Is The Wastewater Industry Right For You?

Experienced septic service contractors share advice with someone just starting out in the business.

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This feature in Pumper reports noteworthy conversations that take place at the Pumper Discussion Forum, an online forum for industry professionals found at Pumper Discussion enables exchange of information and ideas on septic and drainfield installation and maintenance, trucks and equipment, portable sanitation, chemical and additives and much more. Information and advice in “Overheard Online” is offered in good faith by industry professionals. However, readers should consult in depth with appropriate industry sources before applying such advice to a specific business situation.


I am a single dad of three kids in California and I want to make a better life for them and me. I have about 20 years in the underground utility business, and I have installed 100 or so septic systems and grease traps and associated leachfields, distribution boxes, etc. So I have some experience in this field.

Can you all let me know the best way to get my feet wet and start making money in the septic business? I know I will have to advertise and hit the streets to get my name out there. I plan on getting a website built and posting advertising signs in the rural areas where septic systems are popular in my area.

Should I buy the biggest truck I can afford or start small? Where is my start-up capital best invested? It’s pretty limited.


Good for you trying to better yourself for you and your family. How much capital do you plan to start with? A nice used pump truck will cost $50,000 plus insurance, permits, outfitting truck, etc. It adds up fast.

As far as starting with a big truck, that is up to you and your budget. I ran a 3,400-gallon truck. In the next two to three months I will be pulling the trigger on a 5,000-gallon truck. Since you are just starting out, I think a smaller truck will work just fine.

Getting the work is another story. I spend $981 per month on advertising. It’s mostly online. It does work. I do get two-three calls a week on average from it.

In southeast Pennsylvania, dumping cost is $18 per 1,000 gallons for septic. The dumping fee I post is the lowest of anyone whom I talk to in the business. Don’t be shocked in California; you’re going to pay $50 per 1,000 gallons or more. Grease in my area is $60 per 1,000 gallons.

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You need to find out how much everyone else charges, how much it costs to dump and how many miles you have to travel to a job before you get started. Once you know these things, work out how many tanks you need to pump per week to cover costs, including paying yourself. Also don’t underestimate how much it costs to run a truck.

I started my business from nothing three years ago. I charge more than anyone else because I know what all my costs are. My competitors charge less but are working for nothing as far as I’m concerned. They might get more work than me; I don’t know and have given up caring. Doing five tanks a day for no profit just doesn’t make sense to me.

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What is the average size tank in your area? Will your dump charge by the tank size or what you actually have in the tank? A lot of places weigh the trucks. California has a lot of rules and regulations from what I’ve read. How far is the dump? Do they take only certain types of waste? A lot of places won’t take grease.

I wouldn’t spend all your savings on a pump truck. Buy something you can afford to start out with. Plus the phone most likely will not ring off the hook in the startup of the business so you need some cushion.

Make sure the truck you get is in decent shape. Make sure the tank is nice and strong and baffles are still holding up. Always check for leaks on the tank and motor. Also make sure you paint your truck nice.

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If you don’t intend on doing installs and repairs, develop a relationship with a few people who do this kind of work. Make sure they will take care of your customer the way you would. You don’t want to recommend someone who is doing poor work.

Branding is everything. Paint your truck nice and keep to a theme. Paint your pickup to match if you will be using it in the field. Develop a nice logo and put it on shirts, hats, business cards, flyers. Also keep the crude slogans to inside jokes between you and your buddies. As an industry we need to keep improving our image. A nasty phrase on your truck just makes you look like you don’t care.

Join your local association. You are likely to find a mentor there who can help when you have questions. Seek knowledge anywhere you can. You need to know all you can about all kinds of systems you will be servicing, not just the mechanical but the biological as well.

Check out for trucks. I would recommend a truck in the 3,500-gallon range. This will allow you to do two or three jobs before having to offload. If an onboard water supply is not required in your state, you should seriously consider one. Being able to clean your equipment, run your jetter or add water to a tank if there is none available on the job site is so nice.

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You absolutely must be a go-getter! A guy placing some ads and waiting on the phone to ring will soon be out of business. If you can’t walk up to a house uninvited, knock on the door, hand them a card or a flyer, tell them who you are and what you do, and ask them for their business, this may not be for you. A real go-getter can be making six figures within a few years and that is conservative. 


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