Thomas & Co. - Home Renovation Contractors

Design/Build – Part Two
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By John Thomas

Last time I talked about the relative merits of the Tender process vs the Design/Build scenario. The tender process, as I said, pits contractor against contractor, and unintentionally, the process is set up to foster a confrontational, disputatious and adversarial relationship between the Contractor and Homeowner.

What I tried to emphasize is that all the players involved, Designer or Architect, Owner, and Contractor should be working towards a common goal to achieve a good result. Under the Design/Build scenario, the owner states upfront what the budget is and the Architect works with the Contractor to design and estimate something to suit that budget. There are advantages and disadvantages to Design/Build.

The advantage of Design/Build is that the design work is efficient, because the Architect and Contractor are working together. The result is something beautiful and guaranteed to be affordable within that given budget. This process can save a lot of frustration on the part of all concerned. Contrast this to the scenario in which the design is done in isolation from the estimate, and the resulting design is sent to tender, often to come back over budget.

The disadvantage of Design/Build, which weighs most heavily on the Owner’s mind, is that he/she may not be getting the best value for the money because the aspect of competitive bidding is lost.

There is some truth to this problem. How to deal with it? Two ways. First, ask for references. Don’t just make cursory inquiries but ask for details about costs, timing, extras. Were there many extras? Were they justifiable? Under Design/Build there shouldn’t be many unforeseen extras because the contractor has been so intimately involved in the design process. (In the tender process, in contrast, extras are much more common because of misunderstandings as to what was intended by the design.).

Second, under Design/Build, you should review the actual estimate and see for yourself exactly where the costs are incurred. You, after all, are the principal player in the process. It’s up to you to say where the money should best be spent, and up to you to take responsibility for the costs and the cost savings.

Good designers do two things. First, by incorporating budget-conscious ideas, they can actually save you money. Design work, after all, is really cheap compared to the cost of the actual construction. People don’t realize this, and for some misguided reason are loath to spend money on "soft" costs such as design. What they don’t realize is that design is not an optional add-on, it’s the essence of the project. It’s so much easier to change your ideas on paper or on the computer before you begin the work. It’s changes in design after the work begins that can get really expensive.

But more important, you’re building something beautiful. Good designers spend all their waking hours and many sleeping ones on these problems. Good designers have the experience, speak the language of design, have long ago internalized the concepts with which you are groping. There is a long history that has brought us to this point. In renovating, you’re trying to marry the best of the past with the best of the new ideas and construction techniques. Design/Build insures you do that within your budget.


John Thomas is Renovation Chair of the Greater Kingston Home Builder’s Association and President of Thomas & Co., a local Design/Renovations firm. Call 547-6063, or visit the construction site at
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