Saving Cities From Inflow and Infiltration

Private contractor focuses on providing affordable solutions to a persistent municipal problem.

Saving Cities From Inflow and Infiltration

The crew at H&R Plumbing includes (from left) laborers Jesus Uriarte and Carlos Chavez, owner Horacio Franco, foreman Rafael Escobar and laborer David Rodriguez.

Interested in Pipes?

Get Pipes articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Pipes + Get Alerts

Small-business contractors like H&R Plumbing have become the unexpected saviors of West Coast municipalities over the past year. 

After the historic five-year drought — from which most of the area has only recently begun to recover — a new challenge has arisen.

Water system operators who had forgotten the impacts of a storm surge were violently reminded. “In the last year, it rained enough to make up for what we missed in the last five,” says Horacio Franco, owner of H&R Plumbing. “After (municipalities) saw what we do and what we can accomplish … they really rely on us taking care of those situations for them.” 

One of H&R Plumbing’s biggest customers, the city of Napa, California, is a perfect example. During one of the first big rain events after the drought, Franco was called in by Napa to assess a manhole. “Napa called me to fix a manhole. When I was walking close to the manhole, I could hear water just gushing,” Franco says. “I thought it was a pump discharging into the manhole. When we opened the manhole, I found out that it was just the I&I into the manhole.” 

It had at least two large leaks, contributing 2-inch-diameter flows, that were completely unchecked. Franco and his team fixed the leaks and rehabbed the entire manhole in one day. “I was pleased, and they were more than pleased,” Franco says. “It was one of the more challenging manholes that we’ve had. I had no doubt that we were going to fix it; I didn’t know how much time and materials it would take to fix it, but we got it done.” 

Upon successful completion of that job, H&R Plumbing became a go-to contractor for Napa. “After we did that manhole, they gave us another six manholes — same category — and after that, it has been progressive work,” Franco says. 

In fact, they were recently contracted on two bid projects, totaling between 250 and 300 manholes and over $300,000 in revenue. One of those projects is in progress; the other is awaiting permits. 

Overall, Franco estimates they have completed close to 500 manholes for Napa between various projects. “They’ve been giving us a contract every year to fix five or 10 manholes, meaning fixing the I&I and rehabbing,” Franco says. 

Another lucrative $300,000 contract came to them from Rohnert Park, a city that is embarking on I&I work in addition to a brand-new trunk sewer — a project featured on page 16 of this issue.

Developing a strategy

H&R Plumbing uses products from Avanti International, Madewell Products, and Source One Environmental (mainly SealGuard) in their I&I efforts. Some of the seals and grouts are applied by hand, such as Avanti International’s Oakum, a fibrous jute material that is packed into leaks and then sealed in. 

“To stop a leak in a manhole, lift station, wet well, or holding tank, first we have to identify the source and location; we have to identify where the leak is coming into the system,” Franco says. “Once we have identified all that, we look for the best approach and the best way to seal the leak.”

Case in point: A new fiberglass lift station had a 3/4-inch opening at the inlet all the way around the 6-inch pipe. They used Avanti International’s AV-219 Fibrotite Oakum and AV-202 Multigrout, a multipurpose blended polyurethane resin. 

“We saturated the Oakum in AV-202 and packed it tight into the opening. We forced it into the opening using a flat metal or a flat screwdriver — just to push it into the cavity and hold it tight to cure and seal the opening — stopping the I&I almost instantly,” Franco says. 

The other main component of Franco’s work is injection grouting. 

“There are some instances where we find I&I coming from a crack where the best way to seal is injecting grout behind the walls,” Franco says. “We use a Milwaukee drill to penetrate for easy injection of chemical grout behind the walls.” 

They use a 3/8-inch concrete bit to penetrate the wall near the I&I and then use a Graco 190 pump to inject AV-202 or SealGuard until the leak ceases. Then Oakum is packed into the interior side of the crack to prevent grout from squeezing out. 

Hydraulic cement from Madewell Products is more efficient for brick-construct manholes or severe leaks — it is a fast-setting mortar that will cure even underwater. 

After the leaks are taken care of, H&R Plumbing rehabs the whole manhole, lift station, wet well, etc. with Madewell Products ML-72 sprayable microsilica restoration mortar and a 100 percent-solids epoxy coating. A Madewell Products mortar mixer on a 20-foot trailer preps the materials, and a power washer is used to prep the surfaces. Air compressors power the hydraulic equipment, and a spincaster applies the linings and coatings. 

All told, Franco says the process can increase the life of a manhole up to 50 years, I&I-free. 

In addition to the variety of grouting and sealing products, H&R Plumbing also has an impressive list of auxiliary equipment:

An Aries Industries CCTV truck.

Two Vactor combination trucks.

A grout truck built by Aries Industries.

Logiball packers.

PipeTech Software inspection software.

Evolving over time

As the name suggests, H&R Plumbing hasn’t always been involved in underground rehabilitation. What started as a straightforward plumbing operation slowly evolved to fill a gap in service for their customers. 

“When I was doing CCTV work, there were a lot of leaks and there was a need to stop those leaks,” Franco says. “I saw the necessity of learning about these products so we can seal those leaks and service my customers.” 

Though he never got around to changing the name, Franco estimates plumbing contributes only 15 percent of the company’s workload. The rest is all underground rehabilitation — not only manholes, but also general concrete restoration, chemical grouting, and spot repairs. 

“Everything underground in the collections system,” Franco says. “It’s something that we enjoy doing every day and something where we find a big satisfaction in fixing this problem.” 

Discovery of I&I rehabilitation came at the WWETT Show nearly a decade ago. He got started with manhole rehab, and after finding success in the niche service, expanded over the years to all things I&I. 

“I saw the need for stopping leaks, and I started learning about it. I started researching new products and effective ways to fix the situation,” Franco says.

Franco has continued that learning by completing all the NASSCO certifications — ITCP, PACP, MACP and LACP — and by becoming certified by Madewell Products in the use of their products.

Proving the benefits

I&I work entails a lot of cost-benefit analysis for municipalities, and Franco is more than happy to do everything in his power to aid in the decision-making process. 

“We like to do demos so customers will know the benefit of our service in I&I repair,” Franco says. 

In one instance, city supervisors believed a manhole had two laterals coming into it due to the amount of discharge, but after a demo, Franco proved that it was in fact a one-lateral manhole with an extreme amount of I&I. 

“I said there was a huge leak, so we sealed it using Avanti products,” Franco says. “They were surprised that there were not two laterals coming in; it was just the I&I coming into the manhole. We sealed them and then we rehabbed the manhole. And that manhole is still strong and sealed, and they’re happy.” 

Franco has even been known to embark on unprompted, pro bono system assessments, as was the case in the city of Hercules, which was experiencing I&I problems. 

H&R Plumbing assessed conditions in the Hercules manholes during a storm, even going as far as creating a map and assessment report. “I believe it was really a benefit for them and for us,” Franco says. “It was something that we did without being asked to do it and without asking for compensation.” 

The company doesn’t just deal with aging infrastructure. Franco says he’s open to tackling new projects and happy to do whatever he can to serve customers. “These types of projects are something that we find a pleasure and joy to work on, and we are always looking for more.”


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.