitchen fridge, kitchen counter, kitchen island, kitchen peninsula and sump pump receptacles.

If the AFCI or GFCI appear to trip frequently, a common reason can be faulty cords or equipment.

Light fixtures

Never exceed the manufacturer’s specified wattage or lamp type.

Furnace

Know where the disconnect switch or breaker is located. If it is a breaker it will be located on the electrical panel, if it is a switch it will be located between the furnace and the entrance and will be marked.

For more information on electrical work, visit calgary.ca/electricalpermits.

Plumbing and gas systems

Here’s what you need to know about the key plumbing and gas system components in your home and the role they play.

Exterior

Outside hose bib or tap

Outside hose bib or tap

The outside taps or hose bibs are usually located on the front and back of the house and are equipped with a vacuum breaker or anti-siphon device. There are several makes and models but they all have the same general use. There are threads to connect a garden hose that will provide cold hard water for outdoor use. Inside the house, there will be an additional shut off referred to as a stop and drain. This can be in the furnace room or on the pipe just prior to leaving the building.  

Q. Does the hose bib require annual maintenance?

A. Yes. In the fall, the interior shut off should be turned off and the small drain on the side opened to remove the water from the outside tap. Otherwise, it may freeze and cause damage to tap or piping.

Q. Can I leave my hose attached to the tap all winter?

A. It is recommended that the hose be removed during the winter months to help prevent freezing of the tap and piping.

Q. There appears to be a small amount of water leaking when I turn the water on and off. Is that ok?

A. Yes. Every outside tap comes with a vacuum breaker where the hose is connected and will release a small amount of water when the tap is turned on or off. This prevents water from being siphoned back into the home in the event of a negative pressure. The vacuum breaker is a code requirement and cannot be removed.

Gas meter

gas meter

The gas meter is located on the outside of the house and has specific requirements with regards to clearance to building openings and the ground. This should never be altered and only be serviced by a qualified person or the gas provider.

Q. I smell gas once in a while when I walk past my gas meter. Is this a concern?

A. No, it is normal for the meters service regulator to expel small amounts of gas if there is an over pressurization on the line.

Q. How far away should I store my barbeque from the gas meter?

A. The gas service regulator requires three feet from any source of ignition, including barbeques and heaters.

Q. Can I enclose the meter under a deck or garden storage?

A. No, the meter and service regulator must be open to atmosphere and be accessible for servicing.

Furnace vent terminations

Furnace vent terminations

There are several different types of vent terminations available. It all depends on the manufacture’s requirements and installation instructions. The furnace and hot water heater will usually be in the same general location. The pipes can be in a number of configurations, depending on the number and type of gas appliances.

Q. Can I paint the terminations?

A. Generally it is not recommended by the manufacturer to paint the piping, as the pipe may have a negative reaction to some paints.

Q. I get a large build up of ice from the furnace exhaust in the winter. Is this normal?

A. This is normal in the standard operation of the furnace, as they create large amounts of condensate. If the furnace will not start up when it is cold, ice build up would be one of the first things to check for on the outside termination. If the problem continues, a qualified service technician may be required to troubleshoot the problem.

Q. Can I put something in the end of the vents to prevent small animals from entering the pipes?

A. The only screens that can be installed in the terminations are ones provided by the manufacturer. Some do not allow the installation of any screens that may restrict the flow of flue gases. Refer to the instruction manual provided.

Interior

Basement

Main water shut off

Main water shut off

One of the most important parts of the plumbing system is the main water shut off. Knowing the location and how to use it is very important. Most main shut offs are in the furnace room but can be located just about anywhere in the basement as long as they have proper access. All new homes will come with a water meter to measure the amount of water used.

Q. Where is my water main shut off located?

A. The shut off is generally located in the furnace room. If you have difficulty finding it, trace the cold waterline back from the water heater to the plumbing main, as it will remain full size all the way and should be easier to locate.

Q. Am I required to have a water meter on my service?

A. All new homes are required to have a water meter immediately downstream of the main shut off.

Clean outs and backflow protection

Where the main sewer enters the building, a main clean out will be installed as close as practical to the footing under the concrete. The base of each plumbing pipe in the basement will have a cleanout to service it. It’s important to know the locations of these cleanouts, in the event one of the drains requires cleaning due to blockage.

Alberta’s plumbing code requires that any fixture below grade must be protected from sewer back up from the street. This includes floor drains and basement bathroom fixtures. There are a few ways of achieving this. A full port backwater valve can be installed on the main sewer as it leaves the building, or individual backwater valves can be installed on each branch servicing a group of fixtures. Either way is acceptable under the plumbing code.

Full port backwater valve

Back water valve to service a branch to plumbing fixtures

Q. Do the backwater valves require any type of servicing?

A. The full port backwater valve requires servicing on an annual basis to ensure it is in proper working order. Most backwater valves have a clear lid so a visual inspection can be done. The backwater valves on the branches do not require annual servicing.

Q. If I want to develop my basement, am I allowed to cover the access covers for the backwater valve?

A. If the backwater valve is in a room being developed, covering it is acceptable as long as the owner is aware of the location of the backwater valve in the event of an emergency.

Mechanical room

The mechanical room is generally where the furnace and water heater are located in the home. Depending on the size of the house, there can be more than one furnace. All new homes will have high-efficient furnaces that vent out the side of the building. In some installations, they can go through the roof. There are several different manufacturers, all with different installation and maintenance requirements. The best thing to do is read the owner’s manual to find the requirements specific to your furnace. There’s usually a trouble section you can review for basic diagnosing. If the furnace has a humidifier, it will require some maintenance as well.  

furnace

All gas appliances in the home will have an appliance shut off or gas cock. It’s important for a homeowner to know the locations of these shut offs in the event of trouble. Generally, it will be located on the piping before it connects to the appliance.

Q. How often should I change my furnace filter?

A. This can depend on a few things like if you have pets, time of year and more. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended the filters be changed with the seasons. The filter itself should be checked on a monthly basis for condition and cleanliness.

Q. I am getting moisture on my window in the winter. What causes this?

A. This is usually caused when the humidistat for the humidifier is set too high. There will be recommended settings on the unit depending on the time of year and outside temperature.

Hot water heater

The hot water heater will generally be located in the same area as the furnace and has similar venting requirements as the furnace. Gas, electric and even solar energy can be used to heat the water for the home. The two most common heaters are natural gas and electric. They are the most cost-effective to install and service. The heater must have a shut off located above the unit in the event of a failure.   

Another heater that’s becoming popular is the On Demand water heater. It works on the principal of only firing when hot water is required at a fixture or tap. There is no storage tank, allowing the heater to be installed on a wall, reducing the amount of space required. Although these units have a higher initial cost to install, they do have a lower operating cost in the long run.

Q. I’m not getting any hot water to my tap or shower. What should I do?

A. First, make sure the electronic igniter on the gas furnace is actually working. There is a viewing port on the front of the water heater to see if it’s glowing hot. Make sure the gas shut off is turned to the “on” position. There is a temperature setting on the heater; check to see if it’s set to the appropriate heat setting. It is recommended that a qualified person complete any service to the gas controls or the heater’s components.

Q. What maintenance is required for the water heater?

A. A visual inspection on the water heater for rust and deterioration generally indicates sometime type of leak and should be attended to. Drain your water heater annually to help prevent build up of scale inside the heater. 

Floor drain

Alberta Building Code require all homes to have a floor drain located on the lowest level of the house. It will be located close to the furnace and water heater, to capture the condensate produced. It’s important to keep the drain accessible and free from household items that may reduce its ability to capture water collecting on the floor. Any plumbing fixture below grade is required to be protected from backflow - including floor drains. There are a few different methods to achieve this, but the results are basically the same. If the main sewer backs up, the backwater valve is designed to prevent sewage from entering the house. It’s important to know where they are located. They can be found under access covers incorporated in the concrete floor.

Q. Why is there an odor coming from my floor drain?

A. The floor drain relies on water to provide a trap seal. If the water has evaporated due to lack of use, sewer gas can potentially enter the house. The best thing to do is pour a bucket of water down the drain and watch to make sure you can see the water surface in the pipe.

Fireplace

Many new homes come with gas fireplaces, usually located on the main floor living area. Fireplaces come in many different shapes and sizes and all have specific installation requirements. These requirements will have been previously inspected to ensure proper installation. Being a gas appliance, the requirements are the same with regards to appliance shut offs and safety. A qualified person is required to service the unit.  

Q. If there is a problem with the fireplace, where can I find the shut off?

A. Generally the shut off is located at the base of the unit behind a fold down grill, although some manufacturers have a different access point for the shut off.

Q. Is it common for the front glass to get very hot?

A. If the fireplace is being used for any period of time, the glass will get very hot and can cause burns if you touch the glass.

Q. Why was there an odd smell when I first started up the fireplace?

A. On the initial start up, the fireplace will burn off the oil residue on the firebox and venting. This is a common occurrence.

Q. The glass on my fireplace is dirty on the inside. Is this normal?

A. Yes, the yellow flame created to give your fireplace a true wood burning effect will cause a build-up of soot on the inside of the glass. The installation manual will have complete instructions on the glass removal and cleaning.   

Kitchen and dishwasher

The kitchen sink and dishwasher tend to be the most used plumbing appliances in the house and can require the most maintenance. Under the sink, you will see hot and cold waterlines connected to the tap and a hot waterline connecting the dishwasher. The dishwasher will connect to the drain below the sink using a flexible hose. If a garburator is installed, it will be connect to the bottom of the sink and then run through the P trap.   

Q. When using the garburator, how long should I let the water run after switching it off?

A. Generally, that depends on the type of material you’re putting in the garburator. A rule of thumb is five to ten seconds to ensure the material is carried through the drain.

Q. What is the little chrome cylinder located at the shut off for?

A. These cylinders are water hammer arrestors. You will also find them on the laundry box that the clothes washer is connecting to. They are designed to absorb the hammering affect water can have when turned off suddenly by the solenoid valve.

Q. If the sink starts draining slowly, can I fix that myself?

A. The P trap under the sink can be disassembled for cleaning. There are threaded unions to service the drain.

Laundry

The laundry can be located on any floor in the house; it depends on the design and floor plan. The connections are a standard hose thread. The hoses themselves usually come with the washing machine along with the drain hose. The taps are colour-coded for hot and cold to assist in proper connection. There are several different makes and models; the one common element on all of them will be the water hammer arrestors that are required by the National Plumbing Code of Canada. There will be an opening beside the taps for the drain hose to insert. It’s important to make sure the drain is secure in the box, as it’s a simple friction fix in the opening.

Q. If the laundry is located on the main or second floor and I get a leak, will it damage my house?

A. There may be an emergency drain located on the floor under the washing machine to try to help lessen any damages. The emergency drain is designed to discharge to a safe location - usually to the basement close to the floor drain.

Bathrooms

There are literally hundreds of options and choices when it comes to bathroom design. It usually depends on the budget and space. No matter how creative a bathroom design is, there are basic components that all bathrooms must have to meet code requirements.  As a homeowner, it’s important to be aware of these components.  

Every toilet is required to have a shut off for servicing. It’s usually located on the floor or wall behind the toilet. There are a few different styles but they all have the same function and work basically the same way. All toilets are required to have a maximum water usage of six litres per flush.

Basins come in many different sizes and shapes. Some are mounted on top of the counter and some are mounted under the counter, but like all plumbing fixtures installed in a home, they must meet certain standards. The connections to the basin will include hot and cold water and drain with a P trap. Shut offs are not mandatory on the water supplies to the basin like they are for a toilet, but it’s a good idea for servicing. The P trap is there to keep sewer gas from entering the house by maintaining a water seal.

There can be a number of different types of bathtubs installed, including soaker, jetted or a tub shower combination unit. No matter what style you have, there must be a method of tempering the water discharged in the tub to a maximum temperature of 49°C to prevent scalding. This can be achieved by a number of different ways. Shower valves will have a built-in temperature stop to help prevent burn. A soaker tub or jetted tub will have a mixing valve usually located in the bathroom somewhere. This valve mixes hot and cold water before it’s delivered to the tub spout. There are a variety of makes and models, but all are required to maintain a maximum water temperature.

Mixing valve

Q. I see water condensing on my toilet tank. Is this ok?

A. It’s not uncommon to see condensate on the tank because of the cold water entering the tank. If water is pooling on the floor beside the toilet, it may require further investigation as to the source.

Q. What can I flush down the toilet?

A. The toilet is designed to flush toilet paper and human waste. The things not to flush down are dental floss, paper towels, diapers or pretty much anything that doesn’t break down.

Q. If there are no shut offs under the sink, how do I service the tap?

A. The only way to service the tap would be to shut off the main water supply for the house.

Q. My basin is draining slowly. Is there a way to clean the P trap?

A. The P trap under sink can be dissembled for cleaning. Over time, hair and soap will accumulate in the drain and will require periodic cleaning.

Q. I can’t get my shower hot enough. Is there something wrong?

A. The shower valve is set from factory to meet the temperature requirements under the code. It’s not recommended to be adjusted by anyone other than a qualified service technician. The same would apply to the mixing valve for the soaker tub. Making an improper adjustment can result in scalding.

Sumps

On occasion, there is a requirement for a sump in a home for removing ground water or sewage. The ground water sump is referred to as a storm sump. Depending on the water table, a storm sump may be installed to prevent ground water accumulation under a concrete floor. The discharge from the storm sump is usually to a location outside and sloped away from the house. A sump that carries sewage is referred to a sanitary sump. The sanitary sump will carry sewage from any plumbing fixture in the house that cannot drain by gravity to the City sewer. It will be tied into the homes drainage system and then drain by gravity to the City main. Both of these sumps require a certain level of maintenance, so having them located in an area that allows for this is important.  

Q. How do I know if my sump is working properly?

A. A quick inspection of the sump should be done on a monthly basis. If the sanitary sump fails, the indications are usually the plumbing fixtures draining into the sump will not drain. Check the power supply; if the power supply is fine, the lid may have to be removed to service the pump. Keep in mind, this is a sealed lid and must be re-installed in the same manner. A failure on the storm sump will be evident when water starts appearing on the concrete floor. The procedure for servicing is similar to the sewage sump with the exception of a sealed lid.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​