Roger Skillings discusses the benefits of offering water treatment.

Skillings and Sons Inc. has been in business since 1970.
Doing water treatment is something about which most contractors have strong opinions - some have considered it, fewer have incorporated it into their offerings. Located in Hollis, N.H., Skillings and Sons Inc. is a full-service drilling company whose services include filtration and that has more than earned the title “water systems professionals.”

In business now for more than 30 years, the company had started out solely as a well drilling operation. Sixteen years later, Skillings and Sons was looking for ways to grow the company. To expand in the business, drilling more wells was an option, but not the direction Skillings and Sons had in mind. Expanding vertically was a more desirable avenue for the company; it now does well drilling, pump service, filtration, well care, camera work - essentially everything that pertains to the well. The result: It's taken the business from doing a couple million dollars a year and turned it into an $8-million-a-year enterprise, says Roger Skillings, one of the sons in Skillings and Sons.

Consumer demand and recognizing they were giving business away elsewhere helped encourage the decision to expand. In 1987, Skillings and Sons began to provide pump installation and service. Shortly thereafter, customers began asking for water treatment. “So we decided in 1989 that we would start putting in water treatment,” Skillings explains. “In the beginning, we said we were only going to do water qualities that were treatable. But we found out very quickly that people want you to handle anything. So since then, about 1989, we've been doing water treatment as well - and it's grown from just doing water softeners to arsenic, radon, sulfur, iron, manganese, pH adjustments, everything.”

With filtration encompassing around 15 percent of the company's workload, Skillings and Sons offers the whole range of water filtering options, from arsenic and radon, to UV treatment for municipalities.

Discussion with Skillings reveals that geography and geology often dictate the type of filtration used. “We used to do a lot of reverse osmosis,” he relates. “We were doing most of the reverse osmosis here because of arsenic problems. Arsenic is one of our big, big hassles out here; it just deters people. But the problem with reverse osmosis is that people don't like the taste. Now we have point-of-use and point-of-entry arsenic filters, and they work by adsorption so we don't have to worry about backwashing into the environment. The water tastes good after it comes out of there, and it's doing what we want it to do.”

As for a preferred method of filtration, Skillings finds water softening, although he notes that it is not a filter per se, is a highly effective filtration process. “Softeners work the best,” he explains. “In our area, we usually have some hardness. When you have hardness in the water, you can take out iron with the hardness. Usually, in this part of the country, we do have some hardness, and it works well. Softeners have done a good job. They won't take out ferric iron, but they will take out ferrous iron.”

Skillings acknowledges that in other parts of the country, water softeners are used only for water conditioning. However, he recognizes their filtering capabilities and describes that in New England they frequently are used for treatment: “It's treating the water; it's taking something out of the water you don't want in the water,” he notes.

The only thing the company does not filter is bacteria. In cases where bacterial contamination is found, Skillings recommends drilling a new well. For that reason, he cautions against the use of activated carbon with well water: “Carbon filters on wells are not good because there's no chlorine in the water from wells. If someone worked on that well and did not chlorinate, once the bacteria starts, it loves to live inside that carbon and it just breeds and breeds and breeds. Some people use carbon to take out odor, like sulfur odor, but we get very nervous about that with the bacteria.”

The only problem with offering filtration is that there are callbacks, which is why many contractors don't do it, Skillings reports. Water quality is not something that can be quickly fixed with a trip to a big-box hardware store because water does change: “So they'll put in a water softener and then three months later, they'll say, 'We have a sulfur smell.' Customers don't want to be paying more money down the road for something else, so we bite the bullet and say 'OK, we'll take out that softener and put in a manganese screen sand filter.' We will make sure the customer is happy with it, whereas a lot of our competitors will say, 'Well, you need to put in another filter system and it'll cost you this much money.' We don't do that.”

According to Skillings, the benefits of being a water well contractor who provides filtration more than outweigh the drawbacks. Being able to look at the entire well system and consider the size of the pump, the size of the piping, the pressure loss through the filter and so on are definite advantages; the customer and the contractor have more options at hand: “We look at the whole program whereas if you do solely water filtration, you really don't look at the whole program because there's no money other than putting in that filter.

“When we go out, we don't just look at the water quality and say, 'OK, here's what you have to have for water treatment.' If the water quality is so bad, a lot of times we do recommend drilling a new well or getting another water source. People who just do water treatment, if they recommend that somebody drills a new well, they probably won't get any business out of it, so they always will treat the water, no matter how bad it is. You can have a chemical factory in your basement and they keep trying to treat the water - $15,000 later, [the customer isn't] very happy.

“We have an area where we tell people: 'Put in a new well, put extra casing in the well and the water down deep is a tenth of the iron than what it is up high. The rock is the culprit; put the deep well in down deep.' And it works. Yeah, they spend $15,000 to do it but they then don't have a chemical factory in the basement - and for resale purposes, people coming in and looking at the house don't say, 'What is that?' That's why having the whole program fits for us.”