Who Do you Call to Put the Pieces of an Onsite Puzzle Together?

Georgia’s Harold Kilgore seeks to be the expert go-between helping homeowners and regulators solve septic system challenges

Who Do you Call to Put the Pieces of an Onsite Puzzle Together?

 Harold Kilgore, right, and technician David Thompson roll geotextile fabric included in a system using Eljen A42 modules.

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Harold Kilgore watched his plans for Gravelator Systems unravel over recent years. The small family-run business in Gainesville, Georgia, opened in 1997 and specialized in designing and installing onsite systems for lots classified as unbuildable.

In late 2018, Kilgore’s nephew, Justin Kilgore, left the company and returned to school to become a surgical nurse. In May 2021, laborer David Thompson was diagnosed with emphysema and quit.

That left Harold’s son, Heath Kilgore. “He’d worked beside me for 20 years and, as Gravelator’s project manager, had assumed field responsibilities,” says Harold. “In late November 2021, Heath moved on to try different occupations.”

To recover from the setback, Kilgore, 59, and Sharon, his wife of 40 years, are transitioning to fewer installations and more consulting and training classes through his second company, On-site Wastewater Consultants. It opened in May 2019 in Carnesville, Georgia.

“When state officials refuse building or septic applications, many people don’t understand why,” says Kilgore. “I saw a huge demand for someone who could translate regulatory language into layman’s terms.” He functions as a mediator and watchdog, ensuring that regulations work for everyone and payees receive their money’s worth.

The Kilgores are pleased with the new company’s direction. “The challenges made us move forward, grasping and using every resource at hand to the fullest extent,” says Harold.


In 2021, the business had 100 residential and four commercial clients, but the numbers don’t reflect the time involved. Almost all calls began with, “Why won’t the county let me do what I want with my property?”

Kilgore spends the first consulting hour listening to the concerns of potential clients. “If we can help, we’ll establish a $100 to $1,000 budget to examine building or septic plans, test the soil, maybe meet with county officials to determine what else might be necessary and establish the project’s actual cost,” he says. “Most clients are willing to do this for a definitive answer to whether they’ll have a one- or five-bedroom home.”

However, county laws occasionally slip a wrench into the gears. For example, the state septic code specifies 50-foot setbacks from water bodies, so Kilgore was surprised when a client said Hall County officials had rejected a septic application late last year. He learned that the county had added 25 feet to the state setback, labeled the area an impervious buffer zone to mitigate runoff, and prohibited septic tanks and drainfields from being installed in those zones.

Kilgore asked some county commissioners how pervious onsite systems became part of the impervious buffer zone regulation and they didn’t know. “The Zoning and Planning rule allows underground utilities and other service lines to pass through, over, and around the impervious area, so why not septics?” he says.

To date, state and county officials have always worked with Kilgore toward the common goal of a septic permit. “Sometimes we don’t agree, but they are always willing to listen and discuss how to apply regulations to what is needed,” he says. “This conversation is just beginning. Once the commission board shares its data, I may agree with the reasoning behind the rule.”


While members of county commission boards and boards of health form a crucial part of regulatory compliance and rule adoption, Kilgore believes many don’t fully understand how onsite systems work because they are appointed or elected to their positions. For example, the president of the Hall County Board of Health works in the medical field and relies on health department inspectors and regulatory people to guide his decisions.

“My job is to make sure he hears the whole story, not just the regulatory side,” says Kilgore. “I want him to have a real world open-the-door-and-feel-the-dirt experience.”

After some educational enlightenment, members often thank Kilgore for explaining the situation. “How you present yourself and how you deliver your findings determine if you have a legitimate claim or if you are barking just to see who is the loudest dog,” he says.

The keys to Kilgore’s success are respecting people, treating them with dignity, and listening. “Potential clients want you to understand their concerns,” he says. “They’ve met with other professionals who immediately wanted a target start date and down payment. After an hour of listening to them gratis, I have gained their trust.”

Effective listening is learned, and Kilgore took a business class in 1989 with an instructor who taught how to listen, understand and work diligently as a team to achieve success. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have a life partner who committed to everything I wanted to do, then we did it together,” says Kilgore. “Whether it’s marriage or business, you have to be all in or you’ll fail.”


When large projects arise or issues require a stream of communications with state and county regulators, Kilgore relies on his managing partner, Steve James. Before retiring in 2017, James had been a Rabun County Environmental Health Department manager and onsite inspector for 31 years.

During that time, the men had developed a rapport based on similar thoughts. They believed regulations occasionally worked against consumers by increasing the state’s enforcement powers instead of benefitting all concerned parties. “One day I invited Steve to a consulting meeting and he was a natural,” says Kilgore. James also liked the fit, and On-site Wastewater Consultants was born two years later.

Besides consulting, the company specializes in planning and development, education and training, regulations and permits, and designing. Kilgore designs eight to 10 system per year for complex lots, and 30 to 40 less demanding systems based on the house location.

“We’re a one-stop shop,” says Kilgore. “It’s not unusual to work for people who have hired a septic contractor. These clients want someone who can consult with the installer, address issues that may arise and ensure they are getting what they paid for.” Kilgore’s ultimate goal is to form a relationship with an installation company, then refer them to clients looking for a contractor.

To date, the most interesting, tedious, time-consuming consultation job was a lakeside property in Gainesville. “Obtaining the septic permit took 15 months and involved legal issues, challenging the state’s definition of an onsite system, and satisfying numerous regulatory agencies,” says Kilgore. “Although stressful, it taught us so much about other government departments and people.”


Whether enlightening homeowners and regulators or mentoring young installers, Kilgore has always been adamant about education. Twice a year, he does a two-hour, call-in radio show about onsite systems and related topics, such as how toilet paper is made. He’s always helped installers and answered their questions, but wasn’t involved in a continuing education program until contractors began expressing concerns about classes offered by the state.

Kilgore and James spoke to contractors who said they’d attend their classes provided they had comfortable chairs, a pleasant environment and proper meals. In 2019, they held their first onsite training class with 70 registrants.

In 2021, Tim McDonald, president of Lanier Technical Colleges, offered Hall Campus in Gainesville for the first of four separate sessions, which attracted 40 to 60 registrants each. Virgil Fancher, state CEU program manager, attended the first class and certified Kilgore’s program. Assisted by McDonald, the 2021 venues expanded to include Chattahoochee Technical College and facilities at the Economic Development Center of Blairsville. “We have some 3,000 contractors in the state and many have technical schools nearby,” says Kilgore. “Our goal is to offer training through all of them.”


Looking ahead to 2023, Kilgore retained Natalie Connell, a former events coordinator for the Utah Building Trades. As part of promoting the friendly environment theme, they lowered enrollment fees, eliminated vendor fees and asked major corporations like Bobcat of Atlanta and local businesses for sponsorships. The responses have been positive.

Focusing on the future, the Kilgores concluded that now was the time to phase out hard physical labor and enjoy more of life. “We want to spend time with our two grandchildren and travel a bit,” says Kilgore, “but I’ll always be dedicated to helping young installers learn the trade.” 


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