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What Mark taught Family Plumbing

The key to success in the service industry is directly tied to how thorough you are. Find the problem and the appropriate solutions. One aspect of being thorough is ensuring homeowners understand our qualifications and feel comfortable with approving your repair recommendations. The get-in-get-out mentality will only get you so far. My longtime friend Mark, through his own repairman issues, taught me the importance of thoroughness in the service industry. 

Mark had to call out a local longtime plumbing company to come and work on his damaged furnace. 3 hours and $700.00 later Mark found himself unhappy and second guessing his choice of service provider. In his own words Mark felt slightly ripped off as the tech had gone downstairs, “did some stuff to the furnace” and left him holding quite a large bill on his way out. The reason he felt ripped off is the tech in his home failed to be thorough. He had failed to explain to Mark what part had malfunctioned, why it malfunctioned, and what were his options for repair. 

Regina Air Conditioning Service Repair

At Family Plumbing we always take the time to sit with our clients and fully explain the situation they’ve found themselves in. As much as possible we like to provide 3 options to move forward. These include repair, replace, or do nothing (as we don’t force any repairs you don’t feel comfortable with.) 

This particular technician failed to be thorough. He wanted to start and end the call as soon as possible and did whatever he could to accomplish that. The end result was an unhappy homeowner who felt ripped off as he had not been shown any value for the money he paid. As a homeowner you have the right to know what your options are and any tech who cannot discuss them with you does not deserve your time or money. 

Renting vs Financing

It goes without saying that furnace and air conditioner breakdowns don’t wait until you’re ready for them. They always seem to happen at the most inopportune time. Now a person could buy a fan and sweat out the summer, replacing your air conditioner in Regina is not a must. But going without a furnace is not an option. If you haven’t been saving up for it, replacing your home’s HVAC equipment can be quite a financial hardship, especially considering the employment issues everyone is facing due to Covid-19. But rest assured if you find you are without sufficient savings there are options to pay for a replacement. Renting and financing being the two major choices. But which one is the better way to go? It’s a very debatable question, with each option having both pros and cons. The following post provides a quick  breakdown of both renting and financing equipment. 

  With renting equipment, essentially the homeowner signs a multi year contract with a fixed price.

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Pros

  Renting provides a homeowner with an affordable reoccurring payment that can be easily worked into a home’s monthly budget. This price does not change over the term of the contract. Renting equipment can be very attractive to landlords as maintenance and repairs are usually 100% covered under the contract. This means that if issues arise tenants need not call the building owner, just the rental provider. Technicians arrive and repair without anyone ever having to worry about what the cost will be. 

Cons

  Any benefit renting provides does not come without a cost. While the monthly payment looks manageable, eventually a homeowner will pay 2-3 times the cost they would have paid if they had purchased the equipment outright from the start. HVAC rental contracts are a lot like cell phone contracts, you will always be made to pay the remainder if you want out. This also includes expensive transfer fees at the end of the contract. 

But won’t I own it by then?”

Not according to the fine print. Rental contracts require extra fees to transfer the equipment into your name. (Or you can just sign back up and get a new furnace….sound familiar?)

You will also have an issue when it comes time to sell the home. Not every potential homebuyer wants to take on your debt. At this point you will likely either need to reduce the asking price of your home or buyout the equipment. 

Financing allows a third party to make the purchase for you and you will pay them back over time

wascana furnace 2

Pros

  Like renting, financing also allows a homeowner to replace their furnace, AC, water heater, etc but still keep their monthly budget under control. Unlike renting, financing will allow the homeowner to payout the remainder of the agreement at any time with no penalties. This works well when you may not have the total payment available at the time of purchase but know that big tax return is coming in a couple of months. You may also be offered options of delayed payments. Additionally, financing often allows the homeowner to dictate certain terms of the contract (interest rate, length of contract, etc) to help fit their needs. Financing also means you will eventually own the equipment, making it an asset and helps to increase the value of your home.

Cons

  HVAC contractors will use a third party when offering financing. This means homeowners have an additional contact they need to go through, which to some is a hassle. The contract you receive is also based off your credit. The worse the credit, the higher the interest rate may be. If your credit is really bad, you may need a consignor on your loan. 

   Maintenance and repairs will also be up to you to take care of. Everything eventually breaks down and you will be on the hook for those costs.

Overview

   At this time most homeowners see renting as the easier option as nobody likes the idea of taking out a loan.  But depending on how you look at it, renting is the same as a loan but with a much higher interest rate. The biggest benefit of renting is the fact that repair costs are covered by the contractor. While Family Plumbing at this time does not offer rental contracts we do offer financing. Our installations come with options for 10 year parts AND labour warranty. This allows us to compete with rental contracts without significantly raising the cost of your installation.

  A quick Google search will bring up plenty of articles with first hand homeowner opinions of both renting and financing if you are interested in reading more. Every homeowner’s needs and financial situation are different. Wether you are considering renting or financing, I strongly recommend researching both options and double checking for any fine print clauses that might not be too favourable to you. Both payment options have their ups and downs which I hope I have explained in this post. Family Plumbing is always available to talk to if you want to discuss either option further. 

This blog will teach you why you should replace your main water valve (if you haven’t already)

Temperature drops in Regina happen often and without warning. Waterlines exposed to these temps are easily susceptible to freezing and cracking. Consider yourself lucky if you have never experienced an out-of-the-blue waterline burst. A burst 1/2” waterline can spew over 15 gallons of water a minute. The initial realization of the aquatic massacre happening within your home. Your anxiety is through the roof but you calm your nerves enough to move to your home’s main water shut off. You try and turn it, it doesn’t turn. You scramble for for a set of pliers and slowly the valve begins to close. You soon see the water stream slowly die down, thanking your lucky stars the valve fully closed. 

A situation similar to this happened to my sister. She called me frantically one afternoon, water was flowing down into the basement, “what do I do?!”. She’s in Calgary and I’m in Regina so I talked her through it on the phone. She couldn’t find the valve. What does it look like? Where would it be? She never even thought about this stuff before. When she finally found the valve it was stuck and refused to move. She had to run next door and luckily the neighbour was home to help her out before it was too late. 

buried valve
Would you want to trust your home security to a valve half buried under concrete?

I’ve always considered the main water shut off the most important plumbing fixture inside any building. Its the last line of defense when emergencies happen This valve controls the flow of water incoming from the city to your home’s waterlines. Their location can vary house to house. Often located in the basement, they may be found near the front wall of your home, or in the mechanical room. But they can also be found in closets, under cabinets, almost anywhere. If you are not sure where yours is, take a couple minutes right now to find it.

Go ahead….I’ll wait.

*author patiently waits*

You found it? Awesome, let’s continue.

Old gate valves are the worst for leaks. This was the most common used type of main water valve for decades. These valves can be prone to leaking over time due to oxidization, failed packing bonnets, etc. They may sit for years on end without ever getting turned. Then when they’re needed, can be almost nearly impossible to turn by hand. And as any plumber will tell you, the valves that refuse to turn are guaranteed to be the ones that leak. That’s why we replace them with much simpler 1/4 turn ball valves. They are much more durable than their gate style counterparts. 

replaced valve
Out with the old, in with the new.

Circling back to our opening scenario, how would it make you feel watching your basement flood before your eyes. Carpet soaked, valuables destroyed, it can be very depressing. That’s why I always urge homeowners to proactively replace their main water valve on their terms, not the valve’s. 

When you add up the time and expenses that go into an insurance claim and the headache that can come with re-finishing a previously finished basement it’s a much more cost effective strategy to both you and your home’s well being to replace the valve ASAP. 

Discussing heat exchangers

  Whats the worst furnace breakdown you can have? What’s the one repair you don’t want to make? What’s the last thing you want us to tell you is wrong with the furnace? Well I’ll tell you. You do not want to hear us talk about your heat exchanger. They can be cracked, or they can be plugged. But either way it is a serious safety issue inside your home that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

  In its most simplest level a heat exchanger allows the flue gas a place to travel through before it leaves your furnace. It is a sealed airtight chamber that begins at the burners and ends where the flue gas meets the vent. The heat exchanger can be made out of various metals like stainless steel or aluminum. This metal can crack over time. By continually expanding and contracting from operation the cell walls become weak. Imagine taking a paper clip and bending it back a forth in small movements. It will take time but eventually the paperclip will break. Now imagine the furnace has been oversized for the home, another common problem routinely found during furnace inspections, this provides even more stress on the heat exchanger causing premature failure even sooner.

furnace repair regina plumber
furnace repair regina plumber

  Another threat to heat exchangers is lack of proper air flow, likely from a dirty air filter. If more homeowners could remember to regularly change their filter, we could likely eliminate 50% of furnace failures. Lack of air flow causes the furnace (as well as the heat exchanger) to overheat, compromising both. Poor airflow isn’t just from filters though. Undersized ductwork can restrict air flow causing heat build up within the furnace. We came across this exact situation at a new home in north-west Regina. The furnace was fairly new and we discussed options with the homeowner to alter the ductwork allowing more space for the air to fill. 

No matter the reason, once your heat exchanger is damaged you’ve already gone too far.  A cracked heat exchanger now allows carbon monoxide (CO) to exit the heat exchanger and mix in with the air within your ductwork and eventually into your lungs. CO has been deemed the “silent killer” as it’s odourless, tasteless, etc, and with sufficient amounts, can cause individuals to be poisoned. 

Another major problem happens when a heat exchanger becomes plugged. This is usually from the coating on the heat exchanger walls peeling away causing a partial blockage. This leads to incomplete combustion creating carbon buildup inside the furnace progressing to a full blown blockage. Plugged heat exchangers are easier to pick out as there are often tell tale signs of their failure. Tripped flame roll out switches, visible sooting, burnt wires are all signs the heat exchanger is plugged. 

What can I do as a homeowner to prevent my heat exchanger failing too soon?

  As we’ve previously discussed, change you air filter regularly. Best advice is to buy yourself 3 or 4 replacement filters, so you have them on site and ready to go. Next set up timers on your phone at the appropriate intervals to remind you to replace your filter. Perfect way to never forget. Also remember to keep your heat register vents open as well. We want to allow the air to flow as freely as possible. If you do have issues with hot and cold spots in your home that is a separate issue that you should call us about and we can take a look at solutions. Third would be maintenances. I’ve previously discussed the importance of having your furnace maintenance yearly.

Is it worth replacing the heat exchanger? 

Yes….maybe…..I guess it depends. Furnace manufactures often provide long term warranty for heat exchangers. They may also provide additional labour warranty for replacing the heat exchanger. Carrier does this for example. So now your repair covers the heat exchanger (which is the most expensive part in your furnace) as well as a portion, if not all of the labour as well. A situation like this it may be favourable to simply replace the heat exchanger after discussion with your HVAC tech.

In my personal opinion if your 10, 15, 20 years into your furnace, repair is out of the question. The amount of money you may invest into replacing the heat exchanger will likely not pay off over time based off the age of the unit. It’s like you mechanic coming up to you to recommend replacing the engine in your car. Sure you have a brand new engine, but you’re still left with a ’95 Sunfire. Whoopee! What happens next year when your furnace gives out again and you’ve already put X amount of dollars to keep it going this far. This is money that could have been spent on the new unit. Especially now that all major manufactures are providing 10 year parts warranty, (as well as Family Plumbing having options for additional 10 year labour warranty) your money would be better well spent with a new unit. 

In no way are we trying to scare you into thinking that a cracked heat exchanger is a life or death event. We’ll save that for the others. But what I do want to get across is the importance of a working heat exchanger and that every failed heat exchanger DOES need to be repaired. As trained, licensed HVAC contractors we have an obligation both legally and ethically to ensure a damaged heat exchanger is taken care of. By Saskatchewan law if we find a heat exchanger to be cracked, plugged, etc, we are required to “red tag” that furnace. That means we shut off the as to the unit so it fails to operate and we contact the gas inspectors and inform them that an issue needs to be resolved. Gas inspection takes “red tagged” furnaces very seriously and will ensure resolutions are made before they remove restrictions. More importantly though CO is a very serious threat with life altering effects. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to fail to inform the homeowner of the dangers and find out later they suffered from CO poisoning.

On a brighter note Family Plumbing and Heating would like to thank all of our clients and homeowners that have continued to have us out to their businesses and homes during these crazy times. Everyone within our organization works very hard to keep up the high standard of customer support we expect and we appreciate your business. Saskatchewan has been doing a great job flattening the curve, let’s keep up the good work and hope some of these restrictions can be lifted by sooner than later 

Note: the information provided has primarily been in relation to residential furnaces. The information above can also be applied to commercial units as well as residential boilers, on-demand systems, etc. Feel free to reach out to us animate to discuss this further.

-Brenden

 

*A cracked heat exchanger led to this new install in Regina’s west end.

Water heater pans and why homeowners don’t have them.

Give a water heater enough time and it will spring a leak. 9 times out of 10 the leak will be from the bottom of the tank. Hopefully it’s a slow leak and you frequent your mechanical room enough to notice it before it’s too late. A leaking water heater, gone unnoticed, can cause significant damage to flooring or important items stored on mechanical room floors. The perfect solution to combat this aquatic crisis is installing a drain pan beneath your water heater. These pans catch the leaking water and are piped directly to a sanitary drain keeping your floor dry and property safe.

  But some things are easier to say than to do. Generally homeowners and contractors neglect the importance of the water heater pan. Some contractors view it as an installing inconvenience in situations where the nearby floor drain may be difficult to pipe to, while some homeowners view it as a needless up-sell. This indifference has led to drain pans being found less and less in homes. Fact of the matter is the additional price for installing a drain pan is worth the cost when put into comparison the amount it will save you in repairs bills to damaged floors or belongings.

drain pan
A water heater mid-install in White City. The tank is sitting in the drain pan ready to be piped to the floor drain.

  Next time you find yourself in the market for a new water heater, speak with your contractor about options of installing a water heater drain pan. You’ll thank me later.