When undertaking an energy efficiency upgrade project, one of the first—and most important—decisions you’ll make is whether to use a design-build approach or a design-bid-build approach. While each approach has merit, the advantages associated with a design-build approach far outweigh the cons. Before we dig into the nuances, let’s define the terms.
Design-bid-build is a segmented, sequential process. Typically, a consulting engineer is hired to develop a plan and initial budget, next a design professional is hired to prepare detailed, construction drawings and specifications. Then the detailed plans and specifications are used to solicit competitive bids for construction. Finally, the project is awarded to the contractor with lowest bid.
Design-build, on the other hand, is an approach that either utilizes a consulting engineer to develop an initial plan or involves just one company to be accountable to understand and meet the goals of the customer from start to finish. The design-build contractor selected can develop a plan, create the design and construct the project under a single contract. The streamlined design-build process eliminates several major costly and inefficient disconnects that are common in the design-bid-build approach.
Because multiple parties are involved with the design-bid-build process, it’s only natural that difficulties will occur at various stages of the process. For example, a typical design-bid-build approach uses a consulting engineer to do the initial energy efficiency analysis. He or she will then hand the project off to a design engineer who conducts an investment grade audit and develops the construction drawings.
The rub? It is not uncommon for the design engineer and consulting engineer to disagree on the best way to meet the customer's needs. Each disagreement can result in change orders from the design engineer.
Once the design engineer finalizes the design, the engineers hand the project off to a contractor who then discovers what the true installation cost is—and what the engineers have (typically) missed. These lapses result in more change orders. The typical design-bid-build process accounts for that by including a contingency amount to cover the overages.
The other option, design-build, cuts out the communication mishaps and offers turnkey efficiency. Here are five advantages to the design-build process.
- Cost Reduction Incentives
The design-build contractor performing the design has a better feel for the construction cost of various alternatives and can come up with a design that is less expensive to build. The design-build team has much more incentive to come up with value engineering—and the owner gets to enjoy the full benefit of the cost savings.
- Fast Track Completion
When a design-build contractor is used for an energy efficiency project the team involved in building the project is involved during scope development and a more accurate schedule can be developed and adhered to. Additionally, because there is no dead time between completion of design and the start of construction, it is easier to ramp up for a project and the result is that design-build projects are usually completed on time.
- The Liability Gap
With design-bid-build, non-negligent errors and omissions can arise that cost the client money, but for which the design professional is not liable. According to the white paper “Design-Build Contracts as an Alternative Method for the Construction of Public Buildings,” produced by the League of California Cities, “There can be design mistakes for which the owner is liable to the construction contractor under the warranty of correctness but cannot transfer the liability on to the design professional.” Design-build eliminates this gap, because the design-build entity has no one but itself to blame for defective plans and specifications or differing site conditions.
- More Precise Estimates
The design-bid-build team usually has to suggest at least two options of equal products, which may compromise the ability of the team to suggest a far superior product. The design-build team does not suffer this constraint. All of the options are presented to the customer and once the product specifications are agreed upon, the costs of the selected products are immediately and accurately incorporated into the budgtet. As the report states, “The design-build entity selects the equipment (right down to make and model number), and then designs around the selected equipment.”
- One Point of Contact
In the design-bid-build process, there can be a huge administrative burden, with several solicitations, awards and contracts to administer. The beauty of design-build is streamlined simplicity: one point of contact and one entity accountable from start to finish.
Before you embark on an energy upgrade process, spend some time researching and considering the risks and benefits of both the design-bid-build approach and the design-build approach. You’ll find that the latter eliminates many of the potential pitfalls of major construction projects. The end result will be a seamless process that achieves your goals—with fewer headaches and hassles.