New Hampshire's Monadnock Septic Design Networks For Success

The father-son team at Monadnock Septic Design promotes working with other onsite professionals and trade association involvement to improve service to customers.
New Hampshire's Monadnock Septic Design Networks For Success
Carl, left, Scott, and Gail Hagstrom work from the Monadnock Septic Design office in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.

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Projects dealing with challenging sites and sensitive environmental areas seem to seek out Carl and Scott Hagstrom, the father-son owners of Monadnock Septic Design of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.

Working in a state with many regulations necessitated by variations in terrain (the state elevation ranges from sea level to more than 6,800 feet), geology and ecosystems, this team thrives on diversity. Scott and Carl are most comfortable helping landowners overcome obstacles to development in ways that are respectful of the site’s unique attributes.

“Helping our clients understand and address their onsite system needs is our highest priority,” Carl sums up one of their greatest personal missions in the world of decentralized wastewater.

Properly managing wastewater, regardless of the challenges, is the niche for their service-oriented business. Both owners are credentialed by the State of New Hampshire as system designers and installers. Carl, a New Hampshire-recognized wetlands scientist, is able to delineate and then mitigate impacts on these fragile environments.

Active in the Granite State Designers and Installers Association (GSDIA), Carl and Scott are on the board that oversees the Certified Evaluator program. New Hampshire also recognizes the GSDIA’s Certified Evaluator credential. This brings full circle the in-house onsite system expertise.

SEIZING AN OPPORTUNITY

In the mid-1960s, when the first onsite regulations were established in New Hampshire, Carl was working with a surveyor. Recognizing opportunities created by the new regulations, Carl decided to refocus exclusively on the onsite industry. It is a decision that Carl, now 70, has never regretted.

Scott, now 33, grew up in the business. “Helping Dad was the natural thing to do for a teenager who was fascinated by the idea of protecting the environment while enabling development. My dad is a great role model for the industry and for me,” he says.

Being both New Hampshire-permitted designers and installers benefits the Hagstroms and their clients. When locating and laying out systems, their installer’s perspective allows designs that recognize site-imposed construction challenges. “Designing problem avoidance into the system from the outset is far better than devising a workaround after the job has begun,” says Scott.

Both agree that regulation has improved the capabilities of everyone in the onsite industry. In a similar manner, skill levels become more obvious as the rules become more demanding. Consumers take note, and the more proficient onsite professionals become busier and busier.

To get the jobs done, the designers utilize a Spectra Precision/Trimble TS 305 optical total station and 15-foot SECO Twist-Lock style prism pole and CST Optimal offset prism (Robert Bosch Tool Corporation) to capture the coordinates of data points, and a Carlson surveying autocad program to chart new systems. They rent earth-moving equipment to suit the needs of each project. They use a KB-14/360 QG compass, KB quadrant or SECO hand level to check local slope conditions, and a Trumeter Measure Meter. They use T&T Tools probes and hooks, and a Stony soil auger (AMS, Inc.).

Among products found in the systems they build are Polylok risers, SJE-Rhombus control panels, Goulds and Myers pumps, Infiltrator Water Technologies chambers, Eljen GSF geotextile sand filters, Clean Solution aerated pretreatment systems (Advanced Onsite Solutions), the White Knight microbial inoculator generator (Knight Treatment Systems), SeptiTech commercial processor units and American Manufacturing drip dispersal systems.

REAL ESTATE INSPECTIONS

One area of the business involves time-of-sale inspections for real estate transactions. Both Carl and Scott perform a lot of this work, and often their conclusion calls for a component repair. Sometimes the need is for a complete new system. Inspections are not mandated by any government or lenders for the buyers.

Scott points to a potential conflict of interest in the repair part of this work, explaining, “We will not repair the problems our evaluations discover.” Carl reinforces his point adding, “This is a conflict of interest – a line we will not cross.” To be sure, if a system design is necessary or a permit is needed for an entirely new system, they will step up and handle that work, but they will decline even the most routine repairs. “We do not offer evaluation services to generate repair business,” Carl says.

Some would see their decision to avoid installation and repair work as leaving easy money on the table, but the Hagstroms believe it’s good business and ethical behavior. They see it as inappropriate to identify a needed repair and then sell that repair service to their client.

WORKING WITH COMPETITORS

Both men see collaboration with others in the onsite industry as an opportunity for growing everyone’s professionalism. “We are friends with our competitors.

These relationships are a network within which we can compare notes and collaborate on tough issues,” Scott explains.

“We feel like we are the go-to guys for competitors when they have questions on the regulations or encounter problems. Together we brainstorm the issue,” says Carl. These calls reinforce their outlook on the value of education which, in turn, reinforces the GSDIA relationship across the industry.

“GSDIA gives members a formal network connection – the association facilitates communication and teamwork,” says Carl. Both men are GSDIA trainers, and many members of their informal network encounter them in the more structured classroom environment.

Father and son have teaching backgrounds. Carl taught agriculture students hydraulics, pneumatics and equipment maintenance, while Scott continues his work as a flight instructor. They are very comfortable in a soil pit, a wetland bog, going one-on-one helping a landowner, and in front
of a classroom.

Clients, too, require education. Carl says, “We find the owner is not necessarily the best informed about his own system. Of those who do have some understanding of their system, many are hesitant to share what they know with us, even though they know we are there to help them.”

INESCAPABLE WETLANDS

About 25 percent of their work involves wetlands in one way or another. “It is easy to understand why we do so much wetlands work,” says Carl, “because the sites with better soils are already developed.” The first step for successful wetlands-affected sites is to delineate the wetlands. Their attitude is that it’s far easier to avoid them than impact them. If that is not possible, the impacts must be understood
and mitigated.

“The No. 1 issue is site access. You cannot fill or drain a wetland to satisfy a mandatory setback or isolation distance,” Carl explains. Isolations and impact minimization through mitigation are all addressed in the wetlands permit application process the Hagstroms guide landowners through.

“The state’s Rivers Management & Protection Act and the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act create a 250-foot-wide zone inland from water’s edge,” Carl explains. He draws on his surveying and wetland scientist skills to provide site disturbance plans that include mitigation and restoration in conjunction with the permits required for the work.

BUSY ALL YEAR

Real estate sales and existing system evaluations go on year-round. “Yes, we do evaluations through the winter if we can get to the site. Installations are done then as well. Snow does not shut us down,” Carl says. What does shut down operations – everybody’s operations – are town-imposed bans on truck traffic from March 15 through May 15. The trucks would destroy rural light-duty roads, which are prone to rutting from heavily loaded vehicles.

GSDIA protocol requires hand excavation, both near and into the absorption area, to enable an evaluation of the soil. The tank, too, must be exposed and then inspected.

“Installations are also a year-round enterprise,” Carl explains. Most systems are installed in one or two days, and frozen site conditions minimize peripheral damage from excavating equipment. “A good snow cover actually reduces the depth to which the soil is frozen. In turn, this makes evaluations somewhat easier. Snow’s insulating effect is also good for a working system,” Scott adds. Snow cover also facilitates installations for the same reasons.

THE GREATER GOOD

Carl and Scott have enjoyed and learned from their connections with the GSDIA. Carl is a 26-year member and Scott is a 10-year member. They each have made commitments beyond membership. Between them they have more than 22 years in various GSDIA leadership roles.

The association has played an important role in their professional growth and they want to help it grow. “I’d like to see the association reach beyond the industry to the broader community, especially touching Realtors and landowners,” Carl says. He believes educating these groups is as important as industry member education.

Scott sees a role for members to identify important issues so the GSDIA can work to close gaps and bridge misunderstandings over regulations, both with regulators and the regulated community. With members and state regulators often gathered at the same table, this seems like an attainable goal.

Actively using the skills they learned through the existing system evaluator training program, they are committed to making the process better for all. Father and son are on the steering committee that guides the GSDIA’s Certified Septic Evaluator Program.

Bringing precision and professionalism to bear on every project, this father-and-son team leaves as many stones unturned as possible in the wetlands and highlands – all to protect the environment.


Piloting a business

Many years ago, Scott Hagstrom, co-owner of Monadnock Septic Design, earned a private pilot license. Next, he advanced to an instrument rating. Feeling limited with a private license, he worked for and achieved a commercial license. Still striving for the next level, he became qualified for multi-engine planes. Wanting to share his skills with others, he became a certified flight instructor. Today, he keeps each license and certificate current and flies frequently.

Scott says he sees a similarity between teaching pilots and system evaluators and designers.

“In both cases training starts at the most basic level. As skills are added, the expertise both broadens to include more advanced concepts while reinforcing the basics,” he says. 

The similarities don’t stop there. Depending on the individual license or certification requirements, there are specific updates or continuing education requirements for both flying and onsite professions. These are intended to keep skills sharp and incorporate new knowledge into routine tasks.

“Commercial pilots have opportunities to focus their expertise too. For example, a pilot can choose to be a leader by pursuing the captain designation. He may also choose a supporting role with a career as first officer or co-pilot. Another focused subspecialty is crew resource management, where the focus is on cabin crew operations.

“You would be surprised how these roles are parallel to roles in an onsite business. Certain leadership skills cross vocational boundaries, and staying current in your field is crucial whether you’re high in the sky or your feet are a few inches under water in a wetland,” he says.

Scott has found a way to blend both vocations. He frequently takes to the air to do large-area preliminary screening evaluations of isolated sites. “When site access makes it difficult to reach by land or the site is remote, an aircraft is another great tool to have access to,” he explains.



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