What does design-build mean?
First, a short design-build definition: design-build is a simple approach to a construction project in which a single entity provides both the design and construction services.
This single point-of-contact approach has a variety of advantages over the traditional design-bid-build method in which a person uses two different companies to complete the subsequent phases of a construction project: an architect/designer for designing and a general contractor for building. Here at Model Remodel, we do both. There are some wonderfully talented architects in the Seattle area, and we work alongside many of them to bring their designs to life. However, we often receive inquiries from people who are starting from square one. If you don’t have someone in mind to complete the design phase of your next project, you might consider going with a design-build firm to simplify your project and increase efficiencies.
We feel strongly that every job should boil down to a satisfied customer who received quality work and communication every step of the way. A design-build process is one, common way to achieve that result. Using a Seattle design-build firm for your next remodeling project has three main, and directly-related, advantages:
- Simplifying the process and people
- Balancing the budget with your design goals
- Increasing efficiencies
Below we break down these advantages in detail. We also explain when a design-build process may not be the right fit for you.
Simplification: One Point-of-Contact and a Unified Team
There are a lot of moving pieces during a construction project, and a lot of people. The roles of a traditional design-bid-build project normally include:
Architect and/or designer: These are the creatives of the project. They are primarily focused on the aesthetics of the project, including: surfaces, finishes, and how the space will look and feel. Though the construction budget isn’t ignored throughout the typical design process, it may not be a primary concern.
Engineer: These are the makers of the structure of the building. Their primary concern is that the building will be safe in the end.
General Contractor: These are the builders of the project. They take the plans from both the architect and engineer(s) to procure pricing, which is provided to the client via an initial estimate. They give their clients a final budget or range in which the project can actually be produced.
Upon signing with a general contractor, the designer can have a wide range of involvement throughout the building process: from acting as a quality control and aesthetic agent to making small changes to the drawings as needed. Due to this continued involvement, it is obvious how an in-house designer simplifies a remodel. That is precisely why design-build is becoming an increasingly popular form of construction.
Value-Engineering: Balancing your Budget and Design Goals
Usually, when the initial estimate is complete, the building team (including all three parties and you the client) will work through an iterative process to fine-tune the price—we call this “value-engineering.” Value-engineering can entail finding more cost-effective fixtures, changing the scope, or any variety of tweaks that will help the project fit your budget more accurately. During value-engineering, it is possible, and unfortunately common, that the designer and builder will not see eye to eye on all pricing.
As described earlier, some architects will design outside of a budget or with a very rough number in mind. They may not take into account: current pricing trends, the cost of quality labor/management and fluctuations in material costs (such as lumber). This can be precarious if the actual cost is not feasibly within your budget. It’s one of the many reasons that we only work with select, highly-experienced architects who have a realistic approach to seeing their designs to fruition. It is also one of the reasons we brought in our first full-time, in-house designer in 2012.
Design-build makes remodeling easier for you, the client, in a lot of ways. It prevents cost discrepancies and holds the designer more accountable for realistic estimates during the design phase. There will be less movement in costs because the designer can utilize real and timely construction estimates. You will also have a single point-of-contact—someone to act as your advocate and teammate when you’re not around. Instead of explaining your needs and requirements to multiple parties throughout each step of the process, you can count on your single point-of-contact to know the ins and outs at every step. You also don’t have to act as the middle-man by allowing your general contractor to be a one-stop shop!
Better Teamwork Leads to Higher Quality and Lower Costs
The other major advantage to hiring a design-build firm is efficiency. The whole team (in our case the whole company), not just your point-of-contact, will be familiar with your project. From sales person to estimator to carpenter, the simple fact that your project was in design at one firm means the team will be exposed to it for a greater period of time. This time gives a project numerous opportunities to be discussed and debated, potentially avoiding a variety of construction issues altogether. It also gets the team invested in your project from the get-go, giving you and your contractor more time to build a strong rapport.
An invested team will have a deep understanding of the “why”: why you decided to make the design the way you did. They were there to help you debate where to place the oven or how big to make the bedroom, and they know exactly why one fixture was chosen over another. They understand your style and desires in a way that will often translate into a project that is closer to your desired vision. A small tweak can make a big difference. When you have a designer at your fingertips during construction, you have the room to make those tweaks and be sure you’re getting exactly what you wanted.
This understanding of scope and increased efficiency often translates into a shorter timeline. Along with decreasing the time it takes to transfer projects from architect to builder, which requires at least one big meeting (but often a few), the time it takes to get permits and order materials can also be planned for ahead of time—decreasing the timeline.
Lower costs can also be reached due to this efficiency. The designer and builder are teammates, so they can comfortably talk about cost-saving options they know you would be interested in while maintaining the integrity of the design. Not hurt feelings, just teamwork. The schedule and crew can also be coordinated earlier and more accurately. Overall project performance increases when each member of your team knows what is expected of them well in advance.
When Not to Use a Design-Build Firm
For most small to mid-size remodels, we recommend a design-build approach. It saves time and streamlines the process, which could result in lower costs. For specialty or large projects, the approach is not so black and white. For example, you may have a friend who is a designer that’d you’d like to support, or your project is utilizing a new technology which a specialized architect has experience with. In those cases, absolutely support your friends and choose the right fit for your specific project—we’d personally do the same. We’ll always tell you if we think a project’s design is best handled by another firm.
Another instance for which design-build may not be the right fit is when you’re not ready to commit to a builder. Maybe you want to design something and save up for a while until you can smartly spend the money to build. In that case you may want to use two separate companies. If this sounds like you, keep in mind that a design created now, but built one or two years from now could change in price dramatically. You never know how the construction market will change or if the same products will be available at a later time. Some fixtures and finishes are limited editions or may be out-of-stock when you go to build, causing changes in time, labor and cost.
If you’re still not sure which is right for you and your project, contact us and we’d be happy to give you our two cents based off of over 14 years of experience.