When it comes to choosing a contractor to build a hog building, there's no such thing as asking too many questions. The serviceable life of the building greatly depends on the construction techniques, workmanship and materials going into the construction project.

Bynum Driggers', consulting agricultural engineer, Raleigh, NC, best advice to producers planning to build is to develop a complete set of working drawings for the project. These drawings give all parties the same basis for bidding, in addition to making the desires of the producer known in a way that all contractors can understand. "Look at what has been going on in the pork industry in your area," Driggers says. "Some construction types and methods have been good, and some have not been so good. You need to talk to other producers to find out what has worked well for them. You also should consider hiring a qualified consultant for the project."

Find The Right Contractor Jay Harmon, Iowa State University agricultural engineer, agrees with Driggers' advice. Harmon says choosing the right contractor is the first step toward building a quality swine facility.

"Contractors should have experience with agricultural buildings, preferably swine facilities," Harmon cautions. "Start by asking if a contractor specializes in the type of building you want to build. If they have never built a hog facility before, be careful! You don't want a contractor to use your building as an experiment for learning about the fine-points of swine facility construction."

He suggests producers attend neighbors' swine facility open houses to find out who builds their buildings. "Talk with relatives, friends and neighbors, check farm magazines and newspapers to see who advertises, or who is featured in stories about new facilities," he says. "Talk with area lenders and agricultural insurance people as part of the search process."

But, the investigation isn't over once the contractor names surface. Producers need to check a potential contractor's references. Who have contractors worked for? What do these references have to say?

"Ask references about the contractors' workmanship," says Harmon. "Inquire about the timeliness of project completion. Did the contractor finish the building when they said they would? Did they live up to the contract terms? Are they capable of producing a turn-key operation?"

Communication is a key to a successful producer-contractor relationship. Harmon says it is important to select a contractor you can "be tough with," when the need arises, while still maintaining a cooperative spirit.

Put It In Writing Make sure the requirements of the building job are in writing in an appropriate contract, Harmon stresses. Key items that need to be included in the contract are bid alternatives, duties of the contractor and duties of the owner, for example.

"Sometimes producers may want to have separate bids on portions of a complete construction job, in addition to on the entire project," Harmon says. "When funds are limited, a producer may want the option of using his or her own labor to do site preparation or equipment installation work to help keep costs down." Bid alternatives make it possible to separate out parts of the building process that can be done as separate jobs to save money.

Harmon says on most projects, the contractor is expected to supply all labor, equipment and materials to complete the facility. These details need to be specified in writing.

If any of the labor, equipment or materials are to be supplied by the producer or another supplier, that should also be spelled out. "Usually the producer provides electrical power, telephone service and water required during construction," Harmon explains.

Weatherproof, on-site storage of construction materials (if needed) may be either a contractor or producer responsibility, Harmon says. This storage responsibility needs to be noted in the contract.

Harmon also emphasizes the importance of a good set of plans with clear drawings and specifications. Plans should also be available for fabricated equipment. Since many hog buildings contain some equipment designed and built specifically for the particular building, the producer should be provided with a set of plans for that equipment. "Having the plans on hand for this equipment can come in handy if service is needed some day," Harmon says. The producer or a representative should also specify in the contract when they will be available for consultation or interpretation of building plans and specifications.

Contracts should also specify who is going to be responsible for obtaining permits and making sure the facility is in compliance with all applicable laws. Harmon says the contractor normally is responsible for making sure construction is taking place correctly. Either the owner or the contractor can obtain required permits.

"The contract needs to spell out what happens if something changes during construction," Harmon says. "What if materials aren't available and substitutions need to be made?" The contract needs to spell out procedures to follow when changes need to be made, such as how will plans and specifications be revised, and how price revisions will be handled.

If substitutions are required for materials or equipment during construction, the contract should specify that the producer needs to give approval before the substituted material is used.

Insurance Concerns One area to which producers don't always give much thought is insurance and liability protection during construction. A good contractor-producer contract includes details about workman's compensation coverage, public liability and property damage coverage, owner's protective liability and builder's risk insurance. "Who insures a building at each point in the construction process?" Harmon asks. "Who is responsible if a windstorm blows the building down at a certain phase of construction? These answers need to be well thought out before the worst-case scenario happens."

Workman's compensation insurance is usually provided by the contractor, Harmon says. This covers injuries to employees working at the construction site.

Public liability and property damage insurance is usually provided by the contractor. This coverage protects the contractor and subcontractors from personal injury claims (including death) and from claims of property damage.

Owner's protective liability insurance protects the owner if a liability claim results from the construction project. "Owner's protective liability may be provided by the owner or contractor," Harmon says.

Builder's risk insurance protects on-site materials if there is a fire, loss or other casualties. This coverage is usually provided by the contractor, but may be an owner responsibility in some types of contracts.

Payment Schedules The planning process isn't complete unless details are in writing about the payment method and schedule. Responsibility for paying subcontractors should also be spelled out. "It is common for large projects to require payment of portions of the contract price at specific points during the construction process, with the final payment due on completion," Harmon says.

Harmon says a contractor-producer contract should include a clear definition of what constitutes a "finished" project. The time schedule for completion should also be understood.

"For some construction projects involving animal housing, it is essential that a completion date be known well in advance," Harmon states. "If necessary, make sure both you and the contractor understand when the building is to be ready for owner acceptance."

Once construction is completed, the contractor is usually required to clear the site of all construction debris and to clean up the building. "If the producer assumes this responsibility, a contract allowance should be specified," Harmon says.

Producers need to know who has responsibility for connection to electric, water, sewer and gas lines. The contract should spell out whose duty it is to extend utility lines to the building site as well.

How long after the building is completed can the contractor still be considered "on call" to trouble shoot? "What about warranties?" Harmon asks. "Producers should ask if the builder will come out to the facility and help with problems that may arise later. Are service manuals available? Make sure you are aware of who to contact when a heating problem comes up, for example." Provisions should be made for transferring any warranties provided by manufacturers or suppliers of component parts from the builder to the producer.

Both Driggers and Harmon agree cutting corners on materials or contractors leads to problems down the road. "It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a finishing building to last 20-25 years," Harmon says. "But cutting corners is going to lead to extra costs."