Focused on Manhole Solutions

Cretex helps utilities prolong asset life and fight inflow and infiltration.

Focused on Manhole Solutions

A Cretex team member demonstrates installation of the PRO-RING system for a municipal crew. 

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Leaking manholes are a problem for every wastewater utility. Cretex Specialty Products has been providing solutions to that problem for 40 years.

General Manager Lee Haessig has been with the company in various roles for 28 years, serving in his current role since 2013. His extensive product knowledge allows him to conduct installation training, demonstrations and offer field support to engineers, owners and contractors. He has also been involved in the National Association of Sewer Service Cos. since 2003, serving on a number of the association’s committees.

Municipal Sewer & Water recently spoke with Haessig about Cretex’s history and its mission to help utilities fight inflow and infiltration.

MSW: Tell us a little about the history of Cretex and its position in the wastewater industry. 

Haessig: Cretex Specialty Products is owned by The Cretex Cos. located in Elk River, Minnesota. The Cretex Cos. were founded in 1917 by L.D. Bailey and D.W. Longfellow during the time when our infrastructure was starting to grow at an explosive rate. The Cretex Cos. are a diversified family of manufacturing companies serving three distinct markets: medical, aerospace and defense, and infrastructure.

From May 1980 until September 1983, Cretex Specialty Products operated within Waukesha Concrete Products (precast concrete pipe and manholes) in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Cretex Specialty Products was officially established as a division of Waukesha Concrete Products in September of 1983. The first Internal Manhole Chimney Seals were installed in February 1981 in the suburbs of Milwaukee.

The first product introduced by Cretex Specialty Products was the Internal Manhole Chimney Seal and approximately two years later, the External Manhole Chimney Seal was brought to market. The need for and development of the seal came as a response to a presentation given by the Sewer System Evaluation Survey staff from CH2M Hill (now Jacobs Engineering Group) for the Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program that 

outlined the problem of manhole chimney inflow. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and the SSES had identified manholes as one of the major sources of excess clear water entry into the sanitary sewer collections system.

We are positioned as the leading manufacturer and supplier of mechanical internal and external manhole frame chimney seals and other products used to stop or 

prevent inflow and infiltration, including PRO-RING, a lightweight grade adjustment system used for manholes and underground utility structures. We are represented throughout the United States, Canada and Australia.

MSW: What’s the most common problem you see your municipal customers facing and what mistakes do you see them making in the fight against inflow and infiltration? 

Haessig: We often see municipal staff using inexpensive Band-Aid-type products and materials to seal leaks in manholes. There are so many products on the market claiming to solve I&I issues that it can be overwhelming. Even though some products may cost more initially to purchase and install, a long design life can easily make up for that cost. Repeatedly sealing leaks with less expensive and often more time-consuming products can end up costing much more when added up over years. Other approaches may involve larger or more complex projects when it may be easier and more cost effective to focus on the easy fixes.

MSW: What does the full suite of Cretex products provide for municipal utilities? 

Haessig: Our product offering allows anyone constructing a new manhole to ensure it is watertight when constructed and throughout the life of the asset. On rehabilitation projects, our products allow for trenchless installation in most cases making it less disruptive and much less expensive than opencut reconstruction or replacement.

MSW: How has your product line evolved to better meet the needs of municipal utilities with aging infrastructure and limited budgets? 

Haessig: There have been improvements to existing products making them more cost effective and easier to install and we have also added innovative products that are much safer and easier to install. These improvements and new products help reduce cost by requiring less manpower and equipment while increasing the life expectancy of the manhole. By ensuring a new or repaired manhole stays watertight for a long period of time, it ultimately frees up budget money because constant repair is no longer needed.

MSW: Is your product line aimed more at infrastructure rehabilitation or new construction? 

Haessig: The manhole chimney seals were originally developed as a technology for use on manhole rehabilitation projects, but that changed. It wasn’t long before cities and engineers figured out that if these seals could stop water in existing manholes, they most certainly would do the same when installed on new manholes. Over the years, we have experienced significant growth and use in new construction to where we see about 70% of our products being specified and installed on new manholes.

MSW: What differentiates your line of sealing and rehabilitation products from the competition?

Haessig: Our products have been designed with specific manhole applications in mind. Our chimney seals and joint seals are mechanical, compression type seals that do not rely on any type of adhesion or bond to the surface of the manhole. Our exterior joint wraps are mastic backed, but mechanically fastened to the manhole or pipe with steel compression bands. Simply put, we have the best products backed by industry leading warranties and support.

MSW: Do you sell direct to contractors and utilities or go through distributors?

Haessig: For the most part we sell through waterworks distributors that have both contractor and municipal sales channels. That said, we do sell direct to cities, utilities and contractors based on project specifics and need.

MSW: What sort of training and support does Cretex offer? 

Haessig: We offer complete hands-on installation training for anyone wishing to receive it. Training is conducted by Cretex sales personnel or one of our experienced independent representatives.

MSW: Could the average  municipal utility install Cretex products with an in-house crew?

Haessig: Absolutely. Our products are designed with the end user in mind and can be easily installed by following our printed instructions or by watching one of our videos.

MSW: How do you see infrastructure rehabilitation evolving as technology improves?

Haessig: Our hope would be to see a greater emphasis put on the renewal of our aging (underground) infrastructure. With improvements in rehab technologies, I believe that we will see more opportunity for contractors to expand and grow their businesses. I would also expect to see more municipalities make the investment to purchase materials and equipment and bring some of this work in house.


MSW: What’s coming up for Cretex in 2021 and what can customers expect out of you in the future? 

Haessig: It looks to be another year of expansion of our PRO-RING Manhole and Catch Basin Grade Adjustment System product line. PRO-RING continues to gain acceptance as the premier product in the sanitary sewer and stormwater markets. We have also seen a growing interest in PRO-RING from the underground telecommunication and electrical markets. Combined with an increase in the need to prevent I&I in manholes, we are positioned well for the foreseeable future. 


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