When deciding whether to remodel or raze that hog barn and build new, first have it checked out.

"Before you spend thousands on remodeling, invest maybe $1,000 to really have that building checked out," stresses Gerald Bodman, Extension agricultural engineer at the University of Nebraska. "It's better than spending up to $30,000 in remodeling costs and finding out you've got a problem that should have been identified in the first place." Plan on a thorough engineering evaluation taking at least three hours, he says.

If the building checkup uncovers problems that will cost more than two-thirds the price of building new, Bodman usually advises against remodeling.

"It's not a bad rule of thumb, because when you remodel, there are always things you didn't anticipate that you run into that need fixing," he adds.

Bodman also serves as a consultant to livestock producers and the insurance industry. Here are his tips on how to avoid sinking dollars into a bad building.

* Siting — Building location is a key issue. From a disease control, safety or traffic standpoint, is the building sited where it should be? Is it in the right spot from a manure handling or odor standpoint? Decide if the building is too close to town, to the farm home or oriented the wrong way for prevailing winds. Will the building fit future growth plans?

* Truss support — A lot of corrosion of the truss plates is a sign the building could fail. This occurs because of improper sealing of the plates. The Truss Plate Institute recommends one coat of a coal tar epoxy be applied when the truss is laying flat on the ground. The second coat should go on after trusses are in place. The epoxy should be brushed on to cover all exposed edges.

A big problem occurs when galvanized truss plates are cut out. The edges of the fingers are not galvanized and will rust. An alternative is to use a stainless steel plate.

A second problem Bodman sees on newer structures blown down by recent storms is improper installation of truss plates. "Many of them were not pushed all the way in," he says. Truss plates are put on with hydraulic pressure. If the pressure clamps are not set correctly, the plates will not seat properly.

"I am telling people to look at the trusses when they are delivered, and if the plates are not seated properly, reject them," emphasizes Bodman.

Truss problems worsen with age of the building and make those barns unsuitable for remodeling. Once trusses fail, they can't be reused, he notes.

* Sagging of the ridgeline — This means that bracing is failing and there are basic structural problems within the building. Bracing must be designed for wind loads and snow loads. A building sagging or knocked down due to improper bracing is a poor candidate for remodeling, stressesthe Nebraska ag engineer.

* Foundation failure — Evidence that the building foundation has begun to fail includes cracking of the concrete and buckling of posts or walls.

* Concrete slats — The biggest breakdown with this flooring is 4-in.-thick slats used in grow-finish when 5-in. depths are needed. "The problem is we are having difficulty finding suppliers that will provide them, because from a trucking standpoint, if they cut an inch off the depth, it saves a lot of weight," he says.

Especially when slats are more than 8-ft. long, they need to be 5 in. thick to retain structural soundness. He tells producers to check slats carefully. If they are sagging more than half an inch from their own weight (no pigs in pens), the building is probably a poor choice for remodeling. When slats sag, hairline cracks develop on the underside. It also means the reinforcing steel is corroding and deteriorating.

Trying to replace poor quality gang slats is difficult. Equipment can't be brought in because of the limited work area in facilities. And slats won't support the concentrated weight of a skid-steer loader, states Bodman. What producers are doing is cutting them and taking them out by hand, one piece at a time, which is a lot of work," he says. Pen partitions frequently limit access to the slats.

* Underfloor manure storage — Pit walls and floors can indeed be a source of manure leaks, Bodman adds. Engineers recommend rebar at least every 18 in. Some builders install rebar every 4 ft. The result has been cracks up to almost 11/44-in. wide and leaks.

Where concrete floors in pits are only 4-in. thick, the result often is cracks up to 11/48 in. wide. When 5-in.-thick concrete pit floors are used, cracks are eliminated.

* Rodent damage — Almost ignored these days, rodent damage can make a hog barn unfit to be remodeled, stresses Bodman. He tries to make that evaluation by checking out the holes in the wood and tracking by the rodents. If there are mouse holes, they have probably destroyed much of the insulation, but the basic frame may still be salvageable.

To demonstrate the impact of rodents, Bodman and other researchers set up several trials. A pair of mice were placed in an enclosure with a 4x4 ft. wall section, representative of the walls of a building, and allowed to reproduce. Eight kinds of insulation were used.

Within six months, all of the insulation was affected. Some 50-60% was damaged, the rest destroyed.

"From an environmental standpoint, it was going to be a very expensive building to operate," points out Bodman. That doesn't count the loss of feed spoiled by the rodents or the feed they ate.

* Electrical wiring — When electrical wiring is embedded in the walls and not surface mounted, there is a 50-50 chance of damage if rodents are present. That greatly increases the fire risk and makes it a poor risk for remodeling.

Check with a qualified ag engineer about what structural or electrical codes should be met.