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How design-build remodeling works

POSTED: July 2, 2014 3:00 p.m.
Trina Knudsen, © 2013 Trina Knudsen, Photographer/

The design-build remodeling process helps you to create great, well-thought-out spaces inside and out.

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The process behind major remodling projects has changed in the past five to 10 years. If you tackled a project before that time, you probably remember the process as creating a design and some construction documents and then passing them out to three or four contractors to get bids.

Ideally, once the bids were submitted, you selected a contractor and then off you went on your quest to a better home.

Since "remodeling" and "ideal" don’t always go together, your experience may have been a bit different. Perhaps the bids received were considerably over your budget. How did that happen? Actually, it is the norm to add this and that during the design process, and don’t forget the “while we are at it ... ” syndrome.

It is hard to draw a line in the sand when remodeling. It is tempting, convenient and sometimes smart to take advantage of the fact that you have a general contractor, electrician, plumber, etc., already in your home. But if you don’t account for the cost of each decision as it is made, the bottom line can easily get away from you.

Before the great recession, people could often deal with the problem of a "busted" budget by simply arranging to get more money from their equity line of credit. Sometimes all it took was a phone call and — voila! — money appeared. Of course, we all know what this created for our economy, but it was a simpler time in the remodeling world.

When that way of life came to a halt, unexpectedly high bids created more serious problems. If the bids came in $30,000, $40,000 or $50,000 too high, serious redesign was required. This not only put the project on hold for weeks or months, but it also engendered additional design fees along with a sense of disappointment as homeowners felt they had to give up some of their dream home and settle for second best.

This is when an alternate form of the construction process began to be more widely used. Instead of the design-bid-build sequence of events, this process is known as design-build. This method is widely used today, so it is important to understand how it works.

Many people think that the first step in remodeling is calling a contractor. It has been our mission for the last 11 years to try to convince homeowners that the architect comes first. You may know our unwavering advice is to create a master plan for your home, which means a site plan, floor plans and exterior elevations. How will your home function? How will the design affect your family life and activities? Does it meet zoning codes? What will it look like?

Then there is that nasty other question: What will it cost? Now is the time to address this issue, not after you have spent thousands and thousands of dollars creating construction documents. Who can answer this question? Well, an architect can give some broad ballpark information as a beginning guideline, but if you want to begin to develop an actual working budget, it is time to add a contractor to the team.

How do you select a contractor without any plans to bid out? Next week we will discuss the process of selecting a contractor before you have a complete set of construction documents. This requires an understanding of both the design and construction process of a remodel or, in other words, the ability to see the big picture. When each person involved is working toward the same goal, it is possible to have each team member execute their portion of the process such that the whole (the final result) is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com

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