2 Simple Areas to Check in your Furnace

Sometimes owning a home can be awesome and exciting, such as sitting outside in the summer and enjoying a lazy sunny afternoon. And sometimes, it can be boring, like home maintenance. But you know what isn’t boring? Not having to replace big ticket items because you listened to your friendly neighbourhood home inspector and spent a little time taking care of your castle. And your furnace is one of those big ticket items.

If you live in Canada you need to take care of your furnace. Most homeowners know to change the filter in their furnace, and if you’re not up to date on that – do it now. But that filter isn’t there to protect your lungs (as much as the HEPA marketers want you to think it is). It’s there to protect the blower motor. So make sure the filter is clean because that 2 a.m. phone call in January to the furnace repair shop can be an expensive call!

When I'm doing a home inspection, I tell my clients that there are 2 things that they can do to assess the status of their furnace (assuming they’ve already replaced the filter). The first thing is to look at the flame in the burner, and the second is to check air flow.

Take the main cover panel off and look to see the flame (some furnaces have a view hole so you don’t have to remove anything). You want it to be clear blue. The more orange and yellow you see, the less efficient it is. It’ll still heat your home, but it’s like lighting a campfire with a flickering match; you can do it, but you’ll burn half a dozen matches. An inefficient furnace will still heat your home, but it’ll burn through more fuel to do it. If you have a mid-efficiency furnace and you're seeing 50% of the flame is yellor/orange, call a technicial. If you have a high efficiency furnace and you see more than 25% of the flame is orange/yellow, call a technician.

The second thing you can do is ensure you have proper airflow throughout your home. Go to the heat registers and check for airflow. If it’s limited, and your filter is clean, then the blower motor may need servicing. Or you may need to keep your children from putting their toys down the heat register (I can't tell you how much Lego I've pulled out of my heat registers!).

Having an inefficient burner or blower motor doesn’t necessarily mean you have to replace the whole furnace. Sometimes servicing from a qualified technician will buy you many more years of furnace life.  So after you’ve replaced your filter, check those 2 things. If one or both of them aren’t up to expectations, have a reputable technician come and check it.

This entry was posted on March 29, 2017

Spring into Savings!

With all this talk lately about daylight savings and what are we really saving and who’s benefitting, I’ve starting thinking more about what I can do to save.  Because as much as I love to shop and spend, I also love to not spend money on utilities!  And if you’re reading this blog post, you can probably relate. So while the politicians talk about saving daylight, let’s talk about saving money!

First up, LED lighting. Just do it!  They cost a lot more up front, no doubt about that, but in the long run they are worth it.  These bulbs are going to last longer than most of us will live in our houses. Not only are you going to save on the cost of replacing light bulbs, you’re going to save up to 90% of the cost of electricity while using the bulbs. And if you live in Alberta, wait a few weeks and the provincial government will be handing out free LED bulbs anyway, so no up front cost! Not that it’ll do me any good as I’ve already switched all my bulbs, but it’s a something to take advantage of if you haven’t made the switch yet.

 Next up, your fridge. Why? Because in the case of your fridge, disorganization is costing you money. I know you really want to keep that quiche from last month, because, hey, it was tasty and maybe you’ll finish it right?  First, its quiche-toss it. Second, the more stuff you have in your fridge, the harder your fridge has to work to keep everything cold. More items means less air flow; less air flow means your compressor has to work harder. Same thing for your freezer. So if you have to move a whole bunch of leftovers around to see what’s in the bottom or back, then it’s time to clean that fridge out and starting saving some money.

And finally, power bars…buy some. Sometimes you just have to spend money to save money. In our culture, most homes can easily have a couple dozen electronic devices – double that if you have teenagers (maybe that’s an exaggeration, but go with it). Most of those devices, such as computers and printers, are using phantom power even when they’re not in use. Plug a bunch of them into a power bar and flip the switch to off.

3 small steps that may seem small, but we often nickel and dime our finances into a mess, so let’s nickel and dime them back into good health, starting with our power consumption.

This entry was posted on March 28, 2017

Drop Those Gutter Extensions!

This post is going to be quick and simple and if you own a home you need to listen up!

One of the more common things I see when doing home inspections is gutter down spouts that are dropping water right beside the foundation of the house. If you have a steep, gravel slope where the water drops, then you probably won’t have a problem as the water will run off right away. But most houses don’t, which is why those downspouts have extensions added to them.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many homes where those extensions have been raised up and aren’t being used. I understand people raise them up so they’re not a trip hazard. But I’m pretty sure most people aren’t using their backyards right now, so those extensions should be dropped down. There’s a lot snow melting off your roof and all that water is either going to soak into the ground beside your foundation…or your extension is going to direct it away. You'd be amazed how much water comes running off your roof over the course of a spring!

Even after your roof is free of snow, leave those extensions down. In the part of the Edmonton area where I live, we’ve been having snow at night and melting during the day, so leave those extensions down to get that water away! Your home will thank you and your basement has a much better chance of staying dry!

This entry was posted on March 20, 2017

4 Simple Steps to Lowering Your Heating Bill!

Happy New Year!  I hope that all who are reading this are having a blessed start to their 2017.  A new year always brings new hopes, new challenges and the desire to take control of the year and make it the best we can.  While we can do that with most areas in our lives, there are always going to be some things that are beyond our control…like taxes…in particular carbon taxes. For those of us in Alberta, 2017 brings us into the era of the new Carbon Tax. We all have our own views on the merits of the carbon tax, but I’m not interested in getting into that. The reality is that for homeowners, expenses will go up in 2017.  Energy will cost more, so for the sake of both the environment and our pocket books, it’s in our best interests to find ways to reduce our energy costs.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be posting some tips on ways that we can make our homes more efficient. Whether you own or rent, if you’re paying your gas and power bill, there will be something for you. I’ll cover such topics as energy efficient lighting, Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRV’s) and water heating efficiency.

Today’s post focuses on preserving heat in our homes. About half of our energy costs go to heating and cooling our homes, but if you were in the Edmonton area a couple weeks back when it was pushing -30 at night then you know we’re putting a LOT of money into heat! So here 4 things you can do to lower your heating costs.

1. Seal off drafts: This is simple and it’s a no-brainer. If you have a draft coming in, you have heat going out. Take a candle around your home, hold it up to various places and look to see if the smoke dances.  If it does, you’re losing heat. Here are the most common places to look for drafts:
    -around doors and windows
    -around your attic hatch: in many homes I’ve inspected, the attic hatch doesn’t sit evenly on the trim which creates a gap
    -where the main floor wall frames sit on the concrete foundation: any unevenness along the top of the concrete creates a gap for warm air to escape
    -openings in the walls for fan exhausts (bathroom and kitchen)
    -electrical outlets on exterior walls
If you find a draft around a door, window, along the top of the concrete foundation or an opening in the wall, use an expanding foam to seal the gap. If you’re losing heat through your attic hatch, install weather-stripping around the edge to create a seal.

2.  Upgrade to a programmable thermostat: It doesn’t make sense to heat your home when no one’s in it.  In reality, when no one’s home, the house only needs to be warm enough to keep the water pipes from freezing – although that would make for a chilly homecoming at the end of the day! If you have a programmable thermostat, you can set it to your normal daily schedule so that the house is cooler when you’re at work or sleeping. Then it will automatically start warming the house so that when you return from work or are getting up in the morning it’s a comfortable temperature.

In most homes, about 5% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least eight hours each day. Let’s say you like your home at 22° C, but drop it to 16° C for 10 hours when you’re working/commuting and another 6 hours at night, that’s 16 hours/day that you’re dropping the temperature. That’s a 6 degree decrease for a savings of 30% for every 8 hours. In this situation, you’d be saving 30% of your heating bill for those 16 hours each work day! That makes the cost of the new thermostat a lot more attractive!

3. Close your curtains when the sun goes down: When the sun goes down and our lights go on, most people will want the curtains closed for privacy, anyway. But in rooms that aren’t often used, window coverings are often left open. Closing those coverings traps the cold from the window between the covering and the window and keeps it from coming into the home. This puts less pressure on the furnace to heat the home, which saves you money.

4. Increase your attic insulation: As a general rule, a house will lose 25% of its heat through the walls, another 25% through the floor/ground and the remaining 50% through the roof. So even though increasing the insulation in your attic may seem expensive, the savings can really add up. This is especially true if you live in a home older than 30 years and the attic insulation has never been increased. I’ve inspected many homes from the 50’s that still have 3-4 inches of wood shavings in the attic as insulation. A normal duvet cover would provide better insulation!  I’d recommend that if you have less than 10 inches of insulation (of any kind other than closed cell spray foam) in your attic, then you’ll notice a difference in your heating bill by adding more.

Taking care of these 4 details can really help to take a bite out of those heating costs this winter and make that dreaded carbon tax not such a big deal.

This entry was posted on January 26, 2017

How to Maintain your Backflow Valve

Have you ever wondered what happens in your home when the city sewer system overloads and starts to back up? Ever wondered what protects your home from a sewage disaster?

I would be willing to bet that the majority of people reading this are unaware of the little piece of plastic that’s protecting them from just such a disaster. It’s a backflow valve installed under your basement floor and has been recommended in Edmonton homes since the early 90’s. If your home was built prior to 1990 it’s likely that you don’t have one unless either you or a previous owner had one installed.

The reality is that unless you’re a plumber, an insurance agent or a builder, you’re not likely aware of how important that little piece of plastic is. And more importantly, you may not be aware that you need to maintain that piece of plastic or your insurance won’t cover you in case of a sewer back up. That’s right – even if you have a backflow valve installed in your home, if you haven’t done basic maintenance on it, your insurance won’t likely cover you. I suggest double checking with your insurance provider on that!

Here's a simple diagram to show how a backflow valve works:

Backwater valve diagram

But there’s good news…maintaining a backflow valve is one of the easiest tasks to do in your home. Follow these easy steps to check it and you can rest assured that it’ll be in good working order if it’s called upon to protect you.

1. Locate the cover panel: Here’s a picture of what the cover panel looks like. Most of the homes that I’ve inspected that have been built since the 90’s have a cover just like this one. The problem with many homes is that the cover panel may be covered with flooring. If your basement is carpeted, then you should be able to feel it. It’s most likely near the basement wall nearest to the street, or in the utility area near the floor drain or sump pump. If you have a solid surface such as laminate or tile, it will be difficult to find.

Backflow valve access panel

2. Remove the cover. Once you’ve removed the screws and lifted the cover you’ll either see the backflow valve unit…or you’ll see dirt. Some builders covered the valve unit with dirt to protect it during the construction process. Once you’ve removed the dirt, you don’t need to put it back in.

3. Remove the cap. Once the access cover is removed, you’ll see a black plastic (ABS) drain pipe. It will have a 4-inch circular cap. They’re usually pretty tight, so you may need a wrench to unscrew it (counter clockwise).

Backflow valve unit

4. Check the gate. Find and lift the gate to ensure that it closes completely and you’re done! Screw the cap back on (tight!) and put the access cover back on.

valve gate

This simple process should be done on an annual basis. You can do it while you’re draining your water heater and testing your sump pump. Those procedures can be found on my blogs from December 24/15 and July 11/16 respectively. For a good video on backflow valves check out this link to a video posted by a plumbing company in Toronto. And by all means, if you have any questions, please feel free to call Fortified Home Inspections at 780-919-9464!

This entry was posted on September 08, 2016

Do I Need to Maintain my Humidifier?

One of the more common questions I get during a home inspection is “How does my humidifier work?” which is closely followed by “Do I have to do anything to maintain it?”

The humidifiers that are attached to modern furnaces in the Edmonton area are pretty simple appliances. They are attached to the cold air return side of the furnace which allows some of the air to pass through them before going back into the heat distribution system.  You’ll notice an attached hose that brings in water from the cold water supply, which supplies the moisture.

There are two standard types of humidifiers: Drum type and Trickle type (also called a Flow Through Humidifier).  A Drum type humidifier has a pan of water that an evaporator pad rotates through. With a Trickle type, water is dropped from above onto the evaporator pad and trickles down to soak the whole pad.

Drum type humidifier diagram   Trickly type humidifier diagram

When air passes through the humidifier, it flows across the evaporator pad which is a fancy way of saying it passes over a wet pad. The pad is already moist from the water supply.  Moisture from the pad is drawn into the air and passed throughout the house, and there you have it…the air in your home becomes more humid.

The nice thing about them is that there’s very little that a homeowner needs to do to maintain their humidifier.  The evaporator pad should be checked once a year, cleaned and changed if necessary and that’s about it. If you don’t clean the pad, then sediment that’s in our water will eventually build up and cover the pad to the point that air won’t be able to pass through it. At that point the humidifier is no longer functioning properly and will need to be replaced. Worse yet, some of that crusty sediment could be circulated through the furnace blower and into the home.  So cleaning or changing it before it gets to that point is important…and fortunately, it’s quite simple.

Once you take the cover off, which is usually either a screw on the side or a clip on top, you’ll see the wet (or crusty if it hasn’t been changed in a while) evaporator pad. For a Trickle type, the pad slides out and then back in again quite easily. For a Drum type, lift the drum off of its support and slide the pad off. It goes back in the same way it came out. Replace the cover and you’re done. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t know what kind of evaporator pad to buy, just take the old one to your local hardware store and they can help you find the proper one.

If you are planning on adding or replacing a humidifier and are wondering what style to get, I recommend getting a Trickle type humidifier. They may cost a bit more than a Drum type, but because they don’t have standing water in a pan, there is less risk of mould growing or other issues related to standing water.

Checking the evaporator pad on an annual basis is a simple and inexpensive way to extend the life and efficiency of your humidifier and will go a long way to improving the comfort level in your home.

This entry was posted on September 08, 2016

Do I Need a Permit for Renovations?

This post is going to take a slightly different approach. Instead of giving thoughts or tips on maintaining your home, I’ve chosen to dedicate this post to educating and encouraging homeowners about the need for getting proper development permits before doing home renovations.

In some of the home inspections I’ve been performing lately I’ve seen a few renovations that were not done properly, and I can’t find a permit sticker anywhere. If you’re going to do some renovations to your home, please remember that in many cases, you need to get a permit from your municipality first. Here are a few guidelines to help you with this process and at the end I’ll give you the links to point you in the right direction.

According to the Alberta Safety Codes Act, an Electrical, Plumbing or Gas permit is required whenever electrical, plumbing and gas systems are installed, altered or relocated.

If you’re replacing the faucet in your kitchen sink, no permit required. If you’re going to move the kitchen sink a couple feet down the counter, you need a permit. That’s because to move the kitchen sink you either need to add or remove new supply and drain pipes to get to the new location.

If you’re replacing a light fixture, no permit is needed. If you’re going to move the fixture to a new location and run new electrical wires, then a permit is needed.

Replacing deck boards? No permit required. Building a new deck? A permit may be required depending on the size and height of the deck.

But most people will say “I know how to do this, why do I need a permit?” The answer is simple; it’s for your protection.  Building codes are updated on a regular basis based on new safety standards. When you apply for a permit, the city sends out an inspector to make sure that your work is done to the newest safety codes. This protects you, your family and your investment.

You also need to have your work approved by a building code inspector to protect you from potential legal issues. What if you do some electrical work yourself, and make a mistake, and that mistake burns down your home…and damages your neighbours home? How do you think your insurance company is going to respond when they find out you did some electrical work yourself without a permit and didn’t have it inspected?

Applying for the proper permits is a necessary step in doing renovations to your home. If you’re hiring a contractor, make sure they get the proper permits. If they say that permits are a waste of time or money, walk away. No decent contractor would be afraid to have their work inspected.  Why spend thousands of dollars on a new kitchen, then try to save a couple hundred on a permit when that permit is there to protect you?  It’s not a risk anyone should take.

The best thing to do is contact your local municipality, describe to them the work you’re considering, and ask which permits are required.

Depending on the municipality where you live, the permitting process can vary, so here are some links to the various municipalities in Edmonton and the surrounding area:

Residential permits

Strathcona County:
Residential permitting

St. Albert:
Building & Development Permits

Leduc County:
Development process/permits

Parkland County:
Building Permits

Fort Saskatchewan:
Permits & Services

This entry was posted on August 15, 2016

3 Easy Steps to Test your Sump Pump

With all the rain we’ve been having in the Edmonton area lately, our lawns are looking greener, our flowers are looking brighter and the skies are looking a little less sunny.  But have you ever wondered what happens to all that water that’s landing right beside your house and soaking into the ground?  Most people don’t give it a second thought as they assume that their house was built to withstand rain (and melting snow, too – but let’s not talk about snow in July!).   And in most cases that’s true…until it isn’t, and you have a mess in your basement.  And when the water starts rising in your basement, that’s when you think to yourself “Shouldn’t the builder have installed something in my house to protect me from this?”

Well, guess what? They did! Sump pumps became mandatory in Edmonton new home builds in 1988.  Some homes built prior to 1988 had sump pumps installed if the builder or the owner wanted it done, but it wasn’t a requirement.

First, it helps to understand how the sump pump works. Around the foundation of a house is weeping tile, which actually isn’t tile at all.  It’s a pipe with holes drilled into the top. Rainwater seeps down through the ground, through the holes in the pipe and is directed by the pipe into a sump basin. The sump basin is a hole in your basement floor and it’s the lowest point in your house. At the bottom of the basin is a pump which pumps the water out of the basin and discharges it outside your home.

Most pumps are fairly quiet, especially since they’re submerged in water. You’ll likely never hear it running unless you’re in the room when it turns on. It’s also usually only on for a few seconds while it pumps the water out then shuts off until enough water accumulates to turn it back on again. Most people never even give a second thought…until the water starts rising.

So now that you know what it is and how it works, here are 3 easy steps to check yours.

1.  Locate your sump basin

The sum basin is a hole in your basement about 2 feet in diameter. It’s usually covered by a square piece of white plastic - although I've seen some where the plastic lid broke and the homeowner used a piece of wood. Usually it’s in the water heater area or under the stairs. I have seen it covered by carpet by a homeowner who didn’t know what it was, so if your basement is finished and you can’t find it, look for a weak spot in your flooring where you don’t feel solid concrete underneath. That may be a good indicator.

2. Remove the basin cover

picture of a sump pump cover

The cover is held in place by 4 screws. Remove the screws and pull off the cover.

3.  Test the pump

Here’s a picture of what you’re looking at inside:

picture of sump pump

You’ve got a pump (orange), and attached to it is a float (black) hanging down. To test your pump, lift up the float. You’ll hear the pump start up. Drop the float as soon as the pump activates; you don’t want to run it dry for too long or you’ll damage the motor.

If the sump basin is too deep for you to reach the float, the pump can also be tested by plugging the pump's electrical cord directly into the wall outlet.

That’s it! Replace the cover and you can rest easy knowing that your pump is operational.  If, however, the pump doesn’t activate when the float is lifted up, then check the power cord. If it’s plugged in and the receptacle has power to it, then there’s a problem with your pump. I suggest calling a plumber to have the pump replaced.

This is a super easy process to follow that only requires a screwdriver. Anyone can do it and it’ll give you peace of mind knowing that your basement is protected.

This entry was posted on July 11, 2016

5 easy steps to updating your light switches

It seems like everyone is looking for ways to make their home just a little bit more up to date, but it can seem like a daunting task to tackle large projects – not to mention the cost associated with them.  Fortunately, there are a lot of little things that you can do to bring your home into a more modern time.

For example, updating your light switches from the old style to the new, more modern Decora switches is a simple task that can be undertaken by almost anyone, even those who have never tackled electrical renovations. It’s also an inexpensive way to improve the look of your home if you’re planning on putting it on the market!

1.  First and most important!  Turn off the circuit breaker in your electrical panel before doing any electrical work. The easiest way to do this is to turn on the light switch you are going to replace, then turn off the corresponding breaker in the panel. If the light goes off, then the panel is labelled correctly and you’re on your way. If not, then you may have to do some trial and error before finding the right breaker.

2.  Once the power is off to the switch, simply unscrew the faceplate, then unscrew the two screws above and below the switch that are holding it in place, and pull out the whole switch.

3.  Now you’re looking at white, black (sometimes red) and bare copper wires.  The diagrams below show two options: 1. The power comes into the switch first, then goes to the light. 2. The power comes into the light first, then the switch. Compare your switch to these two diagrams to see which one to follow.

Take your new switch and compare it to the old one. Even though the front looks different, the switches are wired similarly. You can move the wires one at a time from the old to the new switch; this will help to ensure that you don’t get confused by having loose wires hanging out.

light switch wiring diagramlight switch wiring diagram

NOTE: If you’re changing a 3-way switch, there will be a black AND a red wire.  Pay close attention to where you’re removing them from the old switch so that you don’t get them mixed up on the new switch. (Also make sure that you're new switch is designed to be a 3 way switch.)

4.  Once you’ve reconnected the wires on your new switch, simply screw it back into place with the top and bottom screws. You can throw away the old faceplate as it won’t fit your Decora switch.  Put the matching Decora faceplate on and voila! your new switch is ready to go.

5.  Go back to your electrical panel and turn the breaker back on and you’re done!

Congratulations!  You’ve just taken a simple step to modernizing your home by improving the look. Now you can sit back and enjoy your newly modernized home...or now that you’ve updated one switch, you can get started on the rest of the switches in the house!

This entry was posted on June 27, 2016

Is a Home Inspection worth the cost?

It’s spring time now which gets me to thinking about outdoor stuff and how I can make my backyard a more enjoyable place to hang out, do some work and give my kids a cool place to have fun.  And one of the places I head to to look for cool backyard stuff is, of course, Costco.

As I was going through looking at different stuff, I came across the patio table and 2 chairs that you see pictured above. Nice little table and 2 decent looking chairs. But more than the furniture itself, I noticed the price tag: $450. 

That's the same cost as a home inspection. So if you were buying a home this spring, you could spend $450 buying a small table and 2 chairs for your patio (which would probably be in a garage sale in 5 years anyway) or your could invest the same amount of money on getting your home inspected.  Which one do you think is a better investment?

According to the Edmonton Real Estate Board, the average price for a single family home in Edmonton in 2015 was $439,815.  So for about 0.1% of that cost (or 1/1,000), you can get Fortified to inspect your home before you make possibly the single biggest financial decision of your life. 

Or you could buy a small table and two chairs at Costco for your garage sale in 5 years.

This entry was posted on May 05, 2016

Cut down on nasty drafts!

On a nice, hot summer day there's nothing like a nice cool breeze to make you feel better. But take that same cool breeze and put it in your house in the middle of winter and it's not so nice anymore!

A cold draft in the middle of winter can be one of the most annoying things to live with...not to mention a drain on the energy efficiency of your home.  We'd all like to get rid of those pesky winter drafts, but it helps to understand what causes them if you're serious about getting rid of them.

Basically, your house acts like a chimney - the hot air rises.  And as that hot air escapes through gaps in the exteior, cold air is drawn in from the lower portion of the building through gaps and cracks. This creates drafts in the house and contributes to higher energy bills.

Stack effect diagram


Seal in the heat

The first step is to keep the heat from escaping in the first place.  Walk through the upstairs of your house looking for anywhere that air could escape.  Usually this will be around windows and the attic access hatch.  But don't forget to check the baseboards on exterior walls.  The drywall may not have been installed all the way to the floor and if the vapour barrier was not installed correctly (or not at all!) then you could have an air leak around the baseboards of a second floor home.  A simple way of testing for air leaks without removing trim is to hold a candle or a smoke pen up to the window and floor trim and around the attic hatch.  If the flame or smoke dances, then there's an air leak that needs to be sealed.

After sealing in the heat, complete the job by sealing out the cold.

Seal out the cold

A good area to look for open holes and gaps is along the top of the basement wall where the floor system meets the top of the foundation wall.  Since the top of the wall is above ground, outside air can be drawn in through cracks and gaps where the house framing sits on top of the foundation.  Another likely area is around your basement windows; in the same way that your upstairs window let heat escape, your basement windows will let cold air in. 

Sealant or caulk is best for sealing gaps and cracks that are 1/4 inch wide or less.  For larger openings, use expanding spray foam.  It's also recommended that you seal penetrations that go through the basement ceiling to the main floor.  These may be holes for wires, water supply pipes, drainpipes or vent stacks, and ventilation ducts.

Sealing your attic and basement will go a long way to improving the comfort and evergy efficiency of your home so that you can enjoy cool breezes in the summer...and never feel them in the winter!

This entry was posted on February 09, 2016

Draining your water heater

Around this time of year, with the temperature hitting double digits below freezing, there’s nothing I love more than to increase my gas bill by having a nice, loooooong, hot shower.  Which is easy to do since my water heater is relatively new and still in good working order.  But as it ages, there are some things that can be done to keep it working at its best. 

One of the simplest things to do is drain it on an annual basis to remove sediment that can build up in the bottom.  As clean as our water looks, there are small particles that will accumulate in the bottom of the water heater.  Over time, as the particles build up, they will affect the efficiency of your water heater.  Follow the simple steps below to drain your water heater to improve its effectiveness and life expectancy.

1.  Turn off the gas valve
Near the base of the gas line, where it enters the water heaters control module, you’ll find a valve that is parallel to the gas line. Turn that valve 90⁰ so that it is perpendicular to the gas line.  This cuts off the gas supply to the water heater.

If you have an electric water heater, find the breaker in your electrical panel that supplies the power and turn it off.

2. Turn off the water supply
There will be two water tubes protruding from the top of the water heater. One supplies cold water to the heater and one sends hot water throughout the house.  The tube with a valve on it is the cold water supply; turn that valve off.

3.  Attach a hose to the drain valve
The drain valve is at the base of the tank (not to be confused with the Temperature/Pressure Relief valve which is at the top of the tank and should have a rigid tube attached that terminates about 6 inches above the floor).  Attach a hose to the drain valve and run the other end to your floor drain.  If your water heater is close to your floor drain and there is a slope to the drain, you may not need a hose.

4.  Open the drain valve
Remember that the water is still very hot and should be treated with caution.  If water doesn’t come out, then there may already be enough sediment built up in the bottom of the tank so that the drain valve is blocked.  If this is the case, the repairs are beyond the scope of the average homeowner and a professional should be called.

To allow the water to drain faster, go to the nearest faucet and turn on the hot water.  This will allow air into the hot water system, speeding up the drain process.

Once the tank is empty, open the water supply valve, leaving the drain valve open.  This will allow any remaining sediment to be flushed out.  Once the water coming out of the tank is clear, you can close the drain valve and allow the tank to fill.  Remove the hose and ensure that there are no leaks.

5.  Turn on the water heater
If you have an electric water heater, turn the circuit breaker in the panel back on.  If you have a gas heather, open the gas valve so that it is parallel again with the gas line.

I suggest waiting until the tank is full before turning the heat back on.  Some tank manufacturers recommend that the tanks be full to prevent the gas burner or heating element from being damaged.

Going through this process on an annual basis will extend the life of you water heater and ensure that you have nice hot showers throughout the cold winter months.  Of course, the more effective your water heater, the more tempting it will be to have that looooooong hot shower!

This entry was posted on December 24, 2015

Loose Toilet?

In our society, talking about our toilets isn’t exactly the most respected topic of conversation.  However, when it comes to protecting our homes from water damage – not to mention a stench – a little home maintenance on your toilet will go a long way.

In every home inspection I perform, I always make sure to put significant side pressure on every toilet in the house looking for one thing:  movement.  Toilets should never move sideways…ever.  Or up and down either for that matter, but if you’re toilet comes up, most people will recognize that as a problem right away.  But many people may not recognize the potential problems that can come from a loose toilet.

The two bolts on the side of the toilet secure the toilet to a flange, which in turn is screwed securely into the subfloor.  The drain of the toilet is connected to the house’s Drain/Waste/Vent (DWV) system of the house which is designed to carry waste into the municipal sewer system.  The connection between the toilet’s drain and the house’s DWV system, is a wax seal which is installed when the toilet is installed.  When the wax seal is compressed it creates a waterproof and airtight seal.  This prevents odours and fumes from entering and water and waste from leaking into the house.

The problem with a loose toilet is that the wax seal can easily be broken with movement.  The wax is soft when the toilet is installed but quickly hardens.  Sideways movement of the toilet can crack the seal and allow water, waste and odors to escape the DWV system and into the house. 

If you have a loose toilet right now, I would suggest that you’ll want to replace the wax seal.  A new wax seal costs about $10-20 at Home Depot or Home Hardware and they’re not that difficult to replace.  You’ll only need a few basic tools and an hour or so.  There are many how to guides online when it comes to replacing a wax seal, but I like the one at www.diynetwork.com.  It has lots of pictures that make it easy to understand.

One caution though, and that is that I suggest you skip step #17.  Many people put a strip of caulk around the base of the toilet for a nice clean look and to keep water from leaking under the toilet (especially if there’s a shower or tub nearby).  While there’s no requirement one way or the other, I’d rather leave the caulk off because if there ever is a leak under your toilet, you want that water to leak out onto the floor so that you notice it.  Caulk may keep water out, but it also keeps water in.  Different Home Inspectors and different Plumbers will have different opinions on this issue though, so it’s personal preference.

Replacing a toilet, or just the wax seal may seem like a daunting task, but once you break it down into its individual steps, you’ll find that it’s not as difficult as it seems.  If you have a loose toilet, do more than just tighten it down…change out the seal and you’ll sleep easier knowing that water or waste isn’t slowly leaking into your house.

This entry was posted on November 12, 2015

Ice Dams


As mentioned in an earlier post about preparing your home to survive an Edmonton winter, I'm going to talk a bit about ice damming; what is an ice dam, why is it dangerous to your home and what you can do to prevent them.


To understand why ice dams are a problem that need to be prevented, you first have to understand what exactly it is.  An ice dam is a layer of ice that forms along the bottom row of your roof's shingles.  If there is warm air in your attic, it will heat the shingles and cause the snow to melt.  The water then runs down your shingles underneath the snow that's built up on the roof.  When that water reaches the colder edge of the roof, the water freezes before it runs into the gutter (or if the gutter is blocked by leaves and debris, the ice will build up in the gutter and onto the shingles).  The ice that is created forms a dam at the edge of the roof and you now have a dam problem.


This ice dam becomes a problem because as the snow continues to melt, it's not able to drain properly and backs up further and further and gets under your shingles.  Since water expands when it freezes, it will start to lift your shingles allowing water to get underneath.  Most houses will have another layer of protection installed under the shingles, a roofing paper, however this is not always the case, especially if the roof was a Do-It-Yourself job from a previous home owner (we re-shingled the roof of our first house in 2001 and found that it didn't have any roofing paper under the shingles).  Even if you do have roofing paper, it is designed to shed water, not protect against ice.  Plus, a lifted shingle is still a problem that can lead to bigger problems.


Lifted shingles are not only more likely to be blown away in a strong wind, but they also will allow rain to be blown up under them.  Nothing will deteriorate the plywood sheathing under shingles faster than water that is allowed to accumulate and soak in.  Water will also leak through the plywood joints, run into your attic and begin to deteriorate the roof structure.  If your attic is warm, you now have a nice little environment where mold could possibly grow unnoticed by the occupants.  The exterior protection of your home has now been compromised and you have more than just ice on your shingles to worry about.


The best way to prevent ice dams is to ensure that you have proper ventilation in your attic.  Your goal with ventilation is to have enough air flow to keep the attic temperature consistent with the exterior temperature. This will keep the snow from melting as mentioned above. 



Attic ventilation


Attic ventilation is provided through various means: soffit vents, ridge vents, passive vents, gable vents and turbines are the most common ones in the Edmonton area.  Some homes will also have electronic controlled fans to keep the air moving.  Ensuring that these vents don't get covered by snow is important to maintaining their functionality.  Snow accumulation on the roof will sometimes cover the vents which limits air movement.  You also want to make sure that your attic insulation is not covering your soffit vents (more on this topic will be covered in a future post).


The other thing you want to do is prevent warm air from your house leaking into your attic.  Not only does this warm your attic, but it also increases your heating costs as you're losing that warmth through the attic.  The most common area where air leaks into the attic is through the attic access hatch.  This can easily be sealed by putting weather stripping around the edge to ensure a nice seal between the hatch door and the frame.


Making sure the air in your attic is flowing smoothly will go a long way to preventing ice dams from occurring on your roof, which will prolong the life of your roof and home.




This entry was posted on October 22, 2015

Winter Energy Efficiency

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but reality is reality…winter is coming.  And for those of us in beautiful Alberta, that means higher energy bills.  Fortunately, there are some simple things that anyone can do to their home to make cut our bills each month.  The following tips will not only help to reduce our energy footprint, but will also keep just a little bit more money in your pocket each month.

1.  Find and eliminate drafts:  Houses are built pretty airtight these days, but many homes more than 20 years old weren’t built with today’s efficiencies.  This means that gaps around windows and doors are not uncommon.  And even new homes can have weatherstripping that is starting to deteriorate.  The easiest ways to find drafts in your home is to hold a candle around around the edges of your doors and windows.  Any dancing of the flame indicates a draft which will increase your energy costs. 

2.  Add some insulation:  As much as 25-35% of your home’s heat energy is lost through the attic.  A quick look through your attic hatch will tell you how much insulation you have up there.  Blowing in just a few inches of cellulose can increase your attics insulation value by R-10. 

3.  Seal the chimney:  if you have a wood burning fireplace, check the chimney flu to make sure that it’s sealed when it’s closed.  Seal a leaky flu or it won’t be just wood that’s going up in smoke up your chimney; you’ll be burning money up there too.

4.  Upgrade your thermostat:  Having a programmable thermostat that can decrease the temperature in your house while you’re sleeping or away during the day can have a significant impact on your energy bills.  A programmable thermostat can be purchased for less than $50 at your local home improvement store and can make your money back by the end of the first winter.  They’re not difficult to install and will bring immediate returns on your investment.

5.  Replace your furnace filter:  Replacing your furnace filter in many cases is as simple as pulling out the hold and sliding in the new (make sure the new is the same size as the old).  A clean filter will cause your furnace to function more efficiently and reduce your electricity costs.

It’s a given that as Canadians we’re going to have to shell out our cold, hard cash during our cold, hard winters, but following these tips will at least leave a bit more of that cash in your pocket.

This entry was posted on October 08, 2015

Winter Preparation

While September may be the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ for parents sending their kids back to school, it also means that for Albertans, the snow is coming.  And while some of us may love the snow, our homes don’t feel the same way.  The combination of freezing temperatures, snow, high winds and ice build-up can take a toll on the structure of a house.  Fortunately, there are small steps that can yield big dividends when it comes to preparing our homes for the winter months.  Follow these tips to extend the life of your home.

1.  Check your roof:  Your roof is your first and strongest defense against winter’s elements; but the combination of snow, ice and wind can quickly deteriorate older shingles.  Now is the time to check your roof for loose or missing shingles. It’s better to find and replace damaged shingles in the fall than to have to deal with them in the winter.

2.  Check gutters and downspouts:  Clogged gutters lead to ice damming which can cause significant damage to your roof and attic and allow moisture to enter the attic and run down the walls.  Make sure to clean the leaves out of your gutters to ensure proper drainage of melting snow.  You'll also want to make sure that the downspouts have extensions on them that will deposit the water at least 5 feet from the foundation of your house.  (I'm going to expand on this in a future post with more information.)

3.  Check the grading around your foundation:  Nothing causes more damage to a home than water (well, maybe a fire would, but then you’ve got bigger problems to worry about).  Moisture will damage the structure of your home and can cause the foundation to shift by weakening the soil it’s sitting on.  Melting snow will seep into the ground and can leak through the foundation or worse, cause the soil to shift leading to foundation movement.  Ensure the grading around your home is sloped away (at least 6 inches over the first 10 feet) to direct moisture away from your home.

While there is never a guarantee that your home will withstand a prairie winter, following these steps will give your home the best chances of success.

This entry was posted on September 19, 2015

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