Design-Build: A Collaborative Approach to Home Remodeling

elaborate 3D rendering of exterior home remodel

By definition, Design-Build is a negotiated bid in which one company performs both the design and construction. Design-build contractors offer an alternative to the Architect-Owner-Contractor model, where the architect is hired by the owner to design the project, and also to make sure the contractor builds what he is supposed to and doesn’t cut any corners. In contrast, Design-Build is based on a collaborative rather than an adversarial relationship.

The homeowner entrusts one company to come up with a design that works functionally, aesthetically, and financially. The designer and builder are working together as a team, and may, in fact, be the same person. On the face of it, this makes a lot of sense. Regardless of the plans, specs, contracts, codes, and everything else, at the end of the day, you have to trust someone to be fundamentally honest and competent, and provide good work at a reasonable price.

Detailed plans critical. As with an independent designer, you will want detailed plans and specifications, so you know what exactly is included in the contract price. This will take some diligence on your part as well as trust in the contractor to not cut corners and hit you with “extras.” Don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions about what is included (and excluded) from the contract price.

Ask for separate pricing and contract terms for design and construction.  The design phase should be separate from the construction phase and you should pay separately for each. This way you will retain the right to walk away with the design if, for any reason, the contractor does not end up building the project. While most designers will not release their CAD files, if you have paid for a full set of working drawings, you should get to keep the drawings and have the right to use them.

Opt-out clause. The contract should spell out specific milestones for the design and building process, and include a “separation” agreement for amicably parting ways. While everyone starts with the best of intentions, there are many scenarios under which the contractor and client may part ways before building begins. For example, the final price may be too high, the timing does not work, or the owner’s personal circumstances may change. A professional contractor should recognize this fact and provide a reasonable roadmap for parting ways.

When you’re hiring someone to do any type of work in your home, remember it’s your money and your home. Do your research, ask all the questions on your mind and clearly understand the answers you receive.

  • Look at other projects completed by the design-build contractor you are considering.
  • Start with companies whose design and quality appeal to you.
  • Check references.
  • Find out, early on, if your budget is realistic for the project you have in mind.
  • Make sure you get detailed plans and specifications so you know exactly what is included (and excluded) from the contract price.
  • Don’t start construction without a completed plan and price.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions.
  • To help keep everyone honest, retain the right to purchase the plans and get bids from other contractors.

In design-build, you gain the benefits of everyone working together to a common goal. If you choose the right company, and build in some reasonable protections, this approach will lead to a successful project that balances the best of both worlds – the designer’s creative vision and the builder’ practical knowledge of construction materials, details, and costs.