Taking on a home remodeling or new build project can be a daunting task. The first hurdle to cross is figuring out where to start. Oftentimes, homeowners decide to dive straight into the designing process because it’s the fun part where dreams are documented and planned. This could mean that the homeowners start design work and find a contractor after the fact. The problem with this scenario is that it often turns into a situation where the homeowner discovers that the beautiful home they spent hours designing isn’t within their budget to actually build, or the design can’t be built to be structurally sound. When starting your remodeling or building journey, it’s important to know there are three main routes you can take: designer, contractor, or design-build contractor.
To help you understand which route to take, we’ve rounded up the top reasons to involve a contractor in the home design process.
What’s the Difference Between a Designer and a Contractor?
When you begin the process with design, you are most commonly dealing with an architect or an interior designer, depending on the scope of your project. Architects typically take on larger projects involving structural changes, often involving engineering as well. Interior designers can manage minor structural changes but are more focused on spatial planning and selections (tile, cabinetry, paint, etc.). The contractor is going to be the role responsible for executing the build of the project. Contractors take the finished plans, assemble their team of craftspeople, and make the design reality.
When homeowners engage with a design firm that only provides design services, the typical outcome is a final design that may, or may not include the required permits to build and the help to acquire them. This could mean that the homeowner hands over hours' worth of planning time (money) to a contractor only to find out that the work needs to be significantly revised. The homeowner would then have to go back and forth with the designer and the contractor, leading to additional design time and costs. The best way to mitigate these potential problems is to involve a contractor in the initial design phase or better, work with a design-build contractor.
What Does Design-Build Include?
A design-build firm is truly a one-stop-shop. Design-build covers the entire process, from initial design planning, all the way through turnkey, move-in-ready construction. When working with a design-build firm, the process typically starts with a vision meeting to discuss the homeowners' ideas, goals, budget, and what is feasible in terms of build capability. This is a foundational step that ensures the project is successfully brought to life to meet the homeowner’s expectations.
The second step within the design phase includes schematic design development. This is where the design-build firm would illustrate with a drawing the desired design concepts with spatial relationships and measurements. The final outcome of the design process would include a permit-ready plan, detailed scope of work, and a full list of selections. All the while, the team responsible for executing the build is involved every step of the way.
Once the design is complete, the package is handed off to the production team which includes labor, materials purchasing, project management, and anything else required to build the project.
What is the Advantage of Design-Build?
The main advantage of working with a design-build firm is that when you are working through design with the company that is going to build it, they will ensure the design is created so that it can feasibly be built and it’s within your budget. Lessening the risk of designing a project that can’t be followed through. Less potential for rework equals less risk of money wasted.
Typically, a designer will structure an agreement based on how long they think it will take them to complete the design work. If the homeowner changes their mind, or revisions need to be made down the road, designers will often tack on additional charges on top of the original agreement. This can get very expensive.
Allowing the builder to be a part of the design process provides the opportunity for the builder to be intimately involved with the project from start to finish. This enables the final product to be a perfect balance of the client’s wants and needs–ensuring the homeowner’s dreams come to life, while simultaneously being on budget.
Another advantage to using a design-build firm is that the homeowner can leverage the contractor’s experience and knowledge when it comes to material purchasing and component selection. Because contractors typically purchase the materials and components for a remodel or build, have specialized knowledge of the cost of goods, material lead times, what’s back-ordered, etc.
When homeowners complete design work first using an architect or design-only firm and take the plans to a contractor, they are often surprised that the contractor is unable to start on the project immediately. Unfortunately, today’s reality is that contractors can be booked out for 6 - 12+ months. If the homeowner chooses a design-build contractor, the contractor can plan so that the timeline of design to construction is kept together.
Get Your Project Started Right
To protect yourself from additional costs, rework, time wasted, disappointment, and frustration, it’s best to include a contractor within the design phase, or better yet, use a design-build contractor who can provide a holistic and streamlined approach. While design firms and architects are important, it’s necessary to understand that they specialize in steps of the process, as opposed to design-build contractors who are experts at the entire process.
It is recommended that anyone looking to build or renovate, get a contractor involved with the design process as soon as possible to allow for the end product to be on budget, on schedule, and feasible. If you aren’t already working with a designer, consider finding a design-build contractor to work through the whole process with you.