A Background as a Health Department Regulator Made Stuart Meade a Stickler for Details

Precise site measurements, step-by-step educational videos and careful project follow-through mark the success of Indiana’s Meade Septic Design

A Background as a Health Department Regulator Made Stuart Meade a Stickler for Details

Meade is shown in his new office space in Goshen, Indiana. (Photo courtesy of Stuart Meade)

Onsite designs are for installers, not health departments,” says Stuart Meade, owner of Meade Septic Design in Goshen, Indiana. “Designs should be accurate, usable tools that enable installers to bid projects over the phone, then arrive on site, shoot the benchmark and begin excavating. The system is flagged and there are no surprises.”

Meade, 52, spent five years as an onsite regulator for the Elkhart County Health Department before opening his company in May 1995. He requested constructive criticism from installers to learn what information they needed on designs to work more efficiently and profitably.

The trust Meade established resulted in installers recommending his service to homeowners. Since 2016, 80% of his designs are for new construction, averaging 79% residential and 21% commercial. In 2017, Meade reports he designed 22% of the state-approved commercial systems (anything not residential, hydraulic flow doesn’t matter).

“My obsession with details has played out well in my work,” Meade says. “I’m always looking for the best possible layout, doing jobs as if they were for my home.”


Installers often complain to Meade about how some designers do the design work without visiting the site to take system-specific elevations and mark out the system. “They end up shooting their own elevations, and those numbers never match the numbers on the design,” he says. “I’m a huge proponent of flagging systems and identifying relevant elevations. Now health departments have caught on and want elevations on everyone’s designs.”

For Meade, laying out systems is the most important and hardest part of the project due to each site’s unique complications. He begins by walking the site to familiarize himself with the location of the property corners, structural setbacks, septic footprint and soil borings.

“Once oriented, I lay out the system using orange flags bearing my logo, an RL-H4C self-leveling laser (Topcon Positioning Systems), steel tape and screwdriver — my most trusted and inexpensive employee — to hold the tape,” Meade says.

The north-central part of the state where he works has rolling hills, and they present complicated challenges. “Slopes create illusions based on what surrounds them,” Meade explains. “For example, the land may appear to slope to the east from one corner of the property, but switches directions from the opposite corner.”


And therein lies the rub, especially when designers pull contour lines off geographic information system websites, then use them to extrapolate trench elevations. “That’s a terrible way to do it. In Indiana, every inch counts,” Meade says. “The elevation between contour lines is 12 inches, but the halfway point between them is not necessarily the midway elevation. That assumes slopes are consistent.”

As technology and GIS websites made the practice more common, installers reported to Meade that regulators weren’t catching the errors. “If regulators visit a site to review it, most just eyeball everything,” Meade says. “I stress to them that shooting elevations is the most important part of reviewing designs, yet only a few set up a laser.”

In 2014, Meade purchased a BRx6 GPS receiver and Surveyor 2 data collector (Carlson Software) to increase his accuracy and efficiency. It was a major company milestone. “After flagging everything on site, I shoot all the important objects, then off-load their points into AutoCAD for pinpoint measurements,” Meade says. “However, the rotating laser is still the best tool for shooting verticals for trenches or mounds.”

Meade has recently purchased a Topcon GM-55 Reflectorless Total Station with Laser Plummet, which he says will be useful in wooded areas where his GPS network rover may struggle to find satellite coverage.

Meade works in 12 counties and has a solid rapport with their regulators. “This is a niche business and we have much in common,” he says. “Unfortunately, health departments have a high turnover rate and new hirers from outside fields face a steep learning curve.” For consistency and to help them understand what information should be included in designs, Meade wrote the Design Requirement Recommendations document. It was adopted by the Indiana Environmental Health Association Wastewater Management Committee and is available on his website.


Education is a natural part of Meade’s life. “I can’t think of another example where people spend $20,000 for a product and know nothing about it,” he says. “The ignorance level is astonishing and a sad commentary on our industry.”

Meade encounters ample evidence of it. Recently, he was working on a failed septic system and knocked on a neighbor’s door to ask the location of his well. The middle-aged man pointed to it, then asked what was going on. When Meade told him, the man announced that the cause of the failure was the pumper coming out too often to pump the tank. “He was 100% sure of his diagnosis,” Meade says.

Consequently, few things make him happier than teaching, whether in the field or addressing Goshen College sustainability students about opportunities in the onsite industry. However, Meade reached his greatest audience by posting educational articles on the company’s website.

Then YouTube opened another avenue. Meade, who had done some video work while earning a degree in natural resources, uploaded “How Do I Find My Septic Tank?” in 2012. The video has received more than a quarter-million views.

A year later, “When Should You Pump Your Septic Tank?” joined the lineup in response to homeowners’ maintenance questions. When the second video overtook the first by 63,000 views, Meade knew he had done it correctly.

“The popularity of the videos was another company milestone,” he says. “Because of them, people hire me out of the blue. I don’t have to sell my services by stressing the advantages of owning the design. Doing so enables homeowners to solicit bids from installers or they have the freedom to change installers.”


Indiana code requires professional engineers or architects to certify commercial septic designs. For more than 250 such projects, Meade has collaborated with Randy Myers, principal architect and president of Interface Architecture & Design in Goshen.

Whenever possible, Meade prefers gravity systems with trenches, but especially for Amish clients. Their woodworking shops have diesel generators supplying electricity, but the six to eight new Amish schools Meade designs annually still rely on natural lighting. He sometimes sees schools replacing outhouses with lavatories. Those facilities have a generator that teachers run once a day to power the low-amperage pump drawing water from the well.

“Amish schools have large and small softball diamonds, and designing a gravity system that allows them to keep both fields can be complicated,” Meade says. “It typically requires raising the proposed building extra high and locating drainfields under diamonds to fit the space.”

Septic designs for wedding barns often present elevation woes, as contractors pour floors and stub out sewers before hiring the onsite designer. “Now clients are paying for dose tanks and force mains because the stub out is 4 inches too low to accommodate a gravity system,” Meade says. “I’ve been in business for 23 years and contractors continue to put the cart before the horse.”


The ideal situation for Meade is working closely with clients to match their expectations. When a mobile home park owner wanted to know the daily volume of water used, Meade specified counters for the control panel. His design for the 9,000-gpd collections system included three dedicated 1/2 hp pumps (Zoeller) discharging to 3-inch force mains running 500 feet to a distribution box dosing a 18,000-square-foot drainfield. “As the mains left the tank, they ran 300 feet downhill, then up another hill and back down,” Meade explains. “The high point of each run had an air release valve.”

After the system was online for a month, Meade photographed the counters and noted the effluent level in the dose tank. He returned a week later and nothing had changed. “I raised each float and the counter clicked over,” he says. “I heard water dribbling into the tank, but where was it going? Third week, same thing.”

Meade eventually determined the invert elevations of the force mains below the air release valves were 2 inches lower than the elevation of the dose tank outlets. This setup allowed effluent to gravity flow through the pumps to the drainfield. Lowering the floats 3 inches solved the problem.


In 2011, Meade opened Meade Septic Supply to distribute AERO-TECH aerobic treatment units in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Since 2016, this branch generates 15% of the company’s annual revenue, Meade Septic Design generates 82% and Stuart Meade Photography generates 3%.

Many of Meade’s longtime clients undertake difficult projects knowing he will find the septic solution. For example, DJ Construction of Goshen was hired to expand a YMCA camp in Michigan. The owners wanted treehouse cabins built on utility poles near the lake and a bathhouse with showers and lavatories next to the cabins.

“The only suitable soils for the drainfield were on the opposite side of the camp at the entrance,” Meade says. “I had major static lift to overcome and buildings, driveways and trees in the way. In addition, the design had to accommodate eventual tie-ins of other buildings.”

His solution included a shallow sewage ejection pit with dual 2 hp LSG200 sewage grinder pumps (Liberty Pumps) through  a 2-inch poly force main rising 65 feet over 755 feet to three 2,000-gallon septic tanks. “I added the third tank to ensure proper settling of solids,” Meade explains.

Effluent flowed from the tanks to a 1,500-gallon dose tank with duplex 1 hp pumps (Zoeller) sending effluent 1,200 feet to the 4,800-square-foot drainfield. During the directional bore through the hills, accuracy was crucial to eliminate high points in the 755-foot main. “Camp officials are talking about building a second bathhouse in another part of the camp, so I’ll be doing it all again,” Meade says.

Meade has been scheduling projects a month in advance since 2014, and he tracks them on a large wall map in his new office in downtown Goshen. “This year has been a turning point,” he says. “I’ve moved out of my home office and hired my first employee (Kevin Hinkle), but I won’t be giving up my screwdriver.”

Flying high

Many clients of Stuart Meade Photography assume he is a professional specializing in aerial images for promotional material and magazine covers. “I’m not a professional by definition since it isn’t my livelihood, but the work kept me busy for a while,” he says.

Meade’s love of flying and photography began when he built and flew radio-controlled airplanes and mounted cameras to them. In 2007, he was flying a wing over Goshen Pond and lost visual contact and the video signal. The aircraft continued on, controlled by an infrared sensor autopilot.

“The thought of what could happen to someone or something when it crashed was horrifying. I never did it again,” Meade says. Months later, a maintenance man found the shattered plane on a factory roof a mile from the pond.

Meade switched to chartering light aircraft and helicopters, then designed a website to exhibit the aerial photos of homes and businesses. The quality of his images generated work from the automotive industry, national solar companies, real estate and advertising agencies, and state parks. Assignments took him beyond Indiana to Michigan and Ohio.

“It was great fun leaning out the open door of a helicopter to snap the perfect shot,” he says. “Lately, drone videos seem to have replaced aerial photography, as I’ve been out of work since March 2018.” Meade still maintains a studio in downtown Goshen, Indiana, for portraits and corporate images.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.