Toronto is now firmly in the thick of spring. The cherry blossoms made their much-anticipated arrival, drawing throngs of onlookers to High Park. The rain has been off-and-on, with more than a few unseasonably cold days. The Blue Jays have started their season, as the Maple Leafs have ended theirs, and the Raptors continue to rally. And all over the city, people are starting to roll up their sleeves and clean.

Every spring it’s the same, but every spring thousands of homeowners neglect to clean their drains. Your drains bear the brunt of a lot of the home’s activities, from cooking to cleaning, and after a busy winter they can start to show signs of problems. That’s not to mention that many owners of older homes in Toronto have neglected to replace old lead pipes or clay drainpipes, which can cause costly – and hazardous – problems down the line.

Spring cleaning for your plumbing, drains in particular, falls into four rough categories: preventative measures, routine cleaning, addressing backup and, finally, replacing pipes. With luck, you might only have to deal with the former two categories, but you won’t know for sure until you invite an expert Toronto plumber like Mister Plumber to take a look.

To help prepare you for your spring drain cleaning, we’re going to take a closer look at each of those four categories, detailing how to prevent and manage drain issues, as well as how to tackle backup and modernize your pipes. Let’s spring into it!

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House Rules: How to Avoid Drain Problems

Where your drains are concerned, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s helpful to make note of everything you shouldn’t put down the drain, and ensure that everyone in the house is on board with the plan. It’s difficult to be totally exhaustive when you list things that shouldn’t go down the drain, which is why it’s important that everyone use their discretion as well.

We’ve sort of discussed this topic recently, in our post on keeping your kitchen clog-free – click here to give it a read – but it bears repeating in this post, since it’s such an important facet of drainpipe health. Here, for your convenience, is an abridged list of the things you really shouldn’t put down your drain:

  • Hair
  • Paper towel
  • Hygiene products
  • Medications (though that’s admittedly for a different reason)
  • Fats, including bacon grease, butter, oil, salad dressing, etc.
  • Food particulates, including solid foods, sauces, soups, batters, etc.
  • As we pointed out in another post, any food that sticks to its container – peanut butter, jam, mayo, etc.
  • Coffee grounds
  • Egg shells
  • Flours of any kind
  • Really, anything you think you should put down the drain

Part of your spring cleaning regimen should be set aside for prevention, for making a mental note that your drain isn’t a waste disposal and a commitment to keep all clog-able stuff away from it. A drain catcher can also be an easy and effective way of ensuring that stuff – mostly larger particulates, but not necessarily oils – stay away from the drainpipes.

For Regular Drain Cleaning, Get Physical

Chemical cleaners may be convenient, but they take a toll on your pipes. That’s not to say that using chemical cleaners every once with totally destroy your pipes, but the lye-based cleaners can and will erode pipes over time. Further, they just aren’t that effective.

For drain cleaning that really works this spring, you need the drain cleaning experts in Toronto on your side. Rather than get chemical, we get physical: we use a plunger for minor issues, and a drain snake for more intermediate blockages. If neither of those works, we pull in the big gun, hydro-jetting.

Essentially, hydro jetting entails inserting a nozzle through the pipe that rapidly rotates, pressure washing the interior of the pipe. Not only does it effectively clean the inside pipe, but the pressure caused by the jet pushes any unwanted blockages through.

Tackling Drain Backup

Drain backup can be caused by a number of things. It might be a settlement of debris or an invasion of roots – without inspection, it’s difficult to tell. In any case, if your drain is backing up, it’s wise to call in the pros. We’ll know what to do, quickly and precisely, in order to get things back on track. Especially if you’ve been dealing all winter with an ornery drain, one that sluggishly drains or is prone to spitting back up, use spring cleaning as an excuse to tackle the issue head on.

Sewage backup might also be caused by the type of building trap you have. As we discussed recently on this blog, old clay building traps used to be installed underground, with a lot of different, vulnerable joints, which are prone to cracking. Not only that, but the u-shape they used to trap liquid, which was meant to prevent sewage gases from entering the home, can easily get clogged, therefore creating an even bigger problem. If any of your drains are backed up, or you notice a foul smell, call us immediately!

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Out With the Old Pipes, In With the New

Finally, spring is a time of positive transformation. Indeed, it’s a popular time for remodelling in Toronto. This spring, consider the unseen workhorses of your home: your pipes. Many older Toronto homes are served by ineffective and potentially hazardous pipes.

Lead pipes, it has been well documented, are all over Toronto and can contribute to serious health and developmental problems. If you live in an older area of Toronto, or are simply unsure what kind of pipes your home has, we can help you find out. If they’re lead, we recommend that you replace them with soft temper copper. Luckily, Toronto has a rebate program for these kinds of replacements, provided that you go with a professional plumber like Mister Plumber.

While you clean the rest of your house this spring, pay special attention to your drains. They work hard year-round to keep waste out of your house, and all they ask in return is a little TLC in the spring!

Your shower drain might give you a headache occasionally, as may your bathroom sink drain – after all, they bear the brunt of all that loose hair and soap scum. But far and away the most stubborn of the drains in your house is the kitchen drain. Not only does a kitchen drain get a fair amount of use, but it’s also sometimes treated as a receptacle for all sorts of unfortunate kitchen waste.

All those little food particulates and oils have a habit of collecting inside the pipe, sticking to the interior walls and refusing to shake loose. This build-up reduces the diameter of the pipe until it is completely clogged, in which case water cannot drain from the sink. That’s where you get that tell-tale gurgling, the sluggish draining times and the standing water.

The grease in the pipe may also be rinsed to the main drainpipe, which is 4” in diameter, and cause it to become clogged as well. Before this is allowed to happen – or, in other words, as soon as you notice a clogged or sluggish drain – call in the kitchen sink drain cleaning experts in Toronto here at Mister Plumber.

As the weather gets better, homeowners expect to do a bit more entertaining, which means throwing a little more strain on what might be an already overtaxed kitchen drain. To ensure that your summer dinner parties aren’t interrupted by unsightly clogs, and that your kitchen drain is working in peak condition, we’ll cover a few bases.

We’ll discuss easy kitchen drain maintenance tips, as well as expound the values of proper kitchen pipe installation. Finally, we’ll talk a little bit about professionally cleaning your kitchen drain.

Easy Kitchen Drain Maintenance Tips

 An ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure. Although you may be pressed for time when cooking, or cleaning the kitchen, always be mindful of what you allow down the drain. Here’s a list of a few common offenders that you shouldn’t let near your drainpipe:

  • Fats and oils. This includes cooking oils, bacon grease, butter, etc. as well as emulsified fats like mayonnaise and salad dressing.
  • Essentially, anything that clings to the inside of its container. This could include peanut butter, jam, ketchup… If it sticks to its own container, there’s a good chance it’ll stick to your pipes.
  • Food scraps. Have a compost and garbage close at hand when prepping food, and always scrape your plate into the waste before washing it.
  • Coffee grounds. Toss the whole filter, with grounds, into the compost, or – if using a French press – sieve it before disposing.
  • Flour, or anything powdery. This stuff seriously sticks to oil, forming what is essentially a dough inside your pipes, which can be very difficult to remove.

For more on what you shouldn’t put down your drains (including for sanitary and health reasons), we recommend you check out the City of Toronto’s official page on the matter.

Drain maintenance is partly about prevention, but it’s also partly about being proactive. Instead of waiting for a severe clog to form, consider receiving regular drain maintenance from a professional plumber. This can be anytime you deem it necessary. When you call in a plumber to fix that leaky kitchen faucet have them take a quick look at your drains as well – it could end up saving you down the line.

Your kitchen pipe problems may have something to do with how they were installed, though. Let’s look at how improper installation can exacerbate kitchen drain issues, as well as what the right kind of installation looks like.

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Improper Installation = A Frequent Headache

In the picture above, you can see a sewer camera showing the grease congestion inside of a main building drainpipe underground. In this case, the improper slope and fittings that were used at time of installation triggered the formation of a clog, and consequently the homeowners had to clean the pipe pretty often.

Installing the Right Way

Any kind of cleaning requires access to the pipe – and this access is facilitated by what is called a clean-out. It is mandatory to install a clean-out downstream of P-trap under the sink – then, when the stack is going underground, within 1 meter from floor level, another clean-out must be installed. But despite the fact that it’s mandatory, not all homes have them. Call us anytime in Toronto to figure out whether your clean-outs are installed, and if they have been done correctly.

Professionally Cleaning Your Kitchen Drain

In order to clear the drainpipe, plumbers use a snaking machine, which can come in different sizes and power levels. Basically, what a snaking machine does is burrow a long, flexible auger into the pipe, which works at the pipe’s interior, breaking away any built up stuff.

In very complicated situations, pipe power flush equipment might need to be used. These are the real big guns. In the second picture, just below, you can see what’s called a Ridgid power flush machine that produces up to 1750 PSI, which can rinse any build-up from inner wall of the pipe. It’s a modern and powerful piece of equipment that is pretty much exclusive to top plumbers.

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After cleaning the pipe, 3” and 4” drains can be checked with a camera to make sure that all stuff is rinsed down and you have the clear to use the plumbing fixtures again. Once everything is cleared up and in working order, go back to the first entry in this article: continue to maintain your drains, prevent clogs and take proactive steps against drain emergencies.

For the best drain cleaning services in the city, call us here at Mister Plumber. We have modern and powerful equipment to fight pipe clogs, as well as the experience and know-how to help you ensue that those clogs don’t return. Hopefully, this article has helped shed light on your kitchen drain, and you’ve learned the value of proper installation and regular cleaning!

We’ve discussed the many plumbing quirks and pitfalls of older homes in Toronto on this blog before. We’ve discussed how, even though these houses come with a great deal of character and history, they might not always manage your modern plumbing needs properly. Plumbing in Toronto has changed and your house needs to change with it.

One such feature that we’d like to discuss, which you will find in many old Toronto houses, is a building trap. It sounds much more ominous than it actually is, but it can still wreak some pretty bad havoc on your own, albeit indirectly. But before we jump into talking about why a building trap is problematic, it’s perhaps best to give some context.

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What Is a Building Trap?

To give some context, let’s start by talking about the main drain line in your older Toronto home.

Many older houses in Toronto have a main drain and sewer made of clay. This might not seem like such an issue, until you consider that clay is pretty susceptible to the elements (drop a clay pot and it’s liable to break – not a quality you’d exactly encourage in a building material). Add to that the fact that those pipes are original, which means they are most likely very old. Not a great foundation for your plumbing, right?

Because vitrified clay pipe is heavy, they used to make them in short pieces, so that the plumber could lift them and easily work with them. The problem here is that numerous pieces mean numerous joints, and every joint is a potential weak spot. Joints can easily be shifted, collapsed or have roots penetrate their small cracks.  

At that time, plumbers used to install what’s called a “building trap”, which was a 4” U-shape pipe on the main drain line. The purpose of this trap was to prevent dangerous sewer gases entering the house. The bottom of the U-shape would inevitably trap a bit of liquid, disallowing any noxious gases from making their way from the city sewer into your precious home. It was all very well intentioned, but unfortunately, as we’ll see, caused some issues in the future.

What Harm Are These Building Traps?

These clay traps are, unfortunately, the number one problem with underground drains. Just like the little u-shaped pipe under your kitchen sink, for example, this trap might become clogged over time and with prolonged usage. But unlike the u-shaped pipe under your kitchen sink, this trap is buried underground, making is difficult to get to and to clear. Even if you did reach it with a drain cleaning tool like a snake or hydro-jet, there would be no guarantees the machines could navigate the brittle clay or sharp turns.

As it becomes clogged with stuff, sewage will start backing up into your basement, introducing noxious gases and destructive waste. What was originally intended to help keep your home safe from this terrible sewage backup could very well be the thing that eventually causes it. That’s the plumbing version of poetic irony, for sure!

Another problem with these building traps is, as mentioned above, they are susceptible to root infestation and soil movement. As a tree’s roots crack and infiltrate a pipe, those roots clog the trap and catch even more passing debris. Again, this can cause awful sewage backup.

No only are these fixtures problematic, but they’re also unnecessary these days. Plumbing codes changed and currently plumbers install P-traps for pretty much every plumbing fixture inside the house. This makes that sole outside trap useless. The Code also states that double trapping is prohibited, since air can get caught between the two traps.

Removing Your Building Trap

Before the worst happens, get rid of that old building trap. If you are thinking about acquiring an old home in Toronto, or have recently bought an old home – or even if you’ve just gotten lucky so far with your old building trap – don’t hesitate to have the trap removed. It will only cause you headaches in the future, and the quicker you replace it, the better.

Mister Plumber, in addition to offering the best drain inspection services in the city, also offers building trap removal. With the removal, we also include the installation of a backwater valve and clean-outs for pipe maintenance. A downstream sewer clean-out is mandatory, because a snaking machine cannot go through the body of backwater valve. It is also very convenient for city workers who can check their side of sewer pipe.

You might be reticent to remove your building trap for fear of the cost, but you don’t have to fret too much. In addition to helping with replacing lead pipes in Toronto homes : trap removal, partial clay pipe replacement with PVC, and basement flood protection with a backwater valve, all receive a handsome rebate from the City of Toronto.

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The City understands the burden that these old plumbing techniques have caused homes and homeowners, are their rebate program is meant to ease all homeowners into the 21st Century – and into a better plumbing system. For the rebate process, Mister Plumber takes care of permits and provides all necessary information needed to apply for the rebate.

The building trap that was once installed to keep sewage backup out of your basement might be the very thing causing sewage backup now. And whereas in the olden days the basement usually wasn’t used for anything too important, nowadays we use it for all sorts of important tasks and purposes, including storage. Don’t let your basement be ruined by sewage backup, all because of an out-dated clay building trap.

Your home may be old, which is lovely, but it doesn’t mean your plumbing should be! Call Mister Plumber today, and our expert plumbers will help take out the old and usher in the new. Using up-to-date methods and materials, we’ll make sure your investment, and your family, stays as safe as possible.

Often, homeowners like to leave the basement well enough alone. Whatever goes on down there is a mystery, since it’s outside your field of view, so rather than meddle you just let it do its thing. But unfortunately, basements are not self-regulating, and even though there might not be a clear and visible issue, you might still need to get your drain inspected or replaced.

 This is certainly true of the basement floor drain. Your house won’t flood, and your pipes won’t spring a massive leak when there’s an issue with the drain, but you will be greeted with a foul, sewer odour, enough to make any homeowner gag. But rather than cancel your dinner party plans out of embarrassment, just call in the pros.

Keep Your Home Up-to-Code, Or Beyond

Although not all homes have one (or the one they do have is old and non-functional), Ontario plumbing codes define mandatory floor drain installation in the basement furnace room. When we discuss the role of a floor drain a little later on, it will become clear why they have been made mandatory, but suffice it to say for now that a floor drain expels unwanted water and protects against unwanted gases.

Some houses have more than one floor drain, but that is optional. For example, some homeowners prefer to have an additional floor drain in their laundry room. When you think about it, your washing machine holds around 150 litres of water, and if the drain line from your washing machine fails, that amount of liquid can cause major damage. Rather than contend with a mess of wet drywall, and can pay to just proactively install a second floor drain.

Luckily floor drains are mostly uniform and standardized. Because the main drain is a 4” pipe, most floor drains have the same size. This means that installation isn’t all that tricky.

What Is a Floor Drain?

You might be wondering, though: what is a floor drain, exactly? A floor drain is a roughly U-shaped fitting that is connected to a drain branch, which leads to the main drainpipe. In other words, it is a P-trap (a sloped, curved pipe that collects debris and prevents back flow into the house) where water sits pretty much all the time.

What Function Does It Serve?

This water sitting in the P-trap creates a barrier, and prevents sewer gases from entering into your living space. Whereas an empty pipe would let in noxious gases from the sewer system, the floor drain’s liquid stops it. Put this way, it’s easy to see that the floor drain actually plays a crucial role in plumbing safety.

This means, unfortunately, that a problem with the floor drain opens your home up to some seriously unpleasant smells. If an old clay P-trap has a crack, water escapes from it, seeping to the lower level into the soil, which causes an awful, noxious smell to permeate.

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When Problems Arise…

In the picture above, you can see an old floor drain that is made of clay. Because of some cracks at the bottom, the water couldn’t hold inside the pipe, and leaked out. The homeowners complained about a foul smell in the basement, and sought Mister Plumber’s drain cleaning services in Toronto to help sort out the smell. The only weird thing, they noted, was that the smell was on and off – it wasn’t a lingering, always-present odour.

There’s actually a pretty simple explanation for that: if atmospheric pressure is high, the foul odours aren’t drawn into the home from the pipe. As soon as the pressure goes down, though, that distinctive sewer smell comes up from the drain. If you catch any odd whiffs coming from the basement, any sewage-y smells at all, it is best to tackle the problem immediately. You can peruse our guide to drain repair and replacement or, better yet, give us a call.

Mister Plumber is available 24/7 for emergency plumbing cases, with loads of experience working with drains.

Consider Replacing Your Old Floor Drain

Old floor drains can be replaced with newer PVC pipes, which are less likely to crack and cause problems than their clay counterparts. All the connections for the pipe and its fittings are glued, so water will never escape the P-trap, and your home will never be bombarded by sewer smells.

Over time, as strides were made (and continue to be made) in the field of plumbing, the plumbing codes have changed. The current one requires the installation of a so-called “primer tube” that supplies a small amount of water to the floor drain to make sure it doesn’t dry out. (Please note here that the tube from the furnace, which discharges condensed water, is not enough lubrication for the pipe).

In the plumbing codebook, there is a lot of information about floor drain installation and proper venting. Mister Plumber is an expert in both underground and above ground drain systems installation, so we’re uniquely suited to help you fortify your floor drains, and ensure your basement plumbing is working in tip-top, fresh-smelling order.

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To Recap…

Although your basement is “out of sight, out of mind” sometimes, you shouldn’t neglect issues that arise from it. One such common issue is a problem with the floor drain, a drain whose installation has been made mandatory by the Ontario codebook. Floor drains prevent the backflow of noxious gases into your home using a P-trap, a curved pipe that collects standing water even when there is no flow. That water creates a barrier against the gases.

If your P-trap is clay, as many are, it is susceptible to cracks, which cause the protective barrier of water to seep out. When atmospheric pressure is low, those gases start permeating your residence, spreading stinky gas everywhere. The best defense against these gross odours is a newly installed PVC floor drain, which is far less likely to crack, and which is held together at joints by reliable glue. If you smell something, call someone! Call Mister Plumber immediately and we’ll help return your home to its fresh-smelling self.

The streetcars here in Toronto used to look more like trolley cars. The skyline used to be low to the ground, with only the Royal York Hotel towering above the others. The buildings used to be covered in soot, and you used to be able to get a hot meal for a nickel. But as with everything in the world, Toronto has changed in the last 100 or so years. In many ways, the new technologies and advancements of the intervening eras have greatly improved the city.

And Toronto plumbing is no different. 80 to 100 years ago, plumbers used different pipes and fittings when building houses. They were going off of the best contemporary research available to them, as well as – well – what they had available. But as the times in Toronto changed, so did our understanding of plumbing’s best practices.

In this post, as part of our ongoing series of plumbing tips for Toronto homeowners we’ll take a trip down memory lane, looking at how Toronto plumbing used to be. After, we will explore why some of the common materials of the time no longer hold water (pun intended). Finally, we will discuss what materials plumbers use contemporarily, and why these materials have replaced the old ones.

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The Way Things Used to Be

Older Toronto homes tend to be like museums for defunct types of plumbing materials. Many older homes still contain these following materials, and many homeowners consistently find problems. Here are a few old plumbing materials they used to use in Toronto that are generally considered to be problematic nowadays:

  • For water, they use galvanized steel pipes with threaded connections.
  • For the underground drain and sewer pipes, they used vitrified clay,
  • For the soil stack (or vertical main drain pipe), they used cast iron, with branches made of lead and galvanized steel.

It is important to stress that each of these pipes are pretty strong, so it is no wonder that a lot of houses in Toronto still have their original drain systems. But like everything in nature, these materials age, and the older these pipes and connectors get, the more problems they start creating. And the moment you notice a problem, hire a local plumber in Toronto to sort things out.

The Problem with the Old Materials

As popular as these materials once were, we now know that they each present unique and unavoidable problems. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, and plumbers of the time really did believe these materials to be the best bet for homes, but time has a way of humbling our best intentions. In this section, let’s look at a few of the popular types of materials listed above, and discuss the degenerative issues each present.

Galvanized steel pipes – a popular choice in homes – can easily start leaking at the joints or get a pinhole, especially with hot water, as temperature spikes increase the speed of chemical processes. The process happens from the inside out, too, as the protective layer of zinc eats away, making it hard to detect. What this means is that, once any small leak in a galvanized steel pipe presents itself, it is already indicative of a significant level of damage.

The vitrified clay used in underground drain and sewer pipes are susceptible to its surrounding elements. Many of the older clay drain and sewer pipes we have come across at Mister Plumber have a depression in them, caused by soil settlements and clogs that form in and around them. For example, the joints in underground clay pipes are affected by roots, which snake their way into small openings or hairline cracks. It may start from a tiny hairline crack, but as more roots grow, they make the crack bigger, further compromising the pipe.

Lead branches, which were used with the soil stack, often have an opposing slope because of settlement down the middle portion of the house. The problem here is that the wrong slope causes drain congestion and waste water backup. And cast iron, which the main soil stack pipe is made of, is affected by this corrosion.

The corrosion built up inside the pipe significantly reduces its diameter. Because of this, plumbers often install a bigger pipe (4”, or a minimum of 3” for the toilet), and the drain system will still work, even with reduced space inside. At the same time, however, corroded particles fall down and collect in the 90-degree cast iron elbow underground. Plumbers know, therefore, that if the cast iron stack is clogged, the underground portion must be replaced first as the worst pipe is underground (soil moisture speeds the corrosion processes).

These are complicated processes that aren’t always understandable to the layperson, but at Mister Plumber we take special pride in knowing the ins and outs of residential plumbing in Toronto. We offer our plumbing services all over Toronto and so have seen these problems countless times before, making us well equipped to tackle them in a timely and well-priced fashion. Your home may seem like a confusing patchwork of pipes to you, but, to us, each home’s plumbing system is like a fun puzzle.

The New Toronto Plumbing

Nowadays, plumbers tend to use materials we know will not deteriorate over time (or, at least, not as quickly). Plastics are popular, since they are rigorously pressure tested, difficult to crack, and have superior longevity. Copper is another material we like to use, which, like plastics, doesn’t suffer the deteriorative effects of corrosion as badly.

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In the picture above, you can see an old cast iron stack that we’ve replaced with PVC and ABS – complete with a new clean-out, as the plumbing code requires. Then, as you can see, the floor was restored with concrete mix patching.  For underground main water pipe installation, we use type “K” copper, a soft temper copper specially designed to be used underground. It’s the same type The City of Toronto uses, and allows us to install without using any joints.

If you are at all unsure about the materials used in your plumbing, or are experiencing leaks, backups, low water pressure, etc., call us today here at Mister Plumber and we can chat about updating your Toronto home with contemporary plumbing materials.

There are some wonderful aspects left of the way Toronto used to be – from the stunning Distillery District to the fields of Fort York – but your plumbing shouldn’t be one of those relics. Call us today and get a free estimate!

Your basement can be flooded from a variety of different sources: it can be the sanitary drain, the storm drain, your weeping tiles, or it can be a faulty sump pump, a burst water pipe… The list goes on. Wherever the source and whatever the cause, however, the end result is pretty much the same – damage to your house, your appliances, your possessions and your precious memories.

It is no surprise, then, that a frequent query we hear from homeowners is, ‘how can I protect my house against flooding. Late winter in the GTA, when that mountain of snow starts to melt, and freezing rain begins to pour, is when a lot of homeowners start to take stock of their plumbing.

Honestly, the very best way you can avoid basement flooding – simply from a homeowner’s perspective – is to bring in an expert plumber in Toronto you can rely on to implement preventative measures. It sounds like the obvious answer, but you would be surprised how many homeowners neglect to think about basement flooding until it’s too late.

On one level, it’s understandable: why throw money at an issue you aren’t sure will happen? But on a risk analysis level, it’s better to put up the (comparatively) little amount of money to proactively prevent the issue, than the large sum it might take to repair the damage, should an emergency occur.  

As mentioned, there are numerous reasons for a flooded basement. For our purposes however, in this post we’ll be looking at the sanitary drain, which is a topic that rears its head for a lot of homeowners, because it is complex system that involves both private responsibilities and city responsibilities. A leading cause of flooding in homes, it pays for homeowners to be well informed on matters concerning their sanitary drain and sewer.

There is one measure in particular that Toronto homeowners can look into if they want to reduce the risk of basement flooding: backwater valve installation services for your drain. In this post, we’ll discuss your sanitary drain and sewer, detailing both the private and city portions of it, and then talk about why a backwater valve is an effective first line of defense.

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Private vs. City Sanitary Drains

Let’s talk about your sanitary drain and sewer, and all the little nuances and unique difficulties that come with the territory. Because the private side of the pipe is located underground, it must be checked by a special scope or sewer camera, approximately every one or two years. Cameras can detect broken spots, shifts, root penetration, cracks, depressions… any major problems that have to be resolved in order for it to function properly.

But even if your private drains and sewers are in satisfactory condition, your basement can still be flooded if a problem occurs with the city municipal main drain on your street.

The issues on the private side that cause sewage backup are within a homeowner’s control; you can just stop using plumbing fixtures and call for plumbers’ help. On the other hand, an issue on the city side is beyond a homeowner’s control. You can’t run out into the street asking every neighbour to stop using his or her toilets – it is impossible. In this case, you have to call 311, and a city crew (that is available 24/7) can come to fix the pipes.

So there’s the solution to a problem with the city side, but can you ever effectively prevent an issue from the city side? As we’ll learn in just a moment, yes you can.

Backwater Valves to the Rescue

The only one device that can be installed in a building drain to prevent backup from the city side is a backwater valve. If you’re unfamiliar with how a backwater valve works, it’s actually pretty easy to understand. The valve itself has a normally open gate that activates and closes in case of back flow, meaning that water won’t have a chance to back up… usually.

Some people think if they’ve install backwater valve, they will never have problems with the sewer, but that is simply not true. The pipes within your private side have to be in good working condition too, as does the valve itself. We can maintain or fix your backwater valve as well as your pipes, to ensure everything works in top shape. In the picture below, you can see a backwater valve that was installed near the front foundation wall to protect ALL of the plumbing fixtures in the basement.

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After a restoration of the floor, access lids were installed for maintenance. The lids can easily be removed for routine cleaning, and any inspections that the valve may need can be swiftly performed. This is a recommended addition for all homeowners serious about avoiding flooding. You know you can call us for backwater valve help anytime but you still might wonder about the cost of such an installation. Well, there’s good news there.

Torontonians are lucky to have a subsidy program for backwater valve installation with a maximum rebate of $1250. Such work has to be done with a building permit and an authorized plumbing contractor, as Mister Plumber is. Here is the official City of Toronto page that details the program, and can explain how to apply. You might as well save some money while you protect your home, right?

And when you choose an authorized plumbing contractor, go with us. Mister Plumber has a lot of years of experience in the installation of flood protection devices. Call us anytime to get the best professional plumbing and drain services in the GTA.

Remember, though, that the sanitary drain is only one of many sources of flooding in the GTA. In our next post, we will discuss how to protect your basement from other sources of flooding, so stay tuned to this blog for more helpful homeowner information. And, when your plumbing is in doubt, remember to call in the experts – 24 hours a day, we’re on call to help the GTA.

There are a lot of perks about living in Toronto: the thriving, busy city centre, the abundance of entertainment and cultural activities, and the surrounding nature, to name just a few. But being a homeowner in Toronto can sometimes be a headache. Not only is the market hard to get into, but often the houses that are available don’t have the finest plumbing. In fact, there are many houses in Toronto that still have their original drain and plumbing.

Why is that so bad, you might ask? Well, back when a lot of these houses were being made, other materials were used for pipes and fittings, materials that we have since discovered do not age so gracefully. As examples, underground building drains and sewers were made of vitrified clay, above ground drains were either cast iron or lead, and water lines were either galvanized steel or lead. Each of these is problematic by today’s standards, and can cause big plumbing problems for your home.

Luckily, with the invention of plastic, a lot of positive changes occurred. For one, plumbers were no longer beholden to using these natural metals and clays, which can crack easily, or leach harmful substances into your drinking water. Plastics offered an inexpensive, easy-to-work-with and safe workaround to the alternatives.

Plastics now account for most to all of the new pipes you’ll find in Toronto. The most popular pipes, approved by Ontario building codes, are PEX (for water distribution), ABS (for drains), and PVC (for the underground main drain of the sewer). The outlier here is copper, which as you obviously know is not a plastic, but is nevertheless still used for main water service, because, compared to iron, steel and lead, it is soft, light, non-toxic and easy for plumbers to work with.

Old Stack Pipes

Like everything, when metal pipes get older, certain age-related issues begin to arise. In past articles, we have discussed lead pipes and underground clay drain piping – both undesirable plumbing features that homeowners really should replace. If you have lead pipes or clay drain piping, get in touch with us right away to upgrade. In this article, however, we will be focusing specifically on vertical cast iron drainpipes – or, what we plumbers call a “stack”. It is a pretty strong pipe, and as far as metals go it really isn’t too bad; it even has certain advantages compared to plastic, namely its quietness when water flows through it.

Despite that, the corrosion process over time can cause a build-up inside these pipes, causing the diameter of the pipe to become smaller and smaller. Eventually, the stack pipe cannot serve the proper amount of sewage, and a blockage is formed.

Another problem that old cast iron pipes can create is leaking, because the metal is susceptible to hairline cracks. There is a helpful question and answer thread on Houzz that breaks down the reasons for cast iron pipes cracking. To summarize, cast iron can become brittle over time, and the forces of leverage and weight can cause it to form cracks due to its rigidity.

Often, when you look at all portions of a cast iron pipe (including the vent stack that is terminated above the roof), the worst is the bottom of the pipe, located in the basement. And of that, the most vulnerable spot is a short piece of cast iron with a 90-degree elbow underground, right before the pipe connects to clay. All the pipe’s rusty particles fall down and are collected in the horizontal section of the drain, causing problems.

These are just a few issues homeowners might come up against if they have cast iron stack pipes. But what can they do about it?

Fixing the Issues

Now that you understand the potential problems that can arise from having an old cast iron stack pipe, let’s discuss briefly how you can remedy the problem. Even if you haven’t seen any problems yet, like blockages or leaking, if you live in an older Toronto home, it is wise to have Mister Plumber come check it out. You can liken it to taking preventative medical precautions – you want to take healthy measures before you get sick.

In the picture below, you can see an old cast iron pipe that has been upgraded; its underground portion has been upgraded with PVC and its above ground portion with ABS. At Mister Plumber, we recommend this plastic replacement for a more efficient, problem-free stack pipe. Plastics are relatively inexpensive, and our expert plumbing services in Toronto are competitively priced, so the entire process won’t be very hard on your wallet. It is a good move to make if you want to avoid potentially damaging leaks, as well as unhealthy, unsightly backups and blockages.

The Mister Plumber Difference

With tons of experience serving the GTA, we know Toronto plumbing. Living and breathing Toronto plumbing, we are particularly adept at spotting problems and then efficiently, inexpensively solving them, using top-of-the-line gadgetry, equipment and materials. But don’t take our word for it – visit our homepage and scroll down to read the many glowing customer testimonials. You don’t earn a five star Google rating with customers by slacking off – we take this job, and your happiness, very seriously.

With that in mind, if you live in an older home, give us a ring. It is better to nip these things in the bud then wait for a plumbing emergency to occur. To summarize, here is message to Torontonians: if you have old cast iron main stack, do not wait for sewage backup (that always seem to happen for some reasons on weekends or holidays!). Call Mister Plumber and get the job done right. Cast iron might be good for frying up a steak, but it shouldn’t be trusted with waste drainage, not when there are plastics like ABS and PVC that do the job much better.  

The joys of having an older home are numerous. They are often constructed solidly, in beautiful brick, brimming with old timey charm and character. But, as we have discussed many times on this blog, once you strip back that lovely exterior and look at the plumbing, there can be some problematic surprises waiting there for you. Lead and cast iron are just a couple of the popular offenders, but in this blog we will discuss a different one.

Most houses in Toronto – especially older houses – still have their old, original clay underground waste pipes. This is because 80 to 100 years ago, vitrified clay was the best material for drainpipes below ground level. Times, of course, have changed, and clay is no longer the best material to use, but nevertheless some of those pipes are in (more or less) good condition and perform their daily tasks.

Notice that we said some of them. Other homes aren’t so lucky, and the clay underground waste pipes can cause some real grief.Through our many visits and plumbing calls, we at Mister Plumber have come across numerous homeowners, who do not check their main drain often, with the same story: they have come one day to find sewage backed up and flooding the basement.

Sometimes, the homeowners just moved in, and haven’t had times to call a plumber for main drain inspection. That can be incredibly frustrating (not to mention costly) for a new homeowner, but the fact is that, while there are a lot of things checked by home inspectors prior to closing, the underground sewer line isn’t one of them.

That said, let’s take a closer look at the process behind inspecting your drain – how we inspect it, what we often recommend if there is a problem, and what we do if pipe replacement is necessary.   

Inspecting the Drain

The main drain and the sewer line are both located underground, so you need to get your drain inspected by experts with special equipment. The special drain camera we use here at Mister Plumber that is top of the line and can show us what kind of condition the buried pipe is in. The camera itself has LED lighting and sends back pictures to the monitor of the inner space of the pipe. A trained, eagle-eyed plumber knows exactly what they are looking for in these images – tell tale signs that the pipe needs unblocking or replacing.  

The picture below this paragraph shows a blockage inside of an old pipe that was detected by our camera after a customer’s basement flooded with sewage. It is a little difficult to see, but the monitor is definitely showing signs of blockage. You can think of us like plumbing detectives, looking for clues, and this right here is the smoking gun!

With the problem assessed, it is time to consider what must be done. Some issues can be solved with a process known as “drain snaking”, while others require either partial or full sewer line replacement – you can click here to learn more about the services we offer. For now, let’s take a quick look at the options.

Drain Snaking

Drain snaking is the process of using a flexible auger – essentially, a helical metal wire that we use to move through a pipe and break up soft debris. The drain snake knocks off excess build-up from the sides of your pipe, allowing for a better flow. If roots have made their way into the main drain, whether through small cracks or fractures, a snake might be temporarily effective at cutting the roots and solving the issue of a backup. As the leading drain cleaning experts in Toronto we have used this process many times, to good effect. But it doesn’t always work.


Some blockages cannot be cleared with the use of a drain snake, either because the settlements have become too rigid over time, or there is significant structural damage to the pipe. In these cases, homeowners will require pipe replacement. It may seem like a large undertaking, but a) it really isn’t that disruptive or expensive, b) it has to be done eventually (no pipe lasts forever), and c) it is completely necessary if you want to avoid costlier, unhealthy backups in the future.

What we do is replace the clay pipes with new PVC. A durable, cost-efficient and easy-to-work-with plastic, PVC is the top choice of any good plumber looking to partially or fully replace a main drain. You can see from the chart in this comprehensive study the relative water main break rates in North America for different materials; notice that materials like cast iron and cement have very break rates, whereas PVC has only a minuscule amount.

Mister Plumber provides both partial and full sewer line replacement, including the outside portion up to the property line. Also, in order to save some money for the homeowners we help, we combine the partial replacement with the installation of a backwater valve – a valve that protects against backflow. With this plumbing package, the homeowner gets a new PVC pipe,  a backflow valve and a rebate from city of Toronto.

The second picture, seen above, shows a backwater valve installed in place of a broken clay pipe. At Mister Plumber, we understand that some drain work can be expensive, so finding the best, most cost-effective solution for homeowners our top priority. That’s why we ensure that each and every one of our customers gets the fullest service we can offer, complete with professional, up-to-the-minute equipment and materials.

If you suspect you might have clay main drain pipes, or are experiencing blockages and backups, please do not hesitate to give Mister Plumber a call. Even if it happens in the middle of the night. At Mister Plumber, we understand that your plumbing doesn’t always work on a convenient schedule, and can sometimes malfunction at the least convenient times, which is why we offer 24/7 help. For more information, and to see pictures of our recent jobs, check out our website.

As we head into a New Year, and yet another popular season for home renovation, we start seeing more and more homeowners mull over plumbing fixtures. Oftentimes, the first room to get renovated is the bathroom, and homeowners, eager to see their money in the final product, will go for trendy fixtures like hanging vanities and modern faucets.

It’s not that these trendy fixtures are always bad. Sometimes you can find the perfect mix of functionality and aesthetics. But nowadays, there are hundreds – even thousands – of plumbing fixtures brands on the market, and it takes some research to ensure that you aren’t just getting a pretty picture. That’s why you can always call us for help with your plumbing problems during renovation.

The amount of choice out there can feel pretty overwhelming, and it’s difficult for homeowners to know how to choose the right fixture. Some fixtures have a limited warranty while others have a lifetime warranty. Some brands are new to market while some have a long history. To help you cut through the noise, we at MisterPlumber have decided to share our thoughts on plumbing fixtures.

To sum up our ample plumbing experience, we have noticed that homeowners who choose well-known brands – brands with experience in manufacturing for residential functionality, and with honed lines of customer service – often feel better about their purchase than those who go with new, fad brands. To clarify this point, let’s look at a few reasons fad fixture soften come up short, and then discuss what to look for in bathroom fixtures.

The Trouble with Fad Fixtures

You have to remember that style and finish are not the most important feature when choosing bathroom fixtures.  They are a fantastic bonus feature, to be sure, but they shouldn’t be priority number one. For instance, we’ve heard many plumbers state that certain designer faucets, which admittedly do look fabulous because of the designers’ work, have significant technical drawbacks. Such taps are hard to install and they do not mix water smoothly, making for sharp spikes in the temperature of the discharging water.

Another inconvenience with new brands is that they don’t yet have the means to reliably create new parts, nor do they enjoy the economy of scale that their established competitors do, meaning that, if you need to replace anything, it is more difficult and more expensive. Even a simple replacement like a faucet cartridge can be a major headache.

So, our advice: do not choose faucets by their look and price. Here is an example to support our statement. Maybe around 15 years ago, a new line of “Eurostream” kitchen faucets burst onto the market that were not only trendy looking but pretty affordable too. Naturally, a lot of people bought them. In five years, however, the company went out of business and it was impossible to get a replacement cartridge, so homeowners had to buy anotherfaucet and hire a plumber to replace it. What was meant initially to be acost-saving measure turned out costing homeowners over double the price.

That’s not to say that this is the case with every new fixture company, and sometimes it can be good to patronize a new company that appears to make good products. It is best, however, to start looking for a plumber in Toronto to consult with before you make a big purchase. Our knowledgeable plumbers here at Mister Plumber will be able to weigh on in whether the fixture will work logistically for your bathroom, and notify you of any potential drawbacks in the design.

How to Pick the Right Fixtures

Whether it’s taps, toilets, vanities or tubs, most plumbers suggest you go with plumbing fixtures from well-known brands. You want to go with brands that have enjoyed many years on market, whose customer service is easy to work with and responds quickly to homeowners‘ requests. This way if you run into a problem, need to fix that dripping faucet or need a key feature replaced, you can do so easily and quickly.

Also, older brands often have lifetime warranties and replace worn parts for free. Again, this is likely because of economy of scale, but also because older brands tend to do whatever they can to secure brandloyalty – and there’s no better avenue to loyalty than a lifetime guarantee.

For instance, as an anecdote, our personal experience with the “Moen” brand has been very positive. Once, when a vanity tap started leaking and it was determined that the problem was non-repairable, Moen offered a complete replacement of the tap with no charge to the homeowner (our plumber was the homeowner in this case!). Conversely, we’ve had times where we’ve dealt with homeowners who struggle to replace a part with a designer fixture.

This article from the Faucet Guide (which is a real publication dedicated to the review of all things bathroom fixture!) agrees with our assessment about Moen, listing them as the top faucet on the market. This is a website that we recommend you peruse if you want unbiased, thorough reviews on bathroom fixtures from people who really know what they’re talking about. Yes, customer reviews on Amazon are helpful, but the Faucet Guide offers reviews from people who really know what they’re talking about.

The Bottom Line

With thousands of fixtures on the market, it can be difficult to cut through the noise and find the quality. While there is no hard and fast rule for finding quality, we have found that going with large, established companies is a safer bet in terms of replacement parts, functionality and customer support.

There are certainly designer fixtures that buck this trend – we understand that. That’s why, when you are serious about remodelling or renovating your bathroom, it’s in your best interest to get a free estimate from a local Toronto plumber and consult with a plumber about fixtures. We will be able to impart our years of industry knowledge and point you in the direction of well-made fixtures bolstered by supportive brands.

When it comes time to replace your bathroom fixtures, remember that it’s better to prioritize functionality over aesthetics. It’s much easier finding a reliable brand that makes trendy looking fixtures than itis finding a trendy looking brand making reliable fixtures.

It sounds just about as scary as it is: lead in the drinking water. It’s something that, these days, we intuitively know is wrong, but there was a time in the not-so-distant past that lead water pipes were the norm. It’s an issue that experienced plumbers in Toronto have been dealing with for decades, but it recently got a signal boost a few years ago when the Toronto Star ran an investigative piece on it.

In the piece, the Star obtained data from 15,000 water tap samples between 2008 and 2014 and found that 13 percent of Toronto households tested for unsafe levels of lead. In some cases, the maximum acceptable leadconcentrations were exceeded by more than 2,000times. That’s more than an eighth of Toronto households exposed to a dangerous toxin, some of them to an incredibly hazardous degree.

Naturally, the homeowners that read the article were outraged, and many did something about it. In the intervening years, we at Mister Plumber have been instrumental in replacing old lead pipes (we replaced them before the article as well). But we figured we would use this blog to bring attention to the problem once again, since there are still many Toronto homes whose water is still lead contaminated.

In this post, we’ll look at the history of lead pipes in Toronto, as well as the hazards these pipes pose. Finally, we will discuss what you can do to solve the problem, and how the City of Toronto can help.

The History

The history of lead in plumbing is a long one, dating all the way back to Roman times when the Empire was supplied their water by lead pipes. It was so important to plumbing, in fact, that it’s even where we got the word from – “lead” in Latin is “plumb”, which is where we get the wordplumber.

But there is evidence that lead poisoning might have even been the reason for the fall of Rome, as this Washington Post article explains. That being the case, it’s incredible that a couple thousand years later, people still hadn’t learned their lesson about lead.

Many houses in Toronto built prior to the 1950s have lead pipes underground that supply clean drinking water to the house. Lead was widely used in plumbing because its unique properties made it ideal for underground fitting – it is soft metal and can be bent without kinking, meaning that it can be manoeuvred and manipulated easily, and that shifting soil won’t beak it.

The only problem is that, as the lead in the pipe corrodes, it enters the drinking water. The corrosion can happen swiftly, causing the pipes to exceed safe PPB (parts per billion) lead levels (though it is also worth noting that no level of lead is safe for children). If you suspect you have lead pipes, get in touch with our expert plumbers immediately.

The Hazard

Nowadays, it has been proven scientifically that this heavy metal can cause health issues in humans –, especially children. Lead affects the nervous system and brain and can cause serious developmental problems for fetuses, babies and children under six. It is also hazardous to adults, building up in the system over time, causing fatigue, memory loss, high blood pressure and a whole host of other problems.

For more information on the serious, deleterious effects of lead in both children and adults, we recommend you take a look at theWorld Health Organization’s page on the subject. They state that there is no safe level of lead exposure.

The Solution

Another safe metal that can be used underground is soft temper copper. It has similar advantageous properties to lead, like bending under soil pressure without harming itself, only without the harmful effects. It’s the standard underground piping that we at Mister Plumber use, for its agility as well as its long-lasting qualities.

Another great thing about copper is that it is sold as a coil in 66- and 100-foot lines, which means that the private portion of a water service can be done with one piece of pipe, where one end is connected to cityside and the other end has a soldering connection with the main shut off valve in the house. No need for multiple joints, which could be susceptible to root damage. You can learn about pipe lining services and what they can do for you at this link.

The new copper pipe that we use at Mister Plumber is bigger in size, as new Ontario plumbing codes state that the minimum size for one family dwelling must be at least 3/4” inside diameter, to aid in better water pressure (among other reasons). So you might find that a welcome by-product of replacing your old lead pipes is better water pressure and a more satisfying morning shower.

How We Can Help

The City of Toronto encourages everyone who has old lead pipes to upgrade with copper within their private property, at which point the city side is upgraded by Toronto Water at no cost to the homeowner. It is a highly recommended replacement, and one that the City is doing in order to keep homeowners – especially those with young children – safe from the effects of lead.

Mister Plumber is a leading licensed contractor in Toronto for residential underground pipe replacement. We use modern equipment, like air compressors, and one of the newest and keep homeowners models of torpedo, which allows us to do the work within one day. All estimates are provided by master licensed plumbers, who have over 15 years of experience in the GTA.

There should be no reason in 2019 for lead pipes in your property, especially given the great work Toronto Star did a few years again uncovering the problem. If your house is older, or you suspect that it has lead piping, call Mister Plumber immediately and we will replace those old lead pipes today with safe, long-lasting copper pipes.

If the fall of Rome taught us anything, it’s that we have to pay proper attention to the materials we use in our plumbing. Let’s not let this mistake continue any longer than it has to – call us today and let’s make sure lead is dead in Toronto!