Designing your own home from the ground up can be challenging and emotionally exhausting. Some homeowners will go it alone, building a team of contractors, sub-contractors and design professionals. They will bear the responsibility of searching for, vetting and hiring every team member -- from the residential architect to the interior designer. Others, however, will opt for a design build firm. Working with a design-build company ensures project delivery on time and within budget. Follow below to learn more about why working with a design-build firm makes sense for custom homes -- and how to pick the perfect company for your property.
Many homeowners choose to build their own design and construction team when planning to build a new construction home. Based on recommendations from neighbors and experts, they pick a land surveyor, an architect, an interior designer, a landscape designer and a series of contractors and subcontractors. While this is one of many possible approaches to building a new custom home, it is certainly much more complex than beginning with a design-build firm. A full-service design build construction firm works with clients planning to build their custom home from the ground up. They assemble a team from within their ranks -- and from trusted contractors like landscapers and electricians as well as beloved sourcing partners -- specifically for your project. Design-build firms review the land slotted for the build, find the right residential architect to plan the structure and choose an interior designer for the fixtures and finishings.
Though the process might differ slightly based on the specific firm, most will begin with a design consultation. During this phase, design-build firms flesh out exactly what the homeowner is looking for in their custom home before proceeding. Full-service firmslike Element Homes will actually send a project manager to the site before a build starts, walking throughout the space with the client and tracing prospective layouts. They will help the client apply for and secure permits before building their custom home and update the homeowner throughout the entire project. Full-service design firms oversee each phase -- from the design phase to the construction phase to the furnishing phase -- of the construction project. Innovativedesign-build firms like Element Homes will use pioneering technology to guide the build along while protecting the client’s budget and following the timeline. Working with a design-build firm from start to finish ensures each team member, contractor and subcontractor is clued in to the homeowner’s vision and is kept on track both budget and time-wise at every stage throughout the build process. Working with a design-build firm's project team can promise a timely, on-budget project delivery for each custom home.
In their article “What IsDesign-Build?” the Design Build Institute of America explains the difference between traditional build projects and design-build projects and the benefit of working with design build companies. The owner notes that during a traditional residential build, the homeowner must manage two or more “separate contracts” -- including the residential architect, the interior designer, the build team and more. According to the DBIA, this “all-too-often creates an adversarial relationship between the designer and the contractor” for a number of reasons. Firstly, the designer and contractor might not have worked together before and may not understand each other’s working process. Furthermore, they might be concerned about scheduling around each other and communicating properly. Thirdly, designers and architects might be worried about the skill level and qualifications of contractors they work with on your project -- particularly if the contractor brings in subcontractors. Worse yet -- notes the DBIA -- “if something goes wrong or an unforeseen circumstance requires changes, the designer and contractor blame one another for the cost overruns or schedule changes, often leading to litigation and delays which add to the project cost.”
On the other hand, design-build projects protect the homeowner by ensuring they manage only a single “contract with a single point of responsibility.” In these cases, the “designer and contractor work together from the beginning, as a team, providing unified project recommendations to fit the owner's schedule and budget.” Any and all changes either requested by the homeowner or necessitated by unforeseen elements of the build are addressed by the entire team, leading to collaborative problem-solving and innovation, not excuses or blame-shifting. ” The DBIA defines” single source contracting” as the primary fundamental difference between “design-build and the old ways.” However, the “culture of collaboration inherent in design-build” also sets full service design firms apart from traditional projects and piece-meal teams. Follow below to learn five ways working with a design-build firm saves money and time by limiting legal issues and encouraging collaboration.
In her article “What to Expect When Working With an Architect” for Curbed LA, Melissa Dalton explains the role of residential architects in home builds. Quoting Gabe Headrick -- the founder of Steelhead Architecture in Portland, Oregon -- Dalton writes that residential architects “‘are there to facilitate, provide design guidance, and give them a great space to live.’" Homeowners can expect their architect to be involved throughout the consultation, design, documentation, permitting and construction phases. For those unfamiliar, the “documentation phase” refers to a more in-depth design phase “during which the architect produces more exhaustive drawings.” It is during this phase that the residential architect will also get “more specific about assemblies and details and materials.” These documents are often “necessary for obtaining permits and stipulating how a contractor should build.” If working on a traditional build project in which the homeowner must choose each team member, he or she would be responsible for seeking out and hiring the architect. Because architects often work on more than one project at once, scheduling between the hired architect and the rest of the homeowner’s team might be difficult.
According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, landscape architects “plan and design traditional places such as parks, residential developments, campuses, gardens, cemeteries, commercial centers, resorts, transportation corridors, corporate and institutional centers and waterfront developments.” When planning the natural elements of a home’s exterior, landscape architects take the property’s environment and surroundings into consideration. Today, many landscape architects pursue native or indigenous landscaping in order to honor the property’s history and protect natural resources. The landscape architect involved in a custom home build might work with both the residential architect and the interior design team to create a cohesive indoor-outdoor design.
Creating the perfect interior for one’s custom home will likely involve a team of designers and decorators -- many of whom will have gone through schooling or licensing. According to the New York School of Interior Design, iinterior designers “have working knowledge of textiles, materials, color, space planning, sustainability, and more.” Like residential and landscape architects, interior designers use “software applications “for 2D & 3D computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM).”
As opposed to interior decorators, interior designers understand “structural requirements, health and safety issues, and building codes” and design around these issues. Interior designers typically work alongside “contractors, architects, engineers, craftsmen” and suppliers to source each element for a home. With input from the homeowner, the interior design team for a custom home build will choose furniture, finishings, appliances and more.
The eSUB article “The Many Roles on a Construction Site” outlines who make up a construction or build team -- in addition to the primary design team involved in planning the home. First, a construction manager will either be on site at all times during the build or be on-call at all times in case of emergency or last-minute decision-making. eSUB explains that the construction manager “is responsible for overseeing the entirety of the project from start to finish.”
An estimator -- the person who “is responsible for estimating the costs, materials, and labor needed to complete a project” -- will also be involved. He or she will communicate to sub-contractors like plumbers and installers -- as well as to suppliers -- what the timeline and budget are. Other members of the construction team include a supervisor, construction expediter, construction workers, engineers -- in some cases --, electricians and a foreman.
While not directly involved with the day-to-day planning of a custom build, suppliers are important auxiliary members of a design-build team. Suppliers work with the interior design team, the landscape architect, the construction team and the architect to choose and deliver building materials, finishings and all other elements within the home.
According to the DBIA publication “A Design-Build DoneRight Primer,” choosing a full-service firm can save time and money spent on the build -- as well as time and money spent on legal issues. In a traditional build, the homeowner is responsible for directing, paying and integrating each team member throughout the course of the design and construction process. This can result in delays, legal issues and extra costs. The publication explains that “a single contract changes everything” because it virtually eliminates the possibility that legal issues will arise between contractors or subcontractors. DBIA notes that “change orders and disputes are rare in well organized, performance-based design-build projects.” This is “because the sole-source responsibility of a single contract for both design and construction clearly places the responsibility for coordinating all project elements squarely in the hands of the design-build team.” Leading design-build company Element Homes notes that "working under a single contract is the best performing delivery system for both schedule and cost."
Custom builds involve so many people and so many moving parts: designers and builders, architects and landscapers, electricians and plumbers -- just to name a few. One of the most significant benefits to working with a full-service firm is having a team that already knows how to work together. Working with a fully fleshed out team that has collaborated on earlier successful design and build projects eliminates most of the growing pains new teams face. Furthermore, a preexisting design and build team -- including an architect, interior designer and estimator -- will likely be able to craft deals between parties, lessening the overall cost and offering a tighter timeline. Companies like Element Homes -- which has completed over 300 projects and delighted just as many clients -- have worked together many times in the past.
After a consultation in which the homeowner's goals and needs for the house are outlined, he or she will receive an all-inclusive estimate for the build's budget and timeline. While many full service design firms charge, Element Homes sends an all-inclusive, free estimate to each prospective client. In her article “10 Times to Hire a Design-Build Firm” for Houzz, Lauren Gaskill writes that “in the traditional design-bid-build model, multiple contractors bid on the project.” While it rarely happens in reality, homeowners often believe that this bidding process will result in money saved on construction and design. However, other elements of a traditional build can easily escalate the project’s cost. Gaskill notes that “poor communication between your designer and contractor, and unneeded or excessive change orders, can also wreak havoc on your budget.” When working with a design-build company, the single contract “can help cut down on unnecessary changes and keep everyone on the same page when it comes to budget expectations.”
In her article “10 Times to Hire a Design-Build Firm” for Houzz, Lauren Gaskill explains why unexpected delays are less common with design-build firms. She writes that “disagreement between the designer and the contractor on how things ought to be done can result in serious slowdowns.” However, when homeowners choose to work with a design-build firm “everyone is on the same team — which can translate into faster timelines.” With the entire team educated about and on-board for the build, “construction can often begin even if there are still a few small finishing touches to iron out in the design.”
In her article “What I Wish I Knew Before Hiring an Architect” for Curbed LA, Sarah Milstein writes that construction projects “have many moving parts: there are permits and people to coordinate, plus fixtures and finishes to order and track.” In all the kerfuffle, the homeowner’s original design aesthetic and goals for the build can quickly get lost -- especially with members of the hiring team each adding pressure and asking questions. Working with a team in which every member fully understands the homeowner’s vision for the project -- all under a single contract -- will better protect that vision throughout each stage of the process.
When determining which design build firm you want to hire to design and build your custom home, consider how you might work alongside that project team. As you sift through potential teams, be prepared to ask many detailed questions during the consultation and interview process. First, ask about the team's process and how each member relates to each other throughout the course of the contract. Ask what you should expect from each step of the design process and then what will occur after the design is completed and the planning and construction begin. Also question how you as the homeowner will be informed throughout each stage of the design and construction processes. Question how each company chooses their contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers -- and if you will be permitted to pick any of your own. Lastly, be sure to ask how each firm will stay on track with your budget and timeline.
Why Working with Design-Build Company Element Homes is Ideal for Homeowners
As California’s premier design and build firm, Element Homes offers customization throughout every step of the home building process. According to the company’s website, “Element Custom Homes is a General Contractor with national presence” that delivers an upgraded lifestyle to each client. As a full service design and build firm, Element Homes mobilizes the ideal teams to take care of every specific need posed by the homeowner. From architectural planning through the entire construction, Element works under a single contract to deliver all the benefits associated with working with a design-build firm from start to finish.
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