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What is a Design-Build Contract?

A design-build contract, sometimes called a design/build, D-B, or D/B contract, is a project delivery system often used in construction. While the traditional approach to construction requires contracts with two separate entities, a designer and a contractor, a design-build contract combines these two entities, so only one company is responsible for the designing and building contract for a project.

Design-build contracts save time and money and can prevent situations where an owner may be caught in the middle of a dispute between a contractor and a designer. With this kind of contract, the designer and the contractor work together from the beginning of the project as a team.

Some advantages that owners enjoy from a design-build contract include:

  • Unified project recommendations
  • Collaborative problem solving
  • No blame-shifting between designer and contractor
  • One point of responsibility
  • Savings in time and money

Design-build contracts are becoming more popular to tackle home building and remodel projects while saving time and money.

Click here to read more about design-build contracts.

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How a Design-Build Contract Works

Design-build contracts work by providing an owner with just one contract to design and build a project. Rather than hiring a separate architect and contractor, a design-build firm provides both professionals who work together on the project from the beginning.

Using a design-build contract, rather than the traditional design-bid-build contract, owners benefit from the possibility of beginning construction before the final design is completed.

This project is a single-source collaboration so that it can be completed in stages with the designer and contractor working hand in hand. Some design-build firms are now even providing services like acquiring licenses, permits, approvals, and inspections for the construction.

Read this article for more information about how design-build contracts work and how they are used.

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Risks of a Design-Build Contract

Design-build contracts come with many advantages, but there are also risks associated with this type of project delivery.

Some risks or downsides that clients need to consider include:

  • The contract doesn't usually impact or include labor costs
  • If it is not scheduled correctly, there could be delays in construction
  • Final expenses can sometimes be higher than the original estimates
  • You cannot use an integrated design with a design-build contract
  • The final outcome may not be the expected result

Another significant disadvantage of the design-build contract is the loss of control and project oversight that the owner faces. In a traditional construction contract, the owner hires a separate architect and contractor. This allowed the owner to use the architect like a private consultant to ensure quality control and that the project was completed as per the design.

However, in a design-build contract, the architect and the contractor work for the same company and are on the same team. This could leave the owner of a project in the dark without a way to detect quality control issues.

Advantages of a Design-Build Contract

However, an owner considering a design-build contract should also weigh the advantages of using this type of contract.

Advantages of a design-build contract that you do not get with a traditional design-bid-build contract include:

  • Time Savings: When the designer and contractor work together, it eliminates lost time associated with the traditional design-bid-build process. D-B contracts also allow for the start of construction before the final design is complete.
  • Cost Savings: The close coordination between the architect and the contractor allows for cost savings because the contractor can provide the designer with their firsthand knowledge about purchasing and installing different materials.
  • One Point of Contact: Rather than reaching out to and communicating with a designer and a contractor separately, the D-B contract provides one point of contact for the owner.
  • Fewer Change Orders: Because the architect and contractor work together, fewer change orders will occur throughout the project. However, the downside of this is that if an owner wants a change order, it will usually not be covered by the defined scope of the project and could cost extra.
  • Reduced Risk to Owner: Design-build contracts shift the design liability from the owner to the D-B firm. The owner is not liable for design errors because the designer is part of the D-B contract team.

Some other advantages also include:

  • Simplified construction drawings
  • Fast-tracking schedules
  • Customization of the design to the site conditions

The best way to determine if a design-build contract is suitable for your project is to meet with the design-build firm to discuss your construction project and options. Generally, projects best suited for a design-build contract are projects that are on a tight schedule or where an owner is looking for reduced costs.

If you still have questions about design-build contracts, you can also contact a construction lawyer who has experience with design-build project delivery systems.

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Role of a Contractor in a Design-Build Contract

The contractor in a design-build contract is usually a general contractor. However, in some cases, the project will be led by a professional designer like an architect, engineer, or architectural technologist.

The contractor's primary role in a building project is to coordinate construction activities to ensure that the project is completed on time and within the specified budget. Contractors will plan, lead, execute, supervise, ad inspect the project throughout the duration of the project.

When a contractor is working under a design-build contract, they will also work closely with the designer on the project. Together, these two professionals can ensure that the project is completed to the specifications of the client.

What is Included in a Design-Build Contract?

Design-build contracts are not "one size fits all" contracts and can be customized to fit the needs of both the design-build firm and the customer. Although the specifics of the contract may change, the following elements should appear in any construction contract:

  • Name and contact information of the design-build firm
  • Name and contact information of the customer
  • The legal description of the property, usually based on the deed on record with the clerk's office
  • The cost
  • What happens if the customer cannot secure financing
  • Description of the work and the completion date
  • Requirements for licenses, permits, and insurance
  • The process for a change order
  • Liability clause
  • Remedies for breach of contract
  • Dated signature of both parties

Design-Build Contract FAQs

Do design-build contracts save money?

How much money an owner using a design-build contract may save depends on the type of project being completed. On average, clients save between 6% and 10% on projects when using a design-build contract.

How do design-build firms charge?

The cost of hiring a design-build firm for your project will vary; however, design-build firms usually charge fees of around 5% of a project's total cost.

Who takes the risk in a design-build contract?

In a design-build contract, most of the risks shift from the homeowner and fall on the design-build firm. Instead of the homeowner being responsible for design issues, the firm is responsible because the designer and contractor work together.

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