Properly Pricing Your Onsite System Services

Properly Pricing Your Onsite System Services
Jim Anderson

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When I talk with homeowners that have had recent experiences with installers or service providers, many often wonder if they were charged correctly for the work that was done. 

They are usually concerned that the job was somehow overpriced and they ended up paying more than they should. In most cases the numbers provided sound reasonable to me, based on what I pay my own providers and on the kinds of numbers I hear when discussing this issue with installers and service providers. Of course, I think I have a little more insight into the work being provided than the average homeowner, so I’m probably easier to convince than someone that looks at some of the tasks involved as being simple. 

When I first started doing site evaluation and design work, I had a number of clients challenge the bill at the end of the job. These are the kinds of conversations you do not want to have. I found that these conversations could be avoided if I spent more time upfront explaining the work I was going to do, what it entailed and what I would have to do if things turned out different than the initial assessment and additional work needed to be done. This is something a lot of professionals recognize as just good customer service. 

Documentation pays 

For me developing the right price and ensuring the homeowner understands what they are paying for and feels good about it, starts with a good scope of services document. This document can form the basis of your discussion with the customer about what you will do for a given price and what you are not going to do, explaining that if additional work is necessary, it will cost more. Leave the document with them after the initial discussion so they can refer back to the information you provided. 

One of the best examples of how this can help is with system inspections. Before conducting a system inspection, the scope of services document should highlight that the inspection does not start until all components are located. If there are components that need to be located because they’re not easily visible, there are extra charges for the time and equipment used to find them. Once all components are located, then the charges associated with the inspection, opening the tank and other components, pumping the tank and the assessment kick in. This way there are no surprises when the customer gets the bill. 

Tracking costs 

The price you present for the work has to reflect your actual costs, plus a reasonable profit for your efforts. This means you need to track equipment and machinery costs. Consider equipment rentals; fuel costs; and labor costs if other workers are needed. All of these are important to running a successful, and profitable, business. 

This was brought home to me a long time ago when an installer I worked with frequently was talking about bringing his son into the business and that his son was quick to accept jobs that were outside their normal working area. Of course, the son bid the jobs according to their standard pricing and off he and the crew went. 

My installer friend took great pleasure in telling me how when the job was finished, what a revelation it was when he sat down at the table and went through all of their costs. They ended up losing $2,000 on a job that looked very lucrative on the surface. 

Those are tough lessons to learn, but those that are successful learn how to evaluate those costs and how to present them to the customer. When you do this, you can guarantee to make an adequate profit and the customer feels good about the product and services they received. That is the right price.

About the Author
Jim Anderson is connected with the University of Minnesota onsite wastewater treatment education program, is an emeritus professor in the university’s Department of Soil Water and Climate, and education coordinator for the National Association of Wastewater Technicians. Send him questions about septic system maintenance and operation by email to


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