by Don Vandervort, © HomeTips
You have numerous options when it comes to having your home remodel designed. As discussed in How Architects and Designers Can Help, an architect is the best choice for designing a project that involves expanding beyond your home’s current footprint as well as dealing with engineering issues and complex design variables; a qualified designer is a good choice for a simple bathroom or kitchen update. A third option—the design-build contractor—handles both the design and construction.
There is an important distinction between the role of a design-build contractor and a general contractor with professed design skills. A design-build contractor works hand-in-hand with an architect who is trained to create an aesthetic, thoughtful, workable design and is able to produce building plans. The contractor is qualified to oversee building the structure from those plans.
Very few contractors have the technical and artistic skills to do quality design work. So, it is important to know if your potential design-build contractor has a qualified architect or designer on staff or available on a freelance basis. The key to working with a design-build company is making sure that the architect or designer has the qualifications that are important to you and your project. You should interview any design-build contractor the same way you would an architect or designer (see How to Interview an Architect or Designer).
The benefit of working with a design-build firm is that it handles everything from start to finish. It coordinates all communications and activities, from the first design meeting to the final inspection. Because it is responsible for the entire picture, there is far less possibility that the contractor will blame the architect for cost overruns or other problems, and vice versa. Most importantly to you, costs are more likely to stay aligned with the bid.
An additional benefit of a design-build firm is that the contractor and architect are in close relationship with one another so response time to change orders can be quick. But this close relationship can be a drawback, too. When you hire an independent architect, your interests are strongly represented, as are the oversight of the quality of construction, adherence to the original vision and plans, mediation of problems, and so forth. With a design-build firm, the architect may wield less power representing you. In addition, a designer who works on the staff of a construction company may not have the same level of experience as an architect who works in an architecture-only practice. The flipside is that a design-build architect may have more hands-on experience with construction concerns.
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