The Case for Design-Build: Save Time, Money on Your Next Construction Project


For most of us, it’s not every day that we have the need to manage or oversee the construction of a new building or major tenant improvements. So when it’s time to take on a commercial construction project, it can no doubt feel a little intimidating. Even if you’ve been through the process before, you know there are a lot of moving parts to consider. One way to simplify the number of moving parts is to consider hiring a design-build contractor.

In the past, a majority of construction projects were executed via a “traditional model” known as the design-bid-build method. If you’ve ever been involved with a design-bid-build project, you know the drill, and if you haven’t, here’s what to expect:

  • First you vet and hire an architect, who then draws up the plans, without any input from a contractor’s knowledge and experience in economic construction “means and methods.”
  • Next you send out requests for bids to a handful of general contractors.
  • These contractors will usually take three weeks to a month to put together a bid.
  • Once you do receive bids, you need to vet those and determine which is your best bid and if it fits you budget. Oftentimes this is the point where you see a disconnect between what you had expected it to cost and your ability to finance the project.
  • If you are lucky enough to see it fall within your budget and you’ve settled on a contractor, you need to get them up to speed; understanding, in detail, all of your expectations. Then the contractor’s project manager needs to begin the long process of making site preparations, hiring subcontractors and ensuring permits are in place – all along hoping they have the time to work your project into their busy schedule.

All together, these steps will take many weeks before ground is ever broken on the construction site or the first hammer is swung. (And this is assuming you’ve already buttoned up financing.)

With the design-build model, you vet and hire just one party – a design-build contractor. Right out of the gate you are saving time by cutting your vetting process in half and taking advantage of the contractor’s “build-ability” to have the most efficient design that solves your needs.

As the project progresses, the project manager can begin working on different phases of the project concurrently, such as securing subcontractors before the plans are finalized and early scheduling. The Design Build Institute of America reports that using the design-build method on projects is 33.5% faster than the traditional design-bid-build method.

And, remember, time equals money.

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Intrigued? Let’s take an in-depth look at how design-build can benefit your project.

Streamlined project delivery

In the traditional model, you share your “wish list” for the project with the architect, who incorporates those wishes into the design. Your list may include your operation’s functionality or how customers will interact with your space, even choices about finish materials and colors.

After you have selected your “best bid” contractor, it’s finally time for them to become involved. Now the project manager needs to figure out how to make the design become reality.

As he or she digs deeper into the project specs, it may be that some element of the design won’t work as planned, is impossible to build as drawn or the materials selected are on a long lead time and will impact the schedule. Or, it may be a permitting compliance issue or other complications from regulatory agencies. These problems can certainly be addressed, but it will require time, and therefore money, to get back on track.

An advantage to design-build is the contractor’s involvement from the outset heads off many of these potential problems. As a team, the architect and contractor listen to your project’s requirements then deliver workable solutions.

Want the “blueprint” to the design-build process? 
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Single point of contact

Whether or not you’ve been involved in a commercial construction project before, you’ve no doubt been involved with projects with many moving parts. Having one person oversee all the elements within that project keeps it running smoothly. The larger the scope of the project, the more important this becomes.

When you make the choice to hire a design-build team you are streamlining the project and minimizing the number of balls you have to keep in the air. The project manager becomes your single point of contact whom you can turn over coordination of the project’s day-to-day aspects. This leaves you free to focus on the big picture.

Additionally, your project will benefit from improved communication – no games of “telephone” where the message gets lost along the chain from architect to contractor.

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Having a single team that oversees the design and construction of your project also provides continuity in planning and execution. When the contractor is involved with the design, practical considerations for the build-out of the project are addressed during the planning stages, not at the construction site.

In the traditional model, it’s not unheard of for architects and contractors to get into squabbles over the plans, which leaves you as owner to mediate. The design-build model takes away this risk and provides a team that understands your goals and how to get there from the outset. Accountability comes down to one entity.

Value Engineering

An important part of the design-build process is value engineering. The idea behind this process is to increase the value of the project by improving function and reducing costs.

With a firm understanding of your requirements, your wish list becomes reality, and can be done so in a way that doesn’t break the bank. That’s where value engineering comes in, which takes into account all those elements on your “wish list” then looks for places where alternative building methods or design approaches may provide a better value.

Value engineering takes a critical look at material costs. Your design-build team can often suggest ways to save costs using an alternative material or suggest when it’s worth the additional cost to use materials that will stand the test of time and make up their value over the long haul.

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Net savings

When your project has gone through the value engineering process, it flows more easily from the design phase to pre-construction and construction. Many of the questions that may have arisen for a contractor will have already been addressed. This saves time on the ground, which reduces overall costs.

Since budget and schedule estimating can happen earlier in the process, it also gives you as project owner a more solid estimate to present to a lender if the project is being financed. On average, the unit cost for a project completed using the design-build method is 6.1% less expensive than the same project using the design-bid-build method. On a $1 million project, that’s a savings of more than $60,000.

A project manager will also have had the opportunity to build the project “in his head” from the design phase, which aids in scheduling the flow of subcontractors throughout the project’s life, resulting in more time saved. Additionally, having thought the project through from the outset typically equates to fewer change orders, which will save time and money.

Turning your requirements into reality

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Many project owners have found the benefits of design-build undeniable: Design-build lets you get up and running faster, saves money and helps avoid many administrative headaches. What’s more, you’ll be working with a team that understands your goals and has the know-how to turn your requirements into reality.

Ready to take the next step toward your commercial construction project? Contact us to find out how our design-build services can benefit you.