The Best Moneymakers of 2017

The equipment, septic components and technology installers relied on the most this year
The Best Moneymakers of 2017
Courtney Stephenson in her pink Bobcat E50 mini-excavator.

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The right knowledge, skills and experience is crucial to success in the onsite installation business, but all the expertise in the world gets you nowhere if you don’t have efficient, reliable equipment to execute the work.

Here, installers we featured this year talk about some of the products and equipment they rely on daily. From excavators to alarm systems, how these owners utilize their equipment efficiently is what keeps their customers satisfied — and earns them profit. Use their stories as inspiration for your own business.

“Having the right tools and equipment is the best way to get a job done,” says Courtney Stephenson, owner of Atlantic On-Site Services. “The machines I’ve chosen I find to be the most versatile, compact and convenient.”

Her fleet includes a pair of 12,000-pound Bobcat E50 mini-excavators she can haul behind her truck. “I can get them into just about any place I’ve needed to go in my 12 years. They can go through fence gates. They’re on rubber tracks, so they do the least damage. I can cross a driveway if I need to. They also seem to have the best power for their size. I use them every day.”

Looking to raise her profile, Stephenson recently put a hot-pink wrap on one of the mini-excavators. “I hoped it would help my marketing a little bit. There’s some expense involved, but it makes for great advertising.”

Jon Houseknecht, owner of Sunset Septic and Excavating, likes the Alarmbot system (CSI Controls) because the electrical components are outside the tank. “I’ve always had an issue with components inside a tank,” he says. “When a pump fails, you often find a tank completely full or more than full, and if components are inside the tank, then you have electricity mixing with water.”

Doing repair work on septic systems can prove educational, says Tim Rozendaal, co-owner of Norm Rozendaal Tiling in Monroe, Iowa. “Seeing many different systems and other installers’ work has changed the way we install and the products we buy,” he says. “Occasionally, it has even motivated us to try something new.”

One such example made it easier to maintain pump stations. Instead of mounting the water level floats and alarm floats on the pump pipe, Rozendaal listened to CEU instructors when they suggested using float trees.

“I liked the idea but couldn’t see buying float trees when all we needed was PVC pipe,” he says. “We mount the floats on one pipe and the alarms on another, then adhere the pipes inside the riser away from the pump pipe. On the pump pipe, we use PVC unions instead of flexible couplings because they aren’t pressure rated. This approach makes diagnosing problems and maintenance easier.”

Rozendaal also switched from using pumps to siphons from Fluid Dynamics. Although done mainly for ease of installation, removing as many mechanical components as possible made systems simpler and easier for homeowners to maintain. “Siphons increase the sand filter’s square footage slightly, but they are giving really good results,” he says.

Another thing Rozendaal has learned is the importance of investing in the safety of his employees. A big job installing underground drainage to divert runoff from roofs to storm sewers required Rozendaal to make safety a top priority. Rozendaal; his farther, Norm; and two other employees tackled the job at DuPont Pioneer, a large producer of agricultural hybrid seeds. “We had to take their safety training and abide by OSHA rules while on the property,” Tim Rozendaal says. “The lessons we learned made us think about safety methods and how important it is to go home to our families every night.”

Foremost on the DuPont Pioneer job was renting a trench box, something the crew hadn’t used before. Back home, Rozendaal bought a Speed Shore box and fabricated a trailer for it, then offered the mobile unit to nearby cities for free. “We’d watched a video about cave-ins and had discussions with people involved in them,” he says. “I didn’t want that happening to anyone.”

The three partners who own Ken-Way Excavating found their specialty in pipe bursting septic service lines.

Getting the job done underground saves on fuel consumption over using traditional excavation, extending the work season in their frosty territory around Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and making customers happy by limiting the mess left behind by trench work.

Charlie Fisher, who owns Ken-Way Excavating with brothers Dan and Pat Zamastil, saw the technology in other parts of the country and wanted to bring its advantages to Iowa.

Although he had not seen the technique used for onsite installations, he knew that the pipe between a home and a tank was no different than the lateral from a home to a sewer main. And the idea can be extended to include pipes that carry water or natural gas.

Currently Ken-Way Excavating uses pipe bursting equipment from HammerHead Trenchless, and it’s often employed when they install onsite systems. For replacing 4-inch pipe, they have a PB30, a small machine suited for tight spaces. Machines of other sizes handle larger sewer main work. And although typical demonstrations or online videos show equipment bursting clay pipe, it can do more. “We can burst plastic, cast-iron, ductile iron and transite pipe,” Fisher says.

Andrew Gunia, owner of A Advanced Septic & Construction Services, swears by two things to save time on service calls. Depending on site needs, the company uses AfterShock, made by Cape Cod Biochemical. This bacteria-based product is designed to help restore drainfields’ drainage capacity. “We got introduced to AfterShock at a WWETT Show,” Gunia says. “Ever since we started adding that chemical to pump tanks or drainfields, our callbacks decreased even further.”

Gunia also equips every vacuum truck with a Crust Busters agitator, which he credits for reducing employee fatigue and back strain. They also allow trucks’ vacuum pumps to work more efficiently and with less stress, which results in less maintenance, he says. On a typical residential tank, Gunia estimates a Crust Busters agitator saves anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes per pumping.

The first step in any repair job is learning what’s going on underground, which is why an inspection camera is the most valuable tool at McKim Septic in Purcellville, Virginia. The company’s newest unit is a C100 self-leveling camera from Trojan Worldwide.

McKim Septic has three technicians on the road answering a variety of calls, and they handle about 15 inspections per day. Although not required by the state, real estate agents always want inspections at the time of sale.

“We use that camera for every sale we do. A lot of these older homes have no drawings of the wastewater system or have very poor drawings,” Michelle McKim says.

“People will call us because they have wet spots in their yards. Instead of digging up the entire yard, we can use the camera. As long as we can get into the tank or the distribution box, we can see what’s going on,” she says.

Denby Environmental Services utilizes GPS transmitters from Global Fleet Management. Each truck has one, which makes it easier to dispatch the nearest technician to a call. In one instance, it helped owner Gerry Knoop reassure a customer who had expected service at a specific time. “I had a call from a man at a park who had been waiting 15 minutes for my driver to show. I told him he should have been on site by this time, so I checked the GPS tracking app. Sure enough, he was on site, working at a different location from where the gentleman had been calling.”

Another favorite tool of the Knoop family at Denby Environmental Services has nothing to do with digging holes or building a drainfield. It’s the company’s Land Pride power rake/tiller Model 1050.

Attached on the back of the company’s Kubota 3940 tractor, it makes short work of creating a good seedbed for site restoration after an onsite system installation is complete.

“It has been a back saver,” says Tim Knoop, son of co-owners Gerry and Amy Knoop. “We were hand-raking everything before we made the purchase.”

Gerry Knoop says it leaves homeowners happy. “The problem for all installers is that the quality of our work is buried. Customers never see it, and in the process, you destroy their yards. But the power rake leaves a nice-looking surface behind.”

Knoop sees another benefit from investing in the rake: It improves utilization of the company’s other assets. Everyone invests a lot of money in tools, he says, yet taking time to hand-rake the soil above an installation leaves all those other assets sitting idle instead of earning more revenue. Having the power rake means a crew finishes a job faster and can quickly put the other expensive machines into service on another project.


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