Maintaining the safety of your house is an important part of home ownership. Here are a few key elements of home maintenance.
- 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).
Here’s what you need to know about the key electrical system components in your home and important tips to keep in mind.
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.
Never exceed the manufacturer’s specified wattage or lamp type.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.