Design Build
Project Planning

A Guide to the Design Build Process

Are you considering a home remodeling project? The design-build approach is a popular choice that has revolutionized the home remodeling and construction industry, delivering many advantages over traditional methods.

Written by

Greg Hauptfleisch

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Design-build is a unique approach to design build construction projects that combines design and construction services under one entity, streamlining the entire project, and providing numerous advantages over traditional design-bid-build methods.

In this comprehensive guide, I will explain the design build process in detail. Let’s dive into the world of design-build and discover how it can streamline your home remodeling project and bring your vision to life.

Key Takeaways

  • Design-build is an efficient approach to home remodeling that combines design and construction services.
  • The design-build team consists of architects, builders, and subcontractors working together collaboratively.
  • Design-build offers potential cost savings, accelerated project completion, and increased efficiency compared to traditional methods.

Understanding Design-Build for Home Remodeling

Design-build is a unique approach to design build construction projects that combines design and construction services under one entity, streamlining the entire project, and providing numerous advantages over traditional design-bid-build methods.

What is Design-Build?

The design-build method is a construction approach where a single entity provides both design and construction services for building projects. This integrated approach combines the design and construction phases into a single process, resulting in a more efficient and cost-effective project delivery.

In the past 25 years, design-build has gained prominence in the construction industry, with organizations such as the Design-Build Association of America promoting its use and defining best practices.

The essential elements of the design-build process are:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Transparency
  3. A rigorous selection procedure
  4. An emphasis on qualifications and experience
The four essential elements of the design build process

Advantages of Design-Build in Home Remodeling

Design-build offers several advantages in home remodeling projects, such as expedited project completion, cost savings, and improved efficiency. By integrating design and construction services under one contract, design-build streamlines communication and collaboration, resulting in a more efficient and cost-effective project delivery. Additionally, having a set budget agreed upon before the project begins can help prevent any unexpected cost increases and ensure accountability.

Incorporating the design-build team in the initial design phase can expedite the timeline and result in a compressed delivery schedule and cost assurance from the outset.

For instance, at Upscale, our design and production teams are always in close communication, and they take great care in keeping our clients informed of cost estimates throughout the design phase. This is in stark contrast to traditional design-bid-build methods, which:

  • Require separate contracts
  • Often result in delays
  • Lead to miscommunications
  • Can result in increased costs.

The Design-Build Team: Roles and Responsibilities

A remodeling company team meeting discussing the design-build project delivery method

An integral part of the design-build process is the team itself, which consists of a project designer or architect, the production team that builds the project, and subcontractors who are hired and supervised by the production team. These professionals collaborate to ensure the project’s success by working together under one contract, developing a design that meets the owner’s expectations, and maintaining efficient communication and cooperation throughout the project.

Here’s an overview of the roles and responsibilities of every project team member and their contributions to the success of a design-build project.

The Designer or Architect

The interior designer (or sometimes architect) on the team plays a crucial role in the design-build project, as they create the design of the renovations, generate construction drawings, help clients with their materials selections, and provide experienced guidance throughout the construction process. To ensure the design aligns with the client’s budget in a design-build project, the designer coordinates steps in design and construction, works with the estimator to develop cost estimates during the Schematic Design Phase, establishes financial benchmarks, performs cost estimates that reflect the evolving design, and designs in accordance with the client’s budget.

The designer’s skills should include:

  • Creativity
  • Design capabilities
  • A comprehensive understanding of building and construction
  • Attention to detail
  • Excellent communication skills

This last point, in my opinion, is one of the most important. Good communication with the client is critical to their satisfaction with the remodeling process, and the designer is one of the main points of contact the client has with the firm. One of the designer’s most important jobs is to help narrow down a dizzying array of choices so the homeowner can confidently voice their preferences and end up with the home or space of their dreams, while staying on budget. It’s not an easy task!

The production team

Builders are of course another essential part of the design-build process, overseeing the construction phase and liaising with subcontractors. Their responsibilities include:

  • Coordinating and managing the construction phase of the project
  • Working closely with architects, engineers, and other team members to ensure that the design plans are implemented accurately and efficiently
  • Overseeing construction activities
  • Managing subcontractors
  • Procuring materials
  • Ensuring the project is completed on time and within budget

The lead carpenter must be an expert project manager because he or she plays a crucial role in translating the design vision into a physical reality.

By maintaining effective communication, collaboration, and cooperation, builders coordinate with subcontractors in a design-build project, presenting project recommendations optimized for the owner’s schedule and budget. The builder is responsible for representing the owner’s interests and works in unison with all other parties involved in the project.


While a design build firm puts more of the team under one roof, almost all such firms still rely on the expertise of subcontractors. Well-established design build firms usually have a closely vetted group of electricians, plumbers, drywallers, painters, and other “subs” with whom they have built long-term relationships based on trust and respect. One reason a good design build company can keep a project on schedule is that their subcontractors know they are organized, pay well and on time, and have a history of repeat business.

A Step-by-Step Guide to the Design-Build Process

A design build project designer discussing the design process with clients

With a clear understanding of the design-build approach and its key players, I want to outline the design-build process itself, so you can know what to expect if you engage a design-build remodeling firm, from the initial consultation to project closeout and warranty.

Initial Consultation Phase

Most projects begin with a general conversation. In fact, the entire design phase is like a conversation, which gets more and more specific at it evolves, with broad price ranges getting replaced with a firm bid by the end.

In the initial consultation phase of the design-build process, you will likely do the following:

  • Discuss the project’s objectives, budget, and timeline
  • Build rapport and trust with all involved
  • Articulate your requirements
  • Discuss the scope, budget, and timeline

Your remodeler will likely:

  • Ask pertinent questions to help understand your requirements
  • Draft the scope of work and agreement

This phase helps set the stage for a productive and collaborative design-build process.

Conceptual Design

The conceptual design phase encompasses the production of the initial concept and preliminary designs and their refinement based on client feedback. During this important phase, your project design will do the following:

  1. Produce preliminary designs
  2. Incorporate your vision and preferences into the design
  3. Ensure the final product is both functional and aesthetically pleasing
  4. Show you the design and gather your feedback to make any necessary changes.

Value Engineering

Let’s face it; it’s easy to dream big when it comes to home remodeling, and sometimes the initial designs need to be scaled back a bit to keep the project on budget. That is, in a nutshell, the process of value engineering. Here’s what you can expect your designer to do:

  • Identify areas where costs can be reduced without sacrificing quality and functionality
  • Explore innovative solutions, such as swapping one material for another

By implementing value engineering, your team can strike a balance between your vision and your budget constraints.

Keep in mind that in many cases, value engineering will not be required, as the designer makes every attempt to keep the design within the budget you stated when you first talked about the project.

Final Design and Budget Approval

The final design and budget approval process is a critical phase in the design-build process. At this point, you will review and finalize the architectural design, and your remodeler will present a bid or estimate for the construction work.

Some firms, like Upscale, offer a fixed-price construction bid, meaning that they guarantee to do the work for a set amount, barring unforeseen circumstances, like unaccounted for rot or damage behind the walls. Unlike a cost-plus contract or best-guess estimate, a fixed bid gives you peace of mind, knowing that your construction costs will not exceed your budget.

Construction Phase

The construction phase is when the design-build team’s efforts come to fruition, as the project commences construction and the team oversees the process. During this phase, the design-build team is responsible for managing the construction process, the project schedule, coordinating with subcontractors, and ensuring quality workmanship. Clear communication and efficient project management are essential to minimize timeline delays and ensure a successful project outcome.

By maintaining effective communication with all parties involved, the production team can help ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget, ultimately delivering a high-quality result that meets your expectations.

Project Closeout and Warranty

The project closeout and warranty phase involves conducting final inspections, addressing any outstanding issues, and providing relevant warranty information. Final inspections are crucial for assessing the safety and compliance of the buildings with local building codes and laws, ensuring that all remaining punch list items are addressed, and that the project is ready for final acceptance and occupancy.

Tips for Choosing the Right Design-Build Firm

The Upscale Remodeling design build team

Choosing an appropriate design-build firm is a key determinant for a successful home remodeling project. I want to share some guidance, based on many years of experience, on how to identify a firm with the necessary experience, communication skills, construction expertise, and reputation to guarantee the success of your project.

Experience and Expertise

Experience and expertise are crucial factors to consider when selecting a design-build firm, as they will impact the quality of work and overall project success. A design-build firm for home remodeling projects should possess a range of experience that includes experienced designers and field crew members with comprehensive knowledge in the field. They should be adept at handling projects of various sizes, from small bathroom remodels to whole house renovations.

The expertise of a design-build firm is essential for ensuring the quality of a home remodeling project. An experienced design-build firm has the necessary qualifications and expertise to ensure precision and attention to detail in the execution of the project, as well as a deep understanding of construction techniques, materials, and building codes.

Communication and Collaboration

Communication and collaboration are essential for a successful design-build project, so choose a firm that values open communication and teamwork. The communication and collaboration skills of a design-build firm can be evaluated by:

  • Analyzing their prior performance
  • Examining team dynamics
  • Scrutinizing communication procedures
  • Obtaining client feedback

As to that last point, don’t hesitate to ask for references, and call them! Talk to others who have worked with a company and ask specifically how their communication was. Did they explain their process, communicate and meet their deadlines, and preemptively alert their client of any changes of plan?

Initial phone calls and meetings can also tell you a lot about a remodeler’s communication style. Are they courteous and willing to listen? Do they answer your questions directly and explain how they would tackle your project? Are they willing to follow up with detailed answers to all of your questions?

Reputation and References

Reputation and references can provide valuable insight into a design-build firm’s past performance and client satisfaction. A good design-build firm should be known for:

  • Efficiency
  • Collaboration
  • High-quality results
  • Capacity to promote expedient communication
  • Ability to collaborate effectively
  • Completion of projects within the allocated timeframe and budget

Make sure any design-build firm you are considering has a substantial portfolio of successful projects and positive client reviews.

5 Benefits of the Design Build Process Vs Traditional Contracting

Design-build offers several potential benefits over traditional contracting methods, including:

  • Improved communication
  • Greater quality control
  • Increased owner involvement
  • Fewer mistakes
  • Total project accountability

By providing a single point of contact and a unified team, design-build simplifies the construction process and streamlines communication and collaboration.

Additionally, design-build projects offer several advantages over traditional contracting methods:

  • They are often more cost-effective, as they allow for value engineering and finding cost-effective alternatives. (Often, if you engage directly with a standalone architect, you won’t truly know how much the design will cost to build until after the design process is done. Not great if you are trying to stick to a budget!)
  • Design tweaks can be made to help the project fit the budget more accurately.
  • They can be completed more efficiently and with higher quality results.

By employing these advantages, design-build projects can provide a more efficient and cost-effective approach to construction.

Wrapping Up

I hope this intro to the design build method was useful to you. If you are planning to remodel your home and are wondering what type of firm to hire, design-build is an important option to consider. While hiring a standalone architect and general contractor may be the more traditional approach, design build firms have been gaining popularity over the last couple decades because they generally offer a more streamlined process, often with better communication and less hassle. Please feel free to contact us if we can answer any questions or be of service.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the steps in the design-build process?

The design-build process generally consists of five steps: team selection, project planning, design, estimating, and construction. These steps generally occur sequentially, though there will be some overlap between the planning, design, and estimating phases.

What is meant by design-build?

Design-build is a construction delivery method that replaces the traditional method of awarding separate contracts for design and construction. As a homeowner, you would have a contract with a single company, and the designer, contractor, subcontractors work together as one team to build a project that meets or exceeds your expectations.

What are the roles of architects/designers, builders, and subcontractors in a design-build project?

Architects and designers create the design and ensure it meets your vision, builders/lead carpenters manage the construction process and coordinate with subcontractors, and subcontractors provide specialist services such as plumbing or electrical work for the project.

What are the advantages of design-build in home remodeling?

Design-build provides a range of potential advantages for home remodeling projects, including faster completion times, cost savings, and better efficiency. You never have to worry about the design team and production teams blaming each other if something goes wrong because they are both working for the same design-build firm. It can take much of the stress from you, the homeowner, who would otherwise have to work with a designer and then shop your plans around to various general contractors for bids.

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