Setting the Standard

Iowa contractor employs a variety of methods to help utilities rehabilitate manholes and eliminate infiltration.

Setting the Standard

A Save Our Sewers crew member uses the Mr. Manhole system to cut out a manhole scheduled for replacement.

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Perhaps no municipality has taken greater advantage of Brad Steenhoek’s expertise in manhole rehabilitation than Ames, Iowa. In the last two years alone, Steenhoek’s company, Save Our Sewers, has rehabbed more than 1,000 manholes in the city.

“We’ve done close to $5 million worth of work for Ames in that time,” he says. 

And within that scope of work, Steenhoek has employed his full arsenal of manhole rehab products and methods — everything from the Mr. Manhole system he adopted immediately to launch his manhole-focused business to the many offerings from Cretex Specialty Products. 

“Every manhole is different. It’s almost like you’re a doctor and every patient has something different diagnosis-wise,” says Steenhoek, who incorporated his business in 2010. “You’ve really got to know about the solutions that are out there before you can even offer a recommendation or a price for how to fix something. In my opinion, there is no one vendor, no one product, no one method that truly can work on every manhole. I’ve found a lot of municipalities that just lack the knowledge about what techniques and products are on the marketplace. They’re amazed at what we can offer versus someone that comes in and just tries to sell them on coating.”

Arsenal of techniques

Steenhoek spent a lot of time during the startup of his business on education, doing demonstrations of the Mr. Manhole method for municipalities and engineering firms to show them how reliable and cost-effective the system could be. Over time he gained a foothold in the market. 

“There are a lot of municipalities now that have seen the Mr. Manhole tool, and they’ve seen the rebuild process and the materials that go along with it,” he says. “It’s sometimes the only thing they’ll allow because it’s a standardized process with good raw materials. There was no standardization with how a lot of these guys were doing it before. It was just find whatever you can in the back of your pickup truck, throw it on the ground and pour some concrete or asphalt around it.” 

The Mr. Manhole process uses a dry-cut saw that runs on a standard skid-steer or track loader. It cuts a circle through the road surface surrounding the manhole frame and is able to cut from 44 to 58 inches — 28 to 72 inches with the aid of adapters — up to 48 inches deep. The cylinder strength of the ready-mix pour is all that is needed once the manhole is rebuilt. 

“Round holes are a structurally superior design versus a square cut around these manhole frames and covers, and it uses less material and looks better,” Steenhoek says. “You do the work and you pour it. There are no internal chimney seals, no epoxies or coatings. It kind of sells itself. Once an engineer sees it, it’s an attitude of, ‘Wow, where has this been? Why isn’t everybody doing it this way?’” 

But Mr. Manhole isn’t the only process Save Our Sewers now employs, especially when a manhole’s problems are more extensive. 

“All of my men are PACP, MACP and LACP certified through NASSCO. When we open up the lid, we already know what’s allowed in the project specs and then we can determine the best rehab method based on the training we all have,” he says. “The only thing consistent in this business is how inconsistent every manhole is put together. There are no two manholes alike. The NASSCO training gives you a cafeteria-type repair method with all these different options and you pick the remedy based on the type of failure and structure. You obviously learn more out in the field actually doing it, but NASSCO at least gives you a good baseline to start with where you can say yes, a manhole needs this, or no, it doesn’t need that.” 

Save Our Sewers uses a wide range of products and systems, including:

A number of products from Cretex Specialty Products, such as the X-85 external mechanical chimney seal and the full line of LSS internal mechanical chimney seals. The company also uses a grade ring system called Pro-Ring, which is made of expanded polypropylene. It provides a cost-effective alternative to concrete grade systems while still maintaining durability.

De Neef Construction Chemicals chemical grout.

Raven Lining Systems’ 405 epoxy.

Riser-Wrap by GPT Industries, a product that encapsulates a riser system with a liquid sealant covered by a heat-shrink polyethylene membrane to protect against I&I.

Ameron T-Lock, a PVC liner that can be installed mechanically on the interior of a manhole to provide corrosion protection.

A monoform system that provides a full structural restoration of a manhole with easy-to-install forms that are placed in the interior and allow for a fresh concrete pour between the forms and the deteriorated wall.

A Quadex product from Hydro-Klean that is used to plug leaky areas.

Xypex, a concrete add mixture that fights corrosion and waterproofs new concrete installations. 

Steenhoek uses an old, deteriorating brick manhole as an example of how the various methods can come together for a complete manhole rehab: It begins with using the Mr. Manhole system to make the cut and gain access to the manhole, followed by chemical grouting to stop the infiltrating water. The Quadex product is used to patch areas where the chemical grout doesn’t work. Once the water is stopped, crews use the Monoform system to pour a fiber mesh-reinforced concrete mix with the Xypex additive. After that sets, crews remove the forms. 

“When you look down, that manhole looks like a brand-new precast manhole versus the old brick structure,” Steenhoek says. 

Crews then install the chimney, add Cretex Pro-Rings, put the chimney seals on, put the frame and cover on, and make the final concrete pour to repair the road. 

“If we’re in a really corrosive situation, we can also integrate the Ameron T-Lock PVC liner. We add that liner to the form before we pour it to provide a better product for corrosion resistance and I&I,” Steenhoek says. “If they don’t have the budget to pay for the PVC, we can come in and coat it with the Raven 405 epoxy. We’re talking the full scope. All the way from the flow line to the top of the road, every inch of the surface is rehabilitated.”

Big project in Ames

Save Our Sewers’ work in Ames, Iowa, shows how all the company’s techniques can contribute to a city’s large-scale manhole rehab effort. Beginning in fall 2015, Ames had a single contract with the company that called for rehabbing 650 manholes, both on roadways and grassy areas.

“It’s by far the largest we’ve taken on,” Steenhoek says. “We’d done projects before where it was 100 to 200 manholes, but never 500-plus.” 

The contract called for 421 roadway manholes and another 100 in grassy areas. Thanks to a fairly mild winter that didn’t limit workdays too significantly, Save Our Sewers had the contract wrapped up in May 2016. And Ames extended the contract when Save Our Sewers finished the project under bid as a result of reduced concrete use with the help of the Mr. Manhole tool, the primary system used on most of the manholes. 

“Because of the savings of going circular versus a rectangle or square structure, we were way under on our concrete usage,” Steenhoek says. “We saved about $200,000, so they extended it from the original bid quantity and we did about 650 manholes when it was all said and done.”  

The complete project finished at the end of June 2016, well under the yearlong timetable Ames officials wanted to adhere to. Then, this past summer, Save Our Sewers completed another contract for Ames, tackling every manhole in the city’s 100-year flood plain, about 400 on top of the 650 that had been completed the year before. Steenhoek says that batch of manholes required more of the full range of his company’s offerings rather than any one system or method. Sometimes a single method provided a solution, other times it was a combination. 

“A lot of it is on the front end,” Steenhoek says. “You really can’t do anything without a good inspection first. Typically it’s an engineering firm handling that part, but in situations where we’re working more directly for the city, that’s when our NASSCO certifications help us guide them on what has to be used to solve their failed structures.” 

One of the most chronic issues among the municipalities Save Our Sewers has worked for is corrosion, Steenhoek says. That’s because the manholes often lack a flow line or benching that would allow for the sewage to move quickly from the inlet pipe to the outlet pipe. 

“You get scouring within the manhole, and with the raw sewage just sitting there you also get a lot of hydrogen sulfide buildup, and the gas starts to deteriorate the manhole,” he says. 

That’s when a comprehensive rehab coupled with the anti-corrosion tools Save Our Sewers uses is the ideal solution. But municipalities’ budget issues also have to be heavily factored into how to tackle rehabs, Steenhoek says. 

“In all fairness, not all manhole rehabs will last. They all have a life expectancy, so what really determines it is how long do you want it to last and how is it going to affect your budget? Between those two, you have to come up with a price and repair method for the municipality that matches. You take their budget and the problems they have and you try to make it work.”


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