The Homeowner's Guide to Plumbing
Table of Contents
1. What is a plumbing system?
A plumbing system is the network of pipes and appliances that deliver, use and circulate water, sanitary waste, and gas throughout your home.
Your toilets, sinks, bathtub, dishwasher, washing machine, hot water heater, humidifier, water softener, and garburator all require water to run. As do refrigerators with built-in ice makers and water dispensers.
Appliances that run on natural gas include your hot water tank (or on-demand hot water heater) and your furnace. Some homes have gas stoves, barbeques, and fire pits that are fueled from a natural gas supply line instead of propane or electricity.
2. What does a plumber do?
Plumbers are trained professionals who specialize in the installation, maintenance, and repair of plumbing systems. If there is a problem with your plumbing system, the plumber is the first person to call. Some plumbers work on their own as independent contractors. Full-service plumbing companies employ multiple plumbers on staff and are often able to offer a wider range of services as a result.
3. How your plumbing system works
Your plumbing system is made up of water supply pipes, drainage pipes, and stacks. The water main supply delivers fresh water into your home from the municipal water supply. When you need hot water in your home, the water main supply feeds into the hot water delivery system – where it is heated by a hot water tank or tankless water heater, then delivered to hot water taps throughout the home.
All wastewater (greywater) drains from your sinks, showers, laundry, and dishwasher to drainage lines that are connected to your sewer mainline – as does waste from your toilets. Your sewer lines are connected to ventilation stacks, which exit through your roof. These stacks facilitate effective drainage of greywater and sewage, as well as safe venting of harmful sewer gases from your home.
Every home in Calgary is also connected to the municipality’s gas main. Service lines with shut-off valves connect to any gas appliances in the home or yard.
4. Common plumbing problems
For the most part, modern home plumbing systems will provide years and years of safe, dependable, worry-free service. However, as with all appliances, fixtures, and mechanical systems, sometimes problems can arise. Most plumbing-related issues result from general wear and tear. Some you can easily fix yourself (like a clogged sink or plugged toilet). Others may involve a bigger problem that leads to major concerns if ignored.
Drains can become clogged with hair and debris (such as food in kitchen sinks). Before calling a plumber, try a drain cleaning product (such as Drano® or Liquid-Plumbr). If the problem persists, call a real plumber.
Toilets can back up if the drainpipe gets clogged with excessive toilet paper or by something that isn’t meant to be flushed (such as Kleenex, paper towel, feminine hygiene products, etc.). Flushing will only cause the bowl to fill up more. If this happens, try using a toilet plunger. In most instances, the bowl should drain after 5-10 seconds of plunging. If the bowl does not empty, or blockages become a frequent occurrence, call a plumber.
Most leaks are caused by a worn-out cartridge in the faucet or shower mixing valve. This is usually a simple and relatively inexpensive repair, but one that should be diagnosed and performed by a plumber.
No hot water
Hot water tanks will generally have a lifespan of 8-12 years. If you’re getting less hot water than usual, there may be a problem with your hot water tank or on-demand water heater. One potential cause may be Calgary’s notoriously hard water. With hard water, minerals can build up in the hot water system, which restricts performance. Issues may also arise if the gas heating system is dirty, or an anode rod is corroded. Replacing the anode rod can extend tank life, as can regularly-scheduled cleaning and maintenance by a plumbing professional.
On rare occasions, frigid outside temperatures can cause your home’s water pipes to freeze (particularly pipes in uninsulated areas, or those connected to an outside faucet). As the water in the pipe freezes and expands, there is a risk it can cause the pipe to crack and leak into your home. Fortunately, modern exterior faucets are designed to prevent this from occurring.
Damaged sprinkler system
During summer, lawn irrigation systems can be significant sources of leaks. Checking your water meter can help you determine if this is maybe the source of the leak (see below).
Calgary is known for hard water (that is, water that contains calcium and other minerals). Sediment can build up in appliances such as dishwashers, showerheads, and washing machines. To prevent this, you can run decalcifiers through these appliances.
Blocked or damaged drainage/sewage lines
Sometimes the water drainage pipes or sewage lines exiting your home can become clogged or damaged. Main sewer lines may collapse or sag, causing drainage issues. In older neighbourhoods with large trees, roots can penetrate the pipes and cause clogs and leakage. If the pipe problem is on the other side of your property line, it is the municipality’s responsibility. If the issue is on your property, it is your responsibility.
Using cameras and sensors, a professional plumber can help you inspect the line and determine if the issue is on your property and repair as required.
5. Know how to shut off your water supply
A tip everyone needs to know: If there is an aggressive leak in your home or a tap that won’t shut off, you will need to turn off the water supply as soon as possible to prevent flooding.
Sinks and toilets will all have service valves (one behind the toilet, two under the sink). Turn the valve so the handle/knob is perpendicular to the direction of pipe flow (usually this is counter-clockwise). This will stop the flow of water.
If there is a burst pipe, flooding, or a leak in the hot water tank, you will need to turn off the main water supply valve. It is usually located in your utility room – right before the municipal water meter. Know where it is and how to turn it off! It sometimes makes sense to mark the area with high visibility flagging or paint so it can be located in a dark room quickly in the event of a leak.
6. How to tell if you have a water leak
Most water lines are hidden from plain view – either under the sink, behind drywall, or within the flooring. Here are some simple ways to tell if you have a leak in your home.
Turn off all taps and check your water meter
Your water meter is located in your utility room, next to your water main shut off. If the taps are off and the meter shows water is flowing, you may have a leak. If you have an underground lawn irrigation system, this is a good way to test for a potential leak.
Look for drips
A dripping tap or ongoing trickle of water in the toilet bowel are telltale signs of a leak.
Pools of water
Pooling water under a sink, toilet, or appliance is a sign of trouble.
Damp, discoloured drywall
A stain can occur due to the presence of water or moisture behind the surface.
This can happen due to a burst hot water pipe.
Higher than average water bill
If your water consumption is higher than normal but your usage hasn’t changed, a leak may be the culprit.
7. Don’t mess around – call a professional
In the era of instructional YouTube videos, many people think they can save a few dollars by doing it themselves. It’s amazing how many times this can backfire. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can inadvertently turn a small drip into a big problem that can result in costly damage to your home! Whether it’s a leaking faucet or installation of new plumbing lines, you’re always best to call an experienced plumber.
Plumbing Health and Safety Inspections
An Advanpro Plumbing Health and Safety Inspection is a valuable service if you suspect you have a problem with your plumbing system – or simply want to confirm everything is working safely as it should. Many customers book this service alongside a furnace or air conditioner tune-up.
A plumber will visit your home and provide a comprehensive inspection that includes: water pressure and meters, kitchen, bathroom, laundry room fixtures, drains, hot water heater, and outdoor taps. It takes about 30 minutes.
If there is an issue, the plumber can provide a more in-depth assessment to get to the root cause. If the drain or sewer cannot be unclogged, the plumber may use a video camera to look down the line to identify the issue.
Recommending the right solution
Once a plumber has identified the problem, they draw on their training, knowledge, and experience to find the right solution. It may involve replacing a small part – of the entire fixture or appliance. A professional plumber will always recommend the best course of action and will advise against ‘band-aid’ solutions that will only result in further problems down the road.
Typically, a plumber’s truck is fully stocked with all of the parts they might need to perform a repair. In some instances, a component may need to be picked up or ordered, depending on the make and model of the fixture or appliance.
8. New installations, upgrades, or renovation
If you are installing new plumbing appliances or performing a major home renovation, you will likely require the services of a professional plumber. Plumbers specialize in the installation of furnaces, hot water tanks, and tankless heaters, sinks, toilets, dishwashers, furnace mounted humidifiers, garburators, water softeners, in-floor heating, and more.
Plumbers are trained in the proper installation of gas and water lines, whether they are in your home or feeding an outside appliance (such as a barbecue or underground sprinkler system).
Ensuring all permits are in place
In Calgary, all residential plumbing and gas installations require permits. This includes installations that are part of a renovation. Your plumbing contractor can take care of getting the required permits from the municipal authorities on your behalf.
A gas permit is required under the Alberta Safety Codes Act when installing, altering, or relocating gas equipment. This applies to furnaces, water heaters, meters, piping and lines, dryers, BBQs, garage heaters, gas ovens, patio heaters, fireplaces, space heaters, and fire pits.
A plumbing permit is required when a plumbing system is constructed, extended, or altered, including when water and sewer lines in or around the home are replaced. In some cases, replacing a hot water tank may require a permit.
Once the installation has been completed, it must pass a City of Calgary Inspection. Hiring a plumber to do the work will expedite the approval process.
Replacement of Poly-B plumbing
When doing a renovation, many Calgarians discover that their 1980s and early 1990s home was built with plastic Poly-B (polybutylene) plumbing lines as a cheaper alternative to copper. It has been found that Poly-B piping and fittings are extremely prone to leakage. Today, many insurance companies will not underwrite a new policy on a home with Poly-B piping. Poly-B was removed from the National Plumbing Code as an approved material in 2005.
It is highly recommended that you replace any Poly-B plumbing in your home. It is not a case of “if” leaks will happen: it is a matter of “when”.
If you are buying a new home, a free Health and Safety Inspection from Advanpro can help you avoid buying a home with Poly-B lines, or any other significant plumbing concerns.
9. Hot water tank maintenance and repair
Most homes are equipped with hot water tanks to ensure a steady supply of hot water for sinks, showers, dishwashers, and washing machines. A portion of the water is diverted from the main water supply into the hot water tank, where it is heated using natural gas. Water is stored within the tank, and available when you turn on the hot water tap.
Hot water tanks generally have a lifespan of 8 to 12 years. With regular care and maintenance, you can help extend its life. Here are some common problems:
Calgary’s hard water can cause mineral sediment to build up in the hot water tank, where it can clog key components and impact performance. Flushing the tank is a simple way to remove sediment. This will also help remove rust particles.
Damaged anode rod
To prevent the water tank from rusting, most are built with a device called a sacrificial anode rod. Its job is to attract the electrons that can cause the tank to rust. Instead of the tank rusting, the rod decays and will eventually need to be replaced.
Faulty T&P valve
The temperature and pressure (T&P) valve is a safety feature that prevents excessive pressure from building up in the tank. Sometimes this valve will require replacement. Due to the risk of scalding water, it is a job best done by a plumber.
10. Hot water tanks vs tankless hot water heaters. Which is best?
Many Calgary homeowners are choosing to replace hot water tanks with a more sustainable, energy-efficient solution. Tankless hot water heaters have become a popular alternative to traditional hot water tanks.
They save energy by only heating up water as it is required (on-demand heating vs. continually heating water throughout the day). So, you’re only heating the water you use. The result is greater energy efficiency, lower utility bills and a reduced environmental footprint.
Tankless heaters also last longer: average 20 years versus 8-12 years for a hot water tank. The flip side is that they are more expensive: ranging anywhere between $4,500-$6,000 (installed). In some cases, the existing gas line must be replaced with a larger diameter line.
11. How much does a plumber cost?
One of the first questions people ask is, “How much does a plumber cost?”.
What a plumber charges will vary dramatically, based on the following factors:
- What is the problem, and what work needs to be done to fix it?
- What parts and components are required?
- Does an appliance or fixture need to be replaced?
- Is the visit during regular business hours or an emergency service call, after-hours?
For regular maintenance and common jobs (e.g. water tank), most plumbers have a set fee. Installation costs are usually quoted in advance and include both the cost of the item(s) to be installed as well as the installation cost. When getting a quote, ensure it is “all-in” to avoid surprises.
Below we’ve provided a list of common plumbing services, and where they fall in terms of the price range.
Lower range $
Unclogging drains, repairing leaks, replacing toilet components
Garburator, humidifier installation, toilet replacement, faucet replacement
Higher range $
Hot water tank/heater replacement, pipe relocation, sewer line dig
Calgary trusts Advanpro.
Advanpro has been serving Calgarians since 2007. We have earned a reputation for responsive, professional service and excellence in all that we do.
Today, we provide a comprehensive offering of residential plumbing repair and installation services. We also offer a full array of furnace maintenance, repair, and replacement services – as well as Calgary’s leading duct and vent cleaning service.