Is Design/Build the Right Model for You?
You have three standard options for tackling a major remodeling project: a.) You can retain an architect to design the project; b.) hire a contractor; c.) hire a Design/Build firm. While each of these options presents its own benefits, liabilities and trade-offs, we feel you’re most likely to achieve the best outcome with a Design Build firm assuming that firm has both strong design and construction departments. We believe in having both design and construction under one roof. A design/build model links the planning and execution phases within the umbrella of one firm. With our firm, we have fully-staffed design and construction departments. We’ve summarized the benefits of the design/build model.
We believe in having both design and construction under one roof. A design/build model links the planning and execution phases. A renovation project succeeds or fails in both the planning phase (design) and the execution phase (construction). We see every project as two very integrated opportunities to build your project twice–once on paper, and then in reality. With that in mind, let’s look more in detail at the three models.
Design/Build The design/build model links the planning and execution phases within the umbrella of one firm.
Many firms call themselves “design/build,” but either don’t have an in-house design department or offer one that is a thin or inexperienced. If you hire a firm that doesn’t have an in-house design firm, you may be missing some of the key benefits of both the architect/bid model and the design/build model.
Residential design/build firms, like Landis, have a team of in-house staff architects (and/or designers in most cases) who will work with you to design your project. Design/build firms also have construction license with the staff and expertise to build your project. There are several advantages to going with a firm that can provide both services.
- Schedule – Working with one firm helps streamline the process. It speeds up the time from start to finish. Once you start the design process with a design/build firm, they looking ahead to schedule the start of construction.
- Primary Contact – In the case of our firm, the client has one primary point of contact who we call the team leader, to guide the homeowner through the process and who works with the architect and designers and production team to ensure your expectations and needs are met.
- Cost Checks – Better design/build firms price the project at several key phases during the design process instead of waiting to the end. Periodic budget checks help guide and shape the project versus the option of having a fully designed project that needs to be substantially redesigned because it’s over budget.
- Construction Expertise during Design – With both the design and construction teams in the same house, consultation and problem solving are facilitated and build-ability is considered as the project takes shape
- The buck stops here – You won’t need to mediate and translate between the architect and contractor. You avoid adversarial relationships brought on by missing information or poor estimating.
- Design Cost – The fee for design services is often similar to that of hiring an architect, though there are a broad range of prices. If you’re hiring an architect anyway, why not hire one who has the backing of a construction firm?
- Drawing Propriety – Landis Construction has two architects that lead the design department. This department provides you with a professional set of architectural plans that are yours once the design fee is paid. Know what you’re getting. Many local design build firms do not give you the drawings and many firms produce a much less professional drawing set.
- No Bidding – When you hire an architect you must then find a contractor that you trust and who can perform your project within your budget. That combination is often a tall order and the bidding process can be prolonged and fraught with wading through “apples to oranges” comparisons.
- Value is not the same thing as low cost – Design/Build firms such as Landis are not always the least expensive option, but you probably don’t want to hire the low cost bidder anyway. The low cost bidder may not be there to finish your project, they may not do professional job, or they may bid low and push the price up with excessive change orders. (There are a lot of great contractors out there, but the combination of “low bidder” and “quality” is rare and fraught with risk.)
Architect/Bid In the architect bid model, the homeowner retains an architect who works with the homeowner to develop a set of drawings and specifications. The completed drawings are then sent out to bid. You would likely select the builders based on a combination of the reputation of the contractor and the bid budget.
- Impartial Third Party – The major advantage of the Architect/Bid model is the architect acts as a third party advocate for the homeowner. This has its limits though and the three party relationships can quickly dissolve into finger pointing when there’s a question about the accuracy or completeness of the design drawings.
- Cost is no object – Because the architect isn’t building your project, cost is more of a fluid and abstract concept. If you wait until your construction documents are complete to begin bidding the project, you may encounter some surprises. If budget and contractor quality don’t match during the bidding process, you’ll need to either solicit more bids or retain the architect at an additional fee to return to the drawing board.
- Negotiate Bid – Some architects and homeowners will bring in a contractor early in the design process for a negotiated bid. In this scenario, the builder does offer their experience and price checks to the design process. If you’re going to do that, we feel you probably would be better served hiring a design/build firm(with a real architecture department.)
- Professionalism and Design Quality – Landis Construction does bid on work designed by outside architects and designers. After reviewing hundreds of sets of drawings over many years, we can state with some accuracy that there is an immense range of design quality and drawings completeness and accuracy. Hiring a credentialed architect may not guarantee you a better design product than hiring some designers. It’s all about experience, vision, ability, and listening skills and knowledge of building codes and building science.
- Construction Administration – In some cases the Architect is retained for an additional fee to oversee the contractor during construction. (This feature is built into the design/build process.)
- Architect Cost – Like most purchases, architects and designers come with varying price points and cost structures. Some architects charge on a percentage of construction so there may be a big surprise at the end of the design process. Others charge based upon a fixed fee or an hourly rate.
Contractor Any substantial project should have a qualified designer working through the details in a methodical way. Some contractors may be able to sketch your masterpiece exactly the way you want on the back of a napkin, but we doubt it. Expect no permits, a stop work order, and unforeseen costs. For projects that don’t require drawings, hiring a contractor first may be the way to go.
Developing and completing complex construction projects inherently embodies risk. Getting to completion, design success, durability, energy efficiency, successful integration of existing systems and structure with new, warranty, and building code and zoning compliance are a few of the risks. Our biggest goal for our clients is to manage and minimize these risks and strive for excellent outcomes.