Design-build is the name for a licensed residential architect working in partnership with a professional remodeler as one organization on behalf of you – the client. They take your budget and your list of requirements and design, estimate and then build a solution customized for your goals and your budget.
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The term design-build refers to the joining together of the architectural design team with the construction team. The idea was first used in commercial construction when developers wanted to reduce the time it took to get a project designed and constructed, while remaining on-budget during the process. The huge additional benefit to them was how the cooperation between these two camps allowed the design to be estimated early and accurately and then re-estimated at all stages of re-design. This keeps the project budget in check throughout the process.
For these same reasons (a streamlined process with faster delivery coupled with a lower, more accurate cost), some larger remodeling contractors started offering design-build services to homeowners in the 1990s.
Architects and design-build remodelers typically get involved in larger projects since the budget for most small projects cannot support the cost of the architect’s design fees. The architect gets paid regardless of how simple or how complex the project is, and the remodeler needs to generate enough money to pay the architect. They do this by charging design fees to the clients or by specializing only in larger, more profitable projects. Most design-build companies do both these things—charge fees and work on larger projects.
Since the 2000s began, “design-build” has become the hottest marketing phrase in the remodeling industry. But the truth is, few of today’s remodeling companies who claim to be design-build even use architects to do their designs and permit drawings. And almost no so-called design-build firms have architects on staff. This begs the question: “If they are not using architects, then who is designing?” And that, my friend, is the perfect question to ask! Often an unlicensed designer on the remodeler’s staff does the design and drawings. So despite calling themselves design-build, no architect is actually involved, and clients don’t get true design-build services or benefits.
Don’t turn over the design of your large remodeling projects to just anyone. Always make sure of their design credentials.
I cannot recommend that you use a generic remodeling company calling themselves “design-build”, but which does not use an architect for their large projects. Your project design will only be as good as the talent of their “designer.” And there is no way for a layman to discern this. If your planned project is large (a whole-home makeover, a multi-story addition, a new floor added above your current house, or a large addition involving multiple interior rooms), my suggestion is to either hire an architect and bid the project out or hire a design-build remodeler with a licensed architect. It’s worth the price you pay to get professional design paired with top-quality remodeling experience.