Construction workers on new roof in progress for design-build project.

Are you taking the optimal approach to your commercial construction project? If you’re not familiar with the various delivery methods contractors utilize for construction services, you may think it’s all handled the same way—hire an architectural firm to design the project, then have contractors bid on the design. This traditional process is known as “Design-Bid-Build,” and it can be a source of frustration from overruns and delays.

But, some of that risk can be avoided with Construction Management at Risk (CMAR), which adds overrun protection and brings in the lead contractor during the design process. 

However, more and more companies are turning to the design-build method for their projects. The design-build process, which combines design and construction across the entire project, is now used in over 40% of commercial construction projects in the U.S. So, what advantages does this delivery method have, and why should you consider it for your next project? Let’s take a look!

What Are the Differences Between Construction Delivery Systems?

There are three main types of construction delivery methods used for commercial construction: design-bid-build, design-build, and construction management at risk.

Traditional Design-Bid-Build Delivery Method

With design-bid-build (DBB), your business hires an architect to design the project. Once the architectural design is complete, your company then takes general contractor bids. 

Once all bids are submitted, you review these bids as part of your selection process and hire a contractor. The general contracting company manages construction, material procurement, and the hiring of subcontractors to handle each aspect of the project. 

Unfortunately, this process can be a lot of work for you, because many different people and businesses have to come together to complete the project. Delays and cost overruns are not uncommon with this delivery method.

Design-Build Delivery Method

The design-build project delivery method simplifies the traditional design-bid-build process by putting everyone onto a single team. 

You consult with a design-build firm about your project. They draw up plans and hire subcontractors to get the work done. The design-build contractor and subcontractors work together from start to finish, and the project management team answers directly to you. 

If there’s a problem during construction, the subcontractors work directly with the designers regarding change orders. This process speeds up delivery by avoiding the bid process and delays associated with multiple organizations working individually.

Construction Management at Risk Delivery Method

Construction Management at Risk can go by multiple terms, including CMAR, CM@risk, CM@R, or CM at Risk. This method is somewhere between design-bid-build and design-build, because the CMAR building contractor comes in at the start of the design process, evaluating the building plan. 

From there, they create a construction plan, taking on some of the risks of cost overruns and delays. This puts an upper limit on how much the owner has to pay out-of-pocket. While this is more efficient than design-bid-build, this method doesn’t have the same level of coordination as design-build. (Once the design is complete, the architecture firm is out of the picture.)

You may think that design-build would tend to be more expensive, since you don’t get to choose from multiple bids, the common cost overruns associated with design-bid-build are often a problem and can end up costing more money in the long run.

You may also think that CMAR and design-build offer similar advantages, however, research tells a different story. The Construction Industry Institute compared design-bid-build, design-build and CMAR across 351 projects ranging from 5,000 to 2.5 million square feet. By their estimates, a design-build project is 33.5% faster from start to finish and costs 6.1% less than a DBB project. Compared to CMAR, design-build projects are 23.5% faster and show a 4.5% cost savings on average. 

So, what makes design-build such an effective method of construction?

Every Aspect of Design-Build is Planned

Instead of designing a building and then taking into account requirements for the land and municipality regulations, design-build takes a holistic approach. With the design and construction teams working together from the start, labor, materials, permits and everything else is taken into account during planning. This gives you realistic expectations for costs and helps avoid cost overruns.

The Design-Build Team Works Together

With DBB, the designers and builders are two separate entities, so the owner needs to work with both parties separately. When problems arise, it’s easy for one side to blame the other. But, with design-build, there is a single point of contact. Designers and builders are essentially team members, using design or construction changes to solve problems, depending on which one makes the most sense.

This teamwork starts at the design phase, with both designers and builders working to establish project plans. Both sides of the project have to agree to the proposal, which helps to avoid problems that can make plans difficult or impossible to construct in real world conditions.

While designers are only involved at the start of the process with CMAR, they’re part of the design-build process at each construction phase (up to completion). If there is a problem during construction, the designers and builders work together to solve it. Since changes are expected in all facets of construction, design alterations are built into the bid. In most cases, these redesigns have little or no effect on the final cost of the project.

Design-Build’s Single Point of Responsibility

With designers and contractors working separately in DBB projects, there can be a mismatch between what the designers think can be accomplished versus what the contractors are able to achieve. Selecting contractors can be confusing because bids themselves aren’t standardized and even two similar bids may arrange items differently, itemizing by categories or by rooms. Choose the lowest bid, and you may find important details were neglected, leading to cost overruns.

With design-build, the designers know what their construction teams can accomplish, so they’re able to better estimate time frames and costs. This lets them create an estimate that covers everything the project is likely to encounter.

Uniform Communications Between All Involved Parties

Design-build delivery is built around owner control at each stage of the construction process, from pre-construction estimates to completion. The contracting firm works directly with the owner to make decisions as needed, instead of decisions having to be made between owners, architects, and construction contractors. By putting decision-making under one roof, changes are easy to make, resulting in cheaper alterations and reduced delays.

Find the Best Solution for Your Next Commercial Construction Project

The Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania is comprised of over 150 reputable union contractors across the region. Our members represent every facet of commercial construction, from subcontractors who can handle small jobs to design-build construction companies that can tackle large building projects. 

We make it easy to find reliable contractors with the skills needed to handle a variety of needs, whether you’re looking to remodel or build a whole new facility, from the ground up. Contact us today to discuss your next project.