Is a design-build firm right for you?
Weigh the pros and cons of a 'one-stop shop' before hiring one for your remodel.
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So you're considering remodeling that tired basement — or even building your dream home. You may have heard the buzz about the "design-build" approach.
What is design-build? Is it right for you and your remodel? And what are the pros and cons of this approach, compared with a more "traditional" method?
We've got the answers to help you sort it all out and decide how to proceed to make your home — and building process — the best it can be. (Bing: Fnd a design-build firm in your area)
What is design-build, anyway?
"Basically, design-build is a one-stop shopping option for homeowners. They can get their design and their construction done by one company," says Denny Connor, president of CRD Design Build, a Seattle-based design-build firm.
A design-build firm may employ a full-time designer or an architect, in addition to a production manager, carpenters and other workers.
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This contrasts with the more traditional "design-bid-build" approach, in which you hire an independent architect to design a home or a remodel, contractors bid to build it and the company you choose ultimately builds the project.
Design-build isn't new. The concept of a "master builder" who designs a structure and then oversees its construction is an idea at least as old as the ancient Greeks and the Egyptians who crafted the pyramids, architects say. And it's alive and well today in other nations.
But after drifting away from the concept, there's "absolutely a very, very strong movement" back to the idea in this country, says Luis Jauregui, who owns Jauregui Architecture Interiors Construction with his wife, Susan, and designs and builds new homes in Texas.
"We're in an economy where every dollar that's invested must be invested at the highest, highest value in terms of efficiency," says Barbara Jackson, a professor of construction management at California Polytechnic State University and the author of "Design-Build Essentials," among other books. "The linear [design-bid-build] approach to design and construction is too inefficient, it's too wasteful, and it's too slow."
But is design-build always the best choice? Let's walk through a hypothetical remodel to see how the process works and where the pros and cons pop up.
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Step 1: Getting to know you
Let's say you want to remodel your aged kitchen. You find a design-build firm that comes highly recommended by friends. Your first step simply may be a $500 to $1,500 feasibility study, says Victoria Downing, co-author of "Mastering the Business of Design Build Remodeling" and president of Remodelers Advantage, which consults with remodelers to help improve their business.
"The goal of that is to understand enough of the client's project to do a rough budget" and make sure it matches the client's budget, Downing says.
This is also the point for you, the homeowner, to get to know the firm and decide if you feel comfortable with the team and the approach.
"One of the benefits of design-build is that it's a phased process," she says. "There are many points of the homeowner to say, 'Go' or 'No go.'"
This differs from the traditional approach, in which you might initially meet and vet an architect, then talk about what you want, Downing says. But "there's no feasibility study," she says. And homeowners may never meet the contractors before it's time to choose one, so they often rely on the architect's recommendation.
Step 2: Design
The second step is developing a plan. Through conversations with a designer, you'll start to shape what your kitchen will look like — which can take several weeks or more, as you go back and forth. It also requires more investment.
This is where design-build can really start to shine. In this integrated process, the people who understand the costs of construction and materials — and who are in the same office — work with the designer as the vision evolves to gauge how the costs and other factors might change. For example, what if you decide to swap out cheaper laminate countertops for quartz?
"Then the next time you meet, the remodeler will say, 'We can do that, but it will increase the cost by $10,000,'" Downing says.
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During the design process, "We'll estimate a project two or three times, depending on the size of the project," Connor says. He and a colleague have carpentry backgrounds, and they use those skills to gauge feasibility and costs. "We're more or less vetting the constructability of the design periodically as it goes through the process."
Because the firm is pricing as it goes, there often are fewer surprises, and "the pricing can be very, very accurate," Downing says.
This all may seem like common sense, you say. So what's the big deal?
Here's the difference, proponents say: In the design-bid-build approach, an architect consults with the client and then frequently works in isolation to draw up a plan. The result is often a nice design.
"(But) architects aren't always thinking about the cost — they're thinking about what it looks like," Jackson says. If the result is over budget, redesign may be necessary — at the owner's expense, says Jackson, who has built homes using both traditional and design-build approaches.
Sometimes, the result is that the design doesn't get built at all, she says. "I call it 'design-bid-bust-build,'" Jackson says.
Bringing the builders into the design process early can help save money in other ways.
"Here's a classic," Jackson says. "Plywood comes in 4-by-8(-foot) sheets. So why would you design something that's 33 feet, 2.5 inches? It's not a factor of four. Guess what? I just threw away 70% or 80% of a piece of plywood. That's something that a contractor sees in an instant" when looking at a design, she says.
With design-build, she says, "We're trying to get the design right the first time, so we don't have to correct it during construction."
Many people like this coordination, which they think makes the process run more smoothly. "When you work with a design-build company, the entire team is on the same phone call. The key word is 'unified,'" Jauregui says.
D-B allows the contractor team to have the money and if they save, they get that savings, this tends to allow for cheaper materials. It is used where you want a spec building fast.
CM is the most expensive, because the CM gets fee, but it is also the fastest. It allows for fast tracking, but the owner pays, this is CM for fee.
D-B-Build is the slowest.
For decent size valued projects hire a CM for fee to work with you through the process. Takes longer, but you get what you want and you do retain control of the pricing. They build, when you have bids. And the CM is the construction expert.
Make no changes, changes will kill you on pricing, there is no competitive bidding at that point. Tell your wife to stay the hell away until it is complete.
In the end you pay for what you want. You just want to keep a lid on the design process and mark-ups.
Any method can be presented as a superior methodology than another by tweeking the facts in favor of one over the other. Both Deign-Bid-Build and/or Design-Build are viable, however, selecting one over the other does not in itself guarantee success or the best project. An article favoring Design-Bid-Build could be authored showing the potetnial benefits over Design-Build.
All comparisons must be made on an equal playing field, otherwise, you end up comparing apples to oranges as the old saying goes.
A failed Design-Bid-Build could be the fault of Owner, Architect, or Contractor. A failed Design-Build will be the fault of the Owner of Design-Build Entity.
Most homeowners will only be involved in a remodel and/or construction project once in their lifetime! As such, they approach it with absolutely "no experience". As such, they are vulnerable to the best story presenting the best possible result that may not be factual at all. They won't realize the success or failure until the project is complete, and will never again utilize that experience.
I continue to believe that the Design-Bid-Build method provides what I refer to as the "triangular balance of power". It involves the Owner-Architect-Contractor. Generally, two parties will always agree when a third party is out of line, and performing outside the contractual language and requirements. It could be any one of the three that are violating the agreed terms, includng the Owner'd interpretation. Once you enter the Design-Build arena, it is the Owner versus the Design-Build entity. As noted above, the Owner is inexperienced and left to fend for their own interest against the Design-Build firm with al of the experience.
A Design-Build firm will establish the level of quality the Owner will receive with no third party review and/or recommendation. If an Architect can't maintain a project within budget, then it is my professional opinion that the wrong Architect was hired!
All of this said, I believe the future holds more utilization of Design-Build over Design-Bid-Build with the ultimate degradation of the Architectural Profession being absorbed into the Design-Build process. Ultimately, this will provide little protection to the end user consumer.
These are the meanderings of a 4th generation architect nearing retirment. I wish the future well but consider us becoming mediocre!
I worked in the commercial remodel industry for years. There are too many things hidden behind walls that cause change orders. Change Orders are what drives up the costs of any project.
2. Stay with the original concept of the project. Scope creep is another CO magnet.
Romans and Egyptians as examples of historic precedence and reference was a gift...they FAILED.
Hiring true design professionals first, holding them to a budget established at start and thinking of improving your life or investments as an art not just a tool, improves present as well as future.
"Design-Build" is a sell out, especially by those who claim to be" design professionals".
Makes good business sense for the "builders"...only.
Design bid and listen to contractor suggestions in the process is the right way. Low bid is not always best way. One way as the only way is almost never the best way.
Norman Newton's " Design On The Land" explains it best.
Design-Build is not always a bad way to go. The best way to approach it is to select an architect and builder separately, but to do it at the beginning of the project with a contract that has them work together. In essence, the owner is creating a project team that has internal checks and balances. As far as competitive bidding, there are methods to guarantee this through the way a contract with the contractor is written. I have approached many projects in this manner, and an owner gets the best of both worlds going this route. I have also worked on numerous projects, from residential to multi-million dollar sports complexes that have used this method that have been very successful. As far as the arguments put forth in this article for Design-Build, most of them are fallacies. Any architect worth a damn will assess a project's feasibility upfront. Any architect work a damn will create an estimate for construction at the end of every phase of design. Any architect worth a damn will have quality control that will make sure that all aspects of the project are coordinated. Considering this, the only way a traditional Design-Build company can truly save money and time is to cut corners both in the design process and the construction process without the necessary checks and balances, which ultimately leads to an inferior product for the end user. That is not to say that every architect is great. An architect can cut corners as well so it is absolutely necessary for an owner to get a fully written proposal for their project, detailing out every phase of the project, before signing on. Another thought, and something that I believe is one of the most important issues concerning this topic, an architect works on the owners behalf throughout the entire design process and construction. This gives the owner a buffer in dealing with any issues that arise on a project as well as someone that will make sure that the project is being built to the specified quality and to code. In traditional Design-Build, the owner does not get this, and if any problems arise, it is the owner vs. the traditional Design-Build company. Finally, by going with an architect, an owner can select an architect that has a knowledge set in a specific area of design that will provide the owner with the best end product possible. For example, if an owner is building a new home, an architect with a strong knowledge of energy efficiency will be able to provide energy modeling during the design process as well as precise energy efficient construction details whereas a traditional Design-Build company might not be able to provide this knowledge set.