Design / Build: Pros & Cons
When planning an addition or a custom home, there are primarily 2 ways to go about doing this & each will be explained below.
Design / Bid / Build Process: This is the traditional route where an architect would be hired to design the project & do the construction drawings. A few builders would then be asked to bid on the project, which is known as “competitive bidding.” One builder would then be hired to build the project.
Design / Build Process: This is best explained as “one stop shopping.” 1 firm would be hired (which is typically a builder) who would design the project, do the construction drawings, & then build the project.
Most design/build firms are builder-owned, not architect-owned. The builder has expanded his services to provide architectural services in-house. This is how it’s sold to clients & some find this attractive, but chances are they don’t understand the potential downside.
The Cons of Choosing Design / Build
No Checks & Balances
The advantage of going the design/bid/build route is that 2 different firms are being hired to provide 2 very different services, & there are checks & balances that should take place that are critical to the success of any project.
The builder should be responsible for keeping both the architect & client within the budget during construction, while the architect should be supervising the builder’s work to make sure it’s being done correctly, completely, & according to the construction drawings.
In the design/build scenario there’s no architect to oversee the builder’s work, as they’re essentially one in the same. As an analogy, this is like the fox guarding the hen house.
No Competitive Bids
In the design/build scenario, the client is hiring 1 firm to provide both the design services & the construction services.
They’re essentially putting all their eggs in 1 basket from the very beginning of the project & have lost the ability to get bids from other builders to get the best value. They’re trusting that the builder will give them a fair, competitive price, but have no assurance & no way to compare the bid to others.
Quality of Design & Construction Drawings (Who’s actually doing the designing?):
All design/build firms handle this differently; some (but few) may be architect-led, some may have an architect on staff, some may have a “designer” or draftsman on staff, or some may hire this out to an outside firm (like an architect). The concern here is when it’s someone other than a licensed architect doing the design work.
There’s a reason why architects must go through a rigorous education, an internship followed by a licensing exam…followed up with continuing education requirements throughout their career. A draftsman or “designer” might be self-taught or had a minimal amount of education, but it’s doubtful that they’d be producing the same quality of work when it comes to both the design & construction drawings.
Should You Choose a Design/Build Firm?
Ideally, there should be 3 parties in the building process: the client, architect, & builder; and they should all have the same goal in mind – which is to design & build a great house. In my opinion, the design/build route is not in the best interest of the client if the architect is removed from the process. Hiring an architect & investing in the design phase is always money well spent as the design & construction drawings will guide the project that comes to life.
The typical homeowner/client knows so little about the process of designing & building a home, that they’re easily misled in many ways. That’s why it’s so important to work with a trusted team & know precisely what you’re getting into if you’re considering a design/build firm.
DeMotte Architects: Residential Architect for CT & NY
DeMotte Architects specializes in residential architecture & has been serving Connecticut and New York since 1990. For projects in Fairfield County CT, Westchester County NY, and surrounding areas, let’s connect.