Design Build Articles
When you design and build your new home, you’ll need to consider how comfortable and accessible it will be for long term use. Incorporating Universal Design features will help make a home that anyone can live in or visit. Some of these features include building a first floor bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, having a no-step entryway and making hallways and doorways wide enough for wheelchair access. Check out this page from the AARP to learn more about Universal Design features and aging in place.
With the design-build method (vs. design-bid-build), every design decision is weighed against how it affects the final construction costs. This accountability challenges designers to focus the remodeling budget on areas that matter most to the client. This can result in making trade-offs so that a splurge on a particular product or finish can be offset by economies in other areas. Obviously, the more products, features, fixtures and finishes there are to be selected, the more the homeowner’s priorities must be weighed – and the more budget trade-offs must be made.
Nowhere are there more of these selections to be made than in kitchen remodeling. Using design-build services can make all the difference in adjusting the design to accommodate both preferences and the budget before the final plans are drawn.
Because the kitchen is one of the busiest, most multi-tasking rooms of the home, design services play an important role in creating a space that will meet all the homeowner’s expectations. In design-build home remodeling, however, the difference is that design is not treated as a stand-alone element. Instead, it’s informed by what each decision about how the spaces will look, flow and feel will affect the building process and the ultimate cost of the remodeling project. Again, remodeling a kitchen involves weaving scores of design decisions into one beautiful but hard-working space.
This design-build method is especially important here because kitchen design involves so much give and take in specifying features and functionality and selecting all so many fixtures, appliances, storage solutions, and finishes. For example, if a high-end range or a dazzling chandelier are priorities, the design-build team might suggest finding room in the budget for those by specifying stock cabinetry rather than custom cabinetry.
With the design first/get costs later method, these trade-offs may not get made until after the plans have been finalized only to find that costs have to be cut. Or, the plan might indeed be buildable within the budget, but the price ranges used by the architect might also leave the homeowner having to settle for the low-end selections to stay within budget. By factoring in cost and the homeowner’s splurge-or-save priorities as part of the design process, the design-build home remodeling firm can make sure not only that the final plan meets the homeowner’s expectations, but that the homeowner can afford to build the kitchen exactly as it has been mapped out in the plan.
Up until a few years ago, it was fair to say that many architects dismissed the design-build method as a low-quality substitute for good design work and viewed design-build home remodeling firms as trying to “police” how architects designed projects and drew up plans. In short, design-build was seen as something homeowners settled for if they couldn’t afford “real” design work from an architect.
Today, however, architects and homeowners alike are embracing the design-build method as a way to get the best of both worlds: excellent design and a smooth, no-surprises remodeling experience. What has created such a change in attitude?
For starters, it’s the discovery that good design-build services are not driven by “construction mentality” as architects had once believed, but by design that is simply informed by early-phase inputs from members of the construction team who will actually end up building the plans. In this way, construction methods, materials and costs can help shape decisions about design and, often, open up exciting design possibilities that might otherwise be overlooked.
While design-build firms offer their own home design services, most are delighted for clients to bring in their own architect. But whether the plans are developed by an outside architect or in-house design team, the construction team is involved from the earliest stages of the project.
With the economy putting the squeeze on credit and home equity as ways to finance remodeling or new construction, the accountability of the design-build method has made it an increasingly popular choice.
Homeowners appreciate the fact that cost is considered right alongside design. This doesn’t mean that the lowest-cost options are always chosen. Instead, it means that architects or the firm’s in-house designers are weighing costs as they design. This means that trade-offs can be made, based on the homeowners priorities. In this way, more of the remodeling budget can be used on products, finishes and fixtures that homeowners value the most while finding creative, quality ways to economize on things that are not priorities. Working together before any plans are finalized, the design and construction team members can all make good contributions to what those plans will look like and how much construction will cost. With design-build, clients get good plans and they know that they have the budget to build those plans.
Because the design-build method injects construction expertise into the design process, the remodeling project can run as smoothly as possible – even when challenges arise. The early involvement in the design end of the project also enables the construction team to anticipate where and when additional manpower might be needed or something has been specified that will require a long lead-time on deliver. This early-warning perspective is essential in keeping the project moving forward on schedule – and on budget.
All told, the design-build home remodeling process gives everyone something to love. Architects get design freedom and “real-time” insights into the cost and scheduling implications of their design decisions. The construction team gets more control over building materials, techniques and scheduling. And homeowners get a better remodeling experience, better value for their budget and new living spaces that sparkle with creativity and functionality. Bottom line: with design-build, what’s not to love?
If you visit remodelers’ websites, you’ll see that quite a lot of them refer to themselves as “design build” home remodeling firms. Why do remodelers emphasize design build? To answer that, let’s take a look at the other approach to home remodeling: design-bid-build.
Right away, you’ll notice that there’s an extra step in that other approach: bid. Developing the bid – how much it will actually cost to build the design – isn’t missing from the design-build method, it’s just integrated with design as one process rather than a separate process. Does it make a difference if the pricing comes as a separate step? Let’s take a look:
In the three-step process where pricing is done separately, the first step is to have plans drawn up. This is done with an eye to budget, but this is a design-driven approach that might include cost ranges rather than detailed cost calculations. In other words, an architect works with homeowners, creates a design and then draws up plans. Homeowners come away with a great design. Here’s the challenge, though: can that plan realistically be built on the homeowners’ budget? And if it can be built, does it mean that all selections for products and finishes have to be made at the low-end of the price ranges given, or will the homeowners be free to invest in the kind of products and finishes they imagined when beginning the design process?
With design-bid-build, the answer to these questions come only after they have paid for final plans and taken them to a builder who then develops a pricing bid. The bid comes back based on manpower and what it will take to buy all the materials, fixtures, appliances and finishes specified in the design. If the plans can’t be built for the budget, the homeowners have to go back to their architect to modify the designs. Or, they have to squeeze down the cost by settling for lower-quality products and finishes than they’d expected.
How is the design-build method different? For starters, a design-build firm uses a model for home design services that incorporates feedback on construction considerations – and costs – right from the start. So, as with design-bid-build, plans are design driven, but they also factor in specific building costs, materials and techniques so that each design decision can be realized not just on paper, but onsite and on-budget. In this way, surprises about not being able to afford to build the plans are eliminated. Not only does the homeowner get budget-friendly set of plans, they get the greatest value from that budget in terms of design and the quality of the products and finishes they can select.
So, the design phase is very different. So is the building phase. With a design-build home remodeling firm, the construction team is involved throughout the design phase, and the firm’s design team is actively involved throughout the construction phase. With the person who did the drawings always accessible, the construction crew can easily troubleshoot all kinds of potential problems that can arise onsite. Plus, by monitoring how everything is going together not just from a construction point of view, but from the design point of view as well, the design team is often able to spot opportunities for making small changes that make a huge difference in adding extra functionality, storage space, or pizzazz to the home.
Is design-bid-build bad? No, it certainly doesn’t have to be. But separating out the cost component can lead to delays and higher design costs due to having to rework plans. Treating design and construction as silos also comes with the possibility of risks and miscommunication – and missed opportunities to make a project even more appealing. It’s really all about the chemistry of people you choose and your own tolerance for risk, whereas the design-build method really clears away surprises. In fact, that’s why the sites of design-build remodeling firms often include price and schedule guarantees. Even if price and schedule aren’t always guaranteed in writing, going with a design build firm is almost certain to reward you with a smoother remodeling experience and a home that looks and lives the way you hoped it would when you first began dreaming about new living spaces.
Remodelers who use a design-build method are able to help clients explore home remodeling opportunities in terms of what’s possible design-wise and what’s practical construction- and cost-wise.
When it comes to getting better use from currently under-utilized spaces – like attics — homeowners often value having home design services coupled with the design-build approach.
For example, in a townhome there may not be any opportunity to build an addition, but there may be an attic. With design-build home remodeling, design and cost simultaneously can be developed simultaneously as options are explored. For example: Perhaps there is access to the attic off the master bedroom closet and the space could be turned into a large closet/dressing room. With square footage in townhomes always at a premium, the design-build method can be a particularly efficient way to come up with specific recommendations for how to turn the attic into a highly organized storage area with shelves and features designed specifically for what the family needs to store and how easily they need to access particular items.
The value of design-build is that the two aspects of remodeling – home design services and construction – are planned at the same time. This avoids the delays and disappointment that can come from working up a beautiful design only to find that it doesn’t fit the budget or that quirks in the construction of the existing home will prevent the design from being built the way it was planned.
Look for contractors who have done many design-build projects in your area. They can give you good ideas and good ballparks very quickly.