Texas Onsite System Installing Team Builds A Specialty In Rainwater Reuse

Installer Luke Snyder adds water conservation technologies to his family’s onsite business to promote sustainability for homeowners in the drought-stricken Southwest

Texas Onsite System Installing Team Builds A Specialty In Rainwater Reuse
The JerNan work crew includes, from left, Justin Nix, Luke Snyder, Jerry Snyder and Nathan Vaughn.

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As drought conditions deepened in recent years in the Southwest, Texas onsite installer Luke Snyder saw an opportunity to offer an added service to his customers who needed new or replacement wastewater systems. So the director of operations for his family’s business specializing in advanced treatment systems lengthened the company name to JerNan Septic & Rainwater Solutions.

“Since aerobic treatment systems reclaim water, capturing runoff from roofs fit right in,” says Snyder, who runs the Waco, Texas, company with his parents, Jerry and Nancy Snyder. The concept of rainwater catchment is gaining interest in the drought-stricken region, and many of JerNan’s customers are intrigued by a message of sustainability.

Snyder, an accredited rainwater professional and inspection specialist through the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA), teaches a water conservation/rainwater harvesting course at McLennan Community College. His long-range plan is to grow a full-service business offering rainwater harvesting, remediation and onsite installations, landscaping, irrigation and drainage consultation, thereby treating each property as an individual watershed.

A FAMILY COMPANY

Jerry and Nancy Snyder started the septic business in 1997. Luke, 37, joined his father during breaks from earning associate degrees at McLennan. He studied marketing and public relations at Texas Tech University, leaving in his junior year to help grow the business.

“In 2000, the economy boomed with opportunities for expansion,” says Luke Snyder. “Dad focused on communications and sales, and I did most of the labor.” Remediation and repair of 500 to 600 gpd residential onsite systems generated 90 percent of the work. Maintaining 15 commercial systems and installing one or two of them each year comprised the remainder. 

Jerry Snyder’s friend and mentor, Tim Taylor, executive director of the Texas Onsite Wastewater Association, introduced him to aerobic treatment units. Father and son took TOWA courses on the technology, and Luke became a licensed site evaluator. They distributed and installed units from Hydro-Action Industries (Aqua-Drip), Hoot Systems, Consolidated Treatment Systems (Nayadic and Multi-Flo) and Clearstream Wastewater Systems.

By the mid-2000s, however, poor installations, homeowner abuse and scant maintenance had given ATUs a bad reputation. “Lawns stank of sewage when irrigated and high-water alarms inundated us every Saturday afternoon,” Luke Snyder recalls.

Fixing systems, including some of their own installs, was an epiphany for the younger Snyder. Much of the work involved replacing laterals from the house to the tank or 5 to 10 feet of supply pipe from the tank outlet.

“The proper bedding of tanks and pipes was never enforced,” he says. “When contractors backfilled with excavated heavy clay or rock, the soil’s weight caused piping to dip, crack or break. Seeing what happened underground made us better installers. Now we bed and backfill tanks and piping with fine gravel and components don’t move.”

ADDING A VACUUM TRUCK

By 2006, a service board full of repair work demanded prompt pumpouts. The family bought a used International truck with 2,200-gallon steel tank and Wallenstein pump from Mid Continent Truck Sales. Jerry Snyder, 66, climbed behind the wheel and A+ pumping service rolled out. He was quick to educate homeowners about needed repairs or potential problems.

His conversations usually caused the phone to ring at JerNan Septic, a 2,500-square-foot shop with two bays and an office on the family’s 12 acres. It’s also home to a 416D and a 416E backhoe and a 236B skid-loader, all from Caterpillar.

Remediations and repairs remain the family’s bread and butter, but they averaged only 20 to 25 per year from 2008 to 2013, and commercial accounts evaporated. “We were more about survival than anything else,” says Luke Snyder. “The business created by the pump truck is probably what carried us through
the depression.”

To battle a market driven by the lowest price tag, Snyder focuses on educating homeowners about system efficiency and recommends an ATU with flow equalization and drip irrigation. “Value may be one of the most overused and misused terms in marketing and pricing today,” he says. “The real essence of value revolves around the tradeoff between the benefits customers receive from a product and the price they pay for it.”

ACCURATE ESTIMATES

When called for estimates, Snyder never gives blanket prices. He visits every property, taking notes on site constraints, tree locations and family size. “It’s common to find six to eight people living in a 1,600-square-foot house rated for 240 gpd, but they’re generating 400 gpd,” he says.

Snyder analyzes the family’s October through March water bills, a time when they aren’t filling swimming pools or irrigating. Daily consumption often averages 240 gpd. “Once people understand hydraulic flow, they realize why we upsize systems to 500 gallons or more per day,” he says.

His presentations also explain why a system failed, what the repairs entail and how they will affect homeowners. “If I can give them that information, I usually close the sale,” he says. “If they hesitate, my biggest sales tool is my proposal.”

The three- to four-page estimates list brands, model numbers, how components work, where they will go and options with itemized prices. Another section lists components that surpass the state’s minimum standards and Snyder installs to ensure a quality system. Using only Schedule 40 PVC pipe instead of SDR 21 pipe, the minimal, is one example and a hands-on sales tool.

After squeezing a length of thin-wall pipe out of round with his hands, Snyder lets homeowners hold it and a piece of Schedule 40 pipe in the other. It’s obvious to them which one is superior. Other educational tools are photographs of minimal versus quality components in installs and visiting similar installations. “Most clients are anxious to show off their systems, and their enthusiasm instills confidence,” says Snyder.

HAPPY CUSTOMERS

Proposals arrive with a cover letter thanking homeowners for the opportunity to serve them and drawing attention to notes in the estimate. “Our concern is always for the customers,” says Snyder. “It’s important to us that they buy the best system available, not the cheapest. The letter emphasizes that the information provided will help them make an educated decision regardless of which installer they choose.”

Snyder’s sales approach has had the desired effect. Satisfied customers tell their friends, which leads to calls requesting site evaluations instead of prices. However, state code mandates that aerobic systems have maintenance agreements. As people rejected the technology due to the annual service fee, Snyder diversified to conventional systems with low-pressure dosing, some 30 to 40 percent of remediations.

In 2014, he remediated 40 to 50 residential systems, and new construction accounted for up to 10 percent of business. “The company is growing, with up to seven employees at times,” says Snyder.

In 2008, Snyder diversified again by adding Rainwater Solutions to the company name. A typical rainwater system diverts runoff from the roof through underground piping to storage for potable or nonpotable use. Galvanized steel, bladder-lined storage tanks average 10,000 to 12,000 gallons, but range from 5,000 to 35,000 gallons depending on the job.

CATCHING RAIN

Snyder is an ARCSA accredited rainwater professional and rainwater harvesting inspector specialist for real estate transactions. He is also qualifying for the Rainwater Harvesting Master endorsement, the installation standard for such systems. It was created by the American National Standards Institute, American Society of Plumbing Engineers and ARCSA.

Most rainwater customers are affluent with homes in rural communities lacking water distribution systems. Drilling wells is more expensive than installing rainwater technology. Typical installations include screened gutters and downspouts with stainless steel screens that must be cleaned after the season’s first two rains.

Then a first flush device diverts a percentage of the first water of a storm to the ground, to a drainage network or to a dedicated irrigation tank. The system eliminates bird droppings and other materials on the roof from contaminating the storage and conveyance piping.

A 150-micron screen at the storage tank inlet catches particulates. Potable systems have a 20-micron filter, 5-micron filter, granular activated carbon filters to remove impurities affecting taste, and a UV disinfection system on the downstream side.

JerNan’s service board includes a full-use rainwater system for a house that will use city water as backup, and a system for a ranch with a brackish well for backup. “We’re working with a water quality specialist who will oversize filtration and treatment to accommodate the well water,”
says Snyder.

While irrigating lawns with recycled graywater sounds appealing, Snyder believes regulations make it impractical for most residential situations. He suggests people install an ATU to handle all the water instead of two separate systems discharging to drip irrigation.

Snyder’s deepest concern is the effort required by homeowners to remain compliant. Laundry is the greatest challenge because the code prohibits water used to wash diapers or clothing contaminated with human excreta from entering the graywater system. “That means using the bypass system,” says Snyder. “Furthermore, if the graywater system is not in use, all the flow must divert to the onsite system or sewer.”

Snyder says graywater recycling is more practical for sewered properties and in some commercial applications. “I left graywater in my marketing strategy to open conversations with people who are interested in it,” he says. “So far, every system has been cost prohibitive.”

FINISHING TOUCHES

Besides educating people about systems, regulations and options, Snyder seeks to distinguish the company by making things perfect for customers. From compassionate communications to putting a level on a control panel and mounting it true to horizontal, he stresses to his workers to strive for perfection.

“When we leave a property, it’s ready for sodding,” says Snyder. “Homeowners don’t have to first clean up behind us. Our approach is to look for what caused the problem rather than address the symptoms. We never replace entire systems when replacing 4 feet of supply line at the septic tank outlet is the solution. The greatest gifts we give our customers are comfort and time in their lives.”



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