Design Build Contractors - Modern designsa

How Does a Design Build Contractor Work?

Renovating a home, or building a new one, can be a complicated, stressful, and expensive process. Not only do you need to work with the construction side of the project, but you also need someone to design your dream room or home. One way to handle this arduous project is by using a design-build contractor. 

A design-build contractor streamlines design and construction of a home project by working with a single company that handles coordinating the design and construction aspects of the project. Compared to traditional and design-bid-build approaches, this can save the time, money, and headaches of working with multiple contractors and designers separately.

A design-build approach is a straightforward method of handling construction. Your designer and contractor work as a team from the beginning of your project until it is completed. Keep reading on to see how this process seems clear-cut and seamless. This article will explain how the designer and contractor work as one team.


How Does a Design-Build Contractor Work with Construction Projects?

A design-build contractor is essentially a one-stop way to take on a new construction or remodeling project. Whether you are remodeling a room or building a home, using the design-build option brings together the design side and the building side – both essential for a construction project – into one, seamless team.

Here in The Bay Area, the design-build method of home renovations & construction is becoming a popular option since it removes conflicts between the design team and construction team and helps to keep costs in check while creating a streamlined project flow.

The construction process usually has contracts with numerous individuals that make up the architectural design side and the construction side. This is not the case with a design-build contractor. Instead, homeowners have one contract with a design-builder who then works with the design side and building side.

Using a design-build contractor brings together the architectural design components and the construction process into one, single team. Why is this attractive? When working with a separate architectural team, there are sometimes unexpected costs and delays. There may also be in-fighting within the architectural and construction teams.

For example, a separate architect may not know what the costs are or the complexities of remodeling or building a home. On the other hand, a builder may not know the timeframe of the design process, what needs to be built, and what changes may be needed for aesthetics. These problems go away with a design-build contractor.


One Contract Means Less Problems for You

Traditionally, a homeowner would have two different contracts, one for a contractor and one for a designer, which could get confusing and even combative between the two entities. This is not the case with a design-build contract. Now, the homeowner only has to manage one contract so that the contractor and the designer work as a team.

When two contracts are involved in a traditional project approach, the homeowner may end up spending his or her time being a mediator of communication, settling disputes between the contractor and the designer, or having to pay extra for cost overruns and other issues because of miscommunication. This can end up being costly for the owner.

The other problem with trying to juggle two contracts is blame-shifting; that is, the designer and contractor could blame each other if something goes wrong or if things are looking to be scheduled as planned. Since a design-build contractor is the main point of communication, it can eliminate blame-shifting for schedule changes or cost overruns.

In the past, having two contracts also threatened the project’s timetable. If there is blame-shifting and fighting amongst the designer and the contractor, this in-fighting could lead to delays or, worse, possible lawsuits. Not only will this delay the overall project, but it also could add additional supplementary costs to the homeowner.

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Communication with a Traditional Project Approach versus a Design-Build Approach

Working with a design-build contractor makes the entire stressful process of building or remodeling seamless in that communication is with one person: the design-build contractor. Below are the differences in the communication process when working with a traditional project deliverer and a design-build project deliverer:

Traditional Project Approach:

  • Homeowner communicates with the contractor who communicates with sub-contractors.
  • Homeowner separately communicates with the designer who communicates with sub-consultants.
  • The homeowner becomes the middle-man between the contractor and the designer.

Design-Build Project Approach:

  • Homeowner communicates only with the design-builder, who communicates with subcontractors, the designers, and the sub-consultants.

This streamlined communication has numerous advantages. The designers and contractors have a mutual understanding of the homeowner’s budget, schedule, and overall needs for the project. If changes are required, they are made as a team. In addition, the homeowner does not have the stress of juggling communication.

The homeowner is managing only one contract with the design-builder, so he or she is only communicating with a single point of accountability. This individual then has the responsibility to relay the wants and needs of the homeowner to everyone else involved on both the design side and the contracting side. There are five steps for this process.


The Five-Step Process of Working with a Design-Build Contractor

Using a design-build contractor used to be an unconventional option when it came to construction projects. However, today nearly half of the construction projects in the United States now use a design-build method. And, the numbers do not lie, as design-build construction has grown by 18% between 2018 and 2021.

Although a homeowner is only working with a single contract that covers all of the phases involved in designing and constructing a home building project, there are five main steps in the entire process. Some steps mirror a traditional contracting approach, but are still easier in that the communication is only with the design-build contractor:

  1. Pre-screening and selecting a design-build contractor
  2. The pre-construction phase
  3. The architectural design phase
  4. The actual construction
  5. The post-construction follow-up

Pre-screening and selecting a Design-Build Company

The first step in the design-build process is pre-screening and selecting a design-builder. Some aspects to pre-screen include the design-builders experience, his or her team’s experience, credentials of all involved, and reviews found online from former customers. This pre-screening may result in numerous potential design-builders.

If you find there are more than a few design-builders in which to choose during the pre-screening process, you can then go down the competitive bidding route to find the most qualified person at the best price that fits within your budget. This means you can get the most qualified design-builder for the best value based on the different bids.

There are four aspects that are recommended for reviewing both the qualifications and the budget of a design-builder:


  1. Has a substantial emphasis on the qualifications of both the design members and the construction members.
  2. Has a successful record of project delivery and can verify this record.
  3. Expects the central contractors to participate early in the construction process.
  4. Evaluation criteria of success and the proper credentials are clearly defined right away.


  1. The specific criteria are defined early to understand the price and technical proposals.
  2. Ensures the pricing is fair, straightforward, and transparent, with no hidden fees or misleading prices.
  3. Price and technical concepts are both evaluated and appraised during the selection process.
  4. Evaluates budget solutions early in the screening process.

Finding a design-builder who has a combination of qualifications and budget sense will ensure the project meets all of your design and building standards. This does not mean accepting the cheapest bid, as you may end up getting what you pay for. This is why balancing budget with qualifications is key to finding experts in the field for a fair price.

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The Pre-Construction Phase Is Essential for Success

Now that you chose your design-build contractor, you can move into the next step called the pre-construction phase. This is probably the most important step throughout the entire design-building process in that it ensures the design-building team understands and meets your construction, design, and budgetary goals right away.

The pre-construction step is also when the construction and design teams work together to assess the overall plan. They may review existing floor plans, structural systems, and both the mechanical and electrical structures within the home or for the new home. This is the stage where your financial, construction, and design needs all come together.

The design team will begin collecting all of the significant information during this step to ensure you get what you want. Now, this does not only mean they begin assessing the appearance of your new venture. The design side builds a strategy to take into account your vision and how the aesthetics, technologies, and construction will meet this vision.

Meanwhile, surveyors visit your property to assess the site and make sure it is ready for construction. They take away the complications of this process so that you can rest assured everything from the compliance requirements, codes, topography, and other construction obligations are handled, while also communicating with the designers.


The Architectural Design Phase Merges Aesthetics with Budget

It is imperative that the designers are involved in the pre-construction step so that the architectural design stage runs smoothly and stays on budget. Design architects work directly with your design-build contractor, under the same contract, so that three important factors are respected: appearance, budget, and schedule.

You should already know the qualifications of the architectural designer, but if you do not this is the time to ask. This step also clarifies your project goals, the aesthetics and style you are looking for, and how all of these decisions can stay within your budget and timeframe. Remember that your design-builder will make sure you stay on schedule.

This step is exciting because it is when the homeowner sees the design drawings of the overall construction plan. If you are remodeling, the designer will probably measure and draw the layout of your home as it is built first and then start reviewing the remodeling changes. This is where the cost is established versus the traditional approach.


The Traditional Project versus Design-Build Project Approach

The traditional approach has the homeowner review the bid after the drawings are sketched, as seen below:

Traditional Project Approach:

  1.    Preliminary drawings are sketched
  2.    Detailed drawings are sketched
  3.    A bid is put in to establish cost, which may mean the detailed drawings need re-sketched
  4.    Construction begins as long as the bid is acceptable to the homeowner

With the design-build project approach, the homeowner has a cost established with the preliminary drawings so that the final drawings are more accurate in price:

Design-build Project Approach:

  1.    Preliminary drawings are sketched
  2.    Cost is established and accepted before the detailed drawings are sketched
  3.    Detailed drawings are sketched
  4.    Construction begins

It is important to note another benefit of having the architectural design within the confines of the design-build contractor. Because you are working with one contract, you will never need to bid out this step of your project. This means you will save both time and money by overlapping the design step with the next step, which is construction.

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It is Time to Build the Construction

Once the detailed drawings are sketched and you make sure any changes or revisions are clear, your construction team is busy procuring estimates, comparing preliminary costs with your budget, and making any required changes early in the construction step. This does not just save money; meeting with both sides simultaneously saves time.

You will continue to work with your design-build contractor throughout this whole process so that it is clear and seamless. He or she will show you the construction drawings, similar to when you reviewed the design drawing. Then you can determine the final product, review any final costs, and start construction.

During this step, you will start to see some actual changes to your home, such as a company sign in front of the house, a possible porta-potty and dumpster for the workers and debris, and a project manager who will be visible and on hand during this entire construction phase.

Your job will be done much faster since you are still communicating with one person and then he or she is doing all the legwork. It will also probably be less expensive because of the time saved during construction. And finally, there will always be accountability if something goes wrong – you will not have one side blaming the other.


The Grand Finale is the Post-Construction Step

Just because your renovation or construction is complete does not mean your design-build contractor simply takes the money and walks away. The post-construction step is an important final phase to ensure the design and the building has met your specific standards and you are happy with the completed project.

Some individuals are so exhausted after going through a new or renovated construction that they may take this step for granted. This is a big mistake. You need to take seriously the walk-throughs, checklists, and any essential documentation that needs to be finalized. The last thing you want to do is sign off on a project that is incomplete.

The great thing about working with one design-build contractor is that this final step is much more efficient than having to meet with separate designers and contractors. Just remember that it is up to the homeowner to make sure everything meets his or her standards throughout this final process.


What about a Design-Bid-Build Approach? Should I Make a Bid?

A design-build contractor is different from a design-bid-build method in that the second approach still deals with two separate contracts like the traditional approach – one between owner and contractor and one between owner and architect. Therefore, the homeowner needs to deal with the contractor and architect separately.

Under the design-bid-build approach, the architect is actually put in charge of the design and is also the representative of the homeowner. This method tries to procure the quality of the project through the architect and the scope and budget to the contractor. However, the same problems arise from dealing with two separate entities.

This process is slower than the design-builder approach because the contractor needs to wait until the designer first delivers the completed design (design step). Then, the homeowner can start requesting bids from contractors (bid step) until a contractor is chosen to build the project (build step).

Throughout this entire process of design-bid-build, the designer and the contractor never enter into any form of contractual relationship. Therefore, all of the risks that are related to both the design and the construction fall to the homeowner. In the end, the success – and the failure – of the project falls on the homeowner. 

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Overall, the Benefits Speak for Themselves

The benefits of using a design-build contractor are pretty clear. From saving time and money, to simply avoiding miscommunication and headaches, using a design-build contractor can streamline the process of renovating an existing home or constructing a new one. More specifically, many of the benefits include:

  • A smoother, more efficient process from beginning to end.
  • Avoiding conflicts between designers and contractors.
  • Confidence in accountability since you are dealing with one single entity.
  • Faster delivery since the design and the construction can occur simultaneously.
  • Superior communication since you are dealing with one point-person who facilitates the entire project and everyone else is on the same team, under one contract.
  • Reduced costs since the entire process is more efficient, the cost is determined before the final architectural drawings are sketched, and everyone is working together faster.

Just because you are working with one contract does not mean you do not have to still jump through hoops to get a remodeling or new home construction completed. You will still need to work with a bank for a loan, get approved, and then sign both the loan contract and the design-build contract. Work will not commence until money is in place.

In addition, it is important to note that Iowa and North Dakota do not allow design-build contracts on certain public projects. That being said, faster delivery, cost savings, and better communication comes with the territory of working with a design-build contractor over traditional or design-bid-build contractors



Using a design-build contractor will allow everyone involved in your project to work together as a team under one contract. From renovating a room, to building a new home, to even constructing a highway, design-build contractors now work on nearly half of the construction contracts in the United States. If you live in The Bay Area and want to learn more about the benefits of design-build construction, contact us today.

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