Private-Side Mitigation

State mandates mean more work for contractors who specialize in residential work.

Private-Side Mitigation

A sketched map of a home in Lower Burrell will guide a CCTV inspection and dye test of all interior drains and where they connect to the city sewer.

For many, inflow and infiltration mitigation is a hassle, but it has been a gift for Shelton Plumbing in New Kensington, Pennsylvania.

Josh Shelton, CEO and president, has increased revenue from $500,000 in 2015 to $1.2 million in 2017, mostly thanks to relining work in relation to state I&I mitigation mandates.

As I&I mitigation becomes a greater focus among municipalities, many cities have turned an eye toward the private side as part of their programs. This has brought a huge wave of potential job opportunities for contractors like Shelton.

“The amount of opportunities that people have in the plumbing industry with relining, and dealing with the I&I, I mean it’s just unbelievable how much work is out there,” Shelton says. “Nobody can even find enough manpower to do the work.”

Boon and burden

In the early 2000s, Pennsylvania adopted statewide rules to reduce I&I in the coming decades. In more recent years, local municipalities have started pushing their programs to reach those state goals.

For Shelton’s area, this entails several practical applications, such as requiring an inspection before any name transfer or sale on a private home and requiring full replacement on illegal systems, even when repairs are possible.

In the greater Pittsburgh area, many homes date back to a time when downspouts and stormwater collections systems were allowed to tie straight into the sanitary sewer line. Another problem with a prevalence of older homes is the terra-cotta pipe that was frequently used.

“There are instances in this area with underground springs. When you camera through the terra cotta, there are little streams of water just coming through the joints,” Shelton says. “It happens more often than not, actually.”

French drains are common as well, and systems with these elements must be replaced, lest the contractor and homeowner face severe penalties.

The company

Looking at the history of Shelton Plumbing is a bit like following the up-and-down path of a roller coaster. At one time, the company had up to 20 employees, but founder John Shelton didn’t enjoy the dynamics of a larger company and scaled down to only himself.

Shelton’s son, Josh Shelton, joined the company in 2005 and a new growth mentality took hold.

“We wanted to grow,” Josh Shelton says. “I wanted to grow this business and just keep up with the times.”

In early 2016, Shelton began researching relining as an additional service the company could offer. With Pennsylvania imposing mandates on municipalities to reduce I&I and limit the amount of water ending up in treatment plants, he saw an opportunity.

“I found it fascinating and wanted to get into it,” Shelton says.

Today, the company has nine employees, three focused on relining. The customer base is primarily residential with a small amount of commercial.

Branching out

While I&I is a municipal problem, private laterals are a major contributing factor.

“Our cities are handling the systems, but when it comes to an individual wanting to sell their home, excavation to replace or repair is very challenging as well as expensive,” Shelton says. “Relining saves time, liability and money. This is a way to solve the problem by sealing a system and stopping root infiltration as well. It can do some amazing things.”

The company was in the relining business by June 2016. Today, it is a major part of the business and its growth trajectory.

“We’re getting to the point where it’s probably about 50-50. Service and repairs are still a big part of our business, but this year we separated into another department for sewer services,” Shelton says. “Almost 90 percent of what we do in the sewer department is dealing with I&I and real-estate sales — relining every single day almost.”

Abundance of opportunity

Shelton Plumbing mostly works as a direct-hire for Realtors and homeowners, with about 5 to 10 percent of its business subcontracted. The company’s long-standing reputation as a trustworthy plumbing operation gave it a running start into relining work. Previous relationships with real-estate companies and agents, and existing customers, make up a significant portion of the workload.

“We have a lot of customers that we would maintain their drainlines for years. We do a ton of drain cleaning, so we make sure to let them know up front that there are roots in here, and if you’re planning on selling your house in the coming years, you’re going to have to fix the line,” Shelton says.

Another great lead generator has been real-estate inspections, which are required in the area.

“This specific test requires a full camera inspection of the interior building drain and the exterior sewer lateral to the main sewer,” Shelton says. “You’re looking for severe separations in terra-cotta joints, cracks, broken pipes — obviously any type of active water flowing, root infiltration, etc.

“We’ll do the testing, and then we’ll usually provide an estimate right away to do the repairs. You don’t get every job, but the majority of them that you do the testing on, you end up getting the job to do the relining.”

Shelton uses RIDGID cameras for inspection and a Spartan Tool trailer jetter to clean the line before relining. Using an inversion-process lining machine, Shelton is a dedicated Perma-Liner Industries customer and says he will not buy materials from anyone else.

Sky’s the limit

It can be tough when big government hands down mandates that require locals to spend a lot of money, but it does provide opportunities for the industry, and with technology, contractors can ease the burden for citizens.

“We wanted to take care of our customers. We knew that there had to be a way to reduce the cost for our customers,” Shelton says.

Relining can cost a third of traditional excavation and replacement, according to Shelton, which is a blessing for homeowners suddenly faced with a failing system. Providing trenchless rehabilitation earns plumbers goodwill from customers, in addition to steady work.

“Sooner or later, everybody’s going to have to come up to compliance,” Shelton says. “There’s a handful of companies that are doing lining now, and most of us are booked for months and can barely keep up.”


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