Kansas Could Use a Statewide Septic Code

Plumbers and electricians only have one set of rules to follow. Joe Seiwert wonders why that can’t happen for the septic service industry.

Kansas Could Use a Statewide Septic Code

Name and title or job description: Joe Seiwert, part owner along with his father, Ken; brother Jon; and their respective wives Stacie, Betty and Kristen

Business name and location: Seiwert Services Inc., Garden Plain, Kansas

Services we offer: We provide design, installation and maintenance of conventional and advanced systems and lagoons. We got involved in the advanced systems in about 2012 as a way to keep busy during the downturn in the economy.

 Age: 37

Years in the industry: I’ve been doing this for 19 years, but the business was started in 1955 by my grandpa A.C. Seiwert, so I’m third generation.

Association involvement: I’ve been a member of the Kansas Small Flows Association for about seven years.

Benefits of belonging to the association: I like the conference the association does and the continuing education it provides. On its website, there is a list of installers and maintenance people who are members of the association; this points customers who want a licensed contractor to these professionals. So it’s a way to get customers.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: We’re having trouble finding new topics to discuss and get continuing education hours for learning about new processes and new products. It’s on repeat right now. We just do the same stuff every year.

Our crew includes: Stacie is president, Kristen is vice president and Betty is secretary/treasurer as well as the office manager and bookkeeper. Ken and Jon are equipment operators. Jeff Nunn drives a dump truck and delivers material for us.

Typical day on the job: If we’re doing a system, I gather supplies, go to the job site and lay out the job, then work on installing. When it’s done, we meet with the homeowners to show them what they have and answer any questions so they understand how to use it. A lot of people are moving from the city to the country. They are used to city sewer and they never really paid attention to it. I believe the biggest problem with system failures is homeowners not understanding what they have in their yards.

If we’re digging a basement, which we also do, then I’m involved in the design process from the very beginning, before the foundation is put in. I lay everything out and mark everything off so that other contractors can stay off the area we’re going to use for the septic system and so that homeowners can decide where to put other stuff like sheds and outbuildings, how to position the house and where to come out with the sewer outlet. It’s more difficult if you’re not involved in that process.

And I’m on the phone quite a bit with county regulators getting approvals for designs. We work in nine counties, so I have nine separate inspectors and sets of rules to deal with.           

The job I’ll never forget: There was a job where I crushed my thumb, and it took three surgeries and nine months to fix it. It was a real cold January and we were trying to get a piece of pipe shoved into a septic tank. I had a board and a 3-pound hammer and just had really bad aim that day. It put me out of commission for a couple months — at least for putting sewers in.

My favorite piece of equipment: I have a Komatsu America PC210LCi. The “i” stands for intelligent controls. It’s all GPS-controlled and -monitored. I use the GPS to lay out the job site, and I make maps for the homeowners. I can do a lot of work by myself because the controls on the machine allow me to set grade and dig trenches at slope. It’s a one-person job now, and it’s also a lot more on target.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: We did a job for a lawyer who had a failed system. We had to fix the system and then add on to it to bring it up to the correct capacity of the house. He had a very nice yard and didn’t want it tore up. We used the excavator to cut the grass for the trenches and laid it off to the side, and then we put the dirt to the other side and carried the rock in from the street. Then we backfilled all the trenches and put the grass back on top of it. We only had a certain area to work in: He was very adamant about where we could and could not go. He sent me a note afterward — which we don’t usually get — that said we did a great job, so he seemed happy.

Oops, I wish I could take this one back: We did a job for one of our biggest builders. They had poured a sidewalk in the way of where we needed to go for the tank truck. So, I decided, since the sidewalk was there and we couldn’t drive over it, we’d carry the tank in with the excavator. I had no idea how much the tank weighed but knew we had to try to do it. The machine couldn’t pick the tank up and travel at the same time. I picked it up and leapfrogged it toward the hole. Then when I got to the hole, I was trying to lift it down in there and actually dropped the tank. Luckily, it was sandy enough that it wasn’t damaged but the lid fell off. It was an advanced system and it damaged some of the stuff inside so we had to fix all that and then put the lid back on. In addition, our truck driver was delivering rock for the job and got stuck in the sand and broke the axle on the truck. I was glad to see that job done.

If I could add any wastewater-related service, it would be: We’re so busy right now that we can’t really add anything, but if we could, I would add a (vacuum) truck. It seems like there’s a shortage of (pumping work) around here.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: Someone asked if they could flush baby wipes and I said no. But I always tell people there really isn’t a dumb question and I’d rather they call me with a question than have an issue later and have to pay me to come fix a failure.

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: I wish, at the state level, we could get to a standardized code. Working in nine counties, I have to know nine different codes and processes. Everybody has their own opinion on the quality of the products and how to certify products. I wish they could get everybody together and come up with a standardized code. Plumbers and electricians have that, but wastewater regulations vary quite a bit for each county.

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: My dad told me when I was young that you have to spend money to make money.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: Be a heavy-haul truck driver.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: One thing I hope for is some kind of remote monitoring of advanced systems. A lot of times I get called about an alarm and I’m glad they called, because some people don’t call, but some people can be a little dramatic and make it worse than it really is. So it would be nice if there were an inexpensive way we could remote monitor the systems.  

- Compiled by Betty Dageforde


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