Philip’s Advice: Design and Build Companies Aren’t Worth the Risk

Monday, March 12, 2018

Are Design and Build companies worth the risk?

In my last blog, I wrote about an unfortunate and frustrating situation where one of our clients discovered that a roof extension, built prior to the purchase of their house, was so poorly constructed that it endangered the entire property and had to be condemned.

This extension was built by a well-known Design and Build company who specialise in loft conversions. While we can’t name names, this case does highlight some of the risks of using a Design and Build company over the traditional procurement route of client, architect and contractor.

What’s the difference between Design and Build and traditional procurement?

Design and Build companies are popular due to their lower price and faster average build time compared to traditional building contracts, making them suitable for smaller projects such as extensions and conversions (you can read more about Design and Build here at the Designing Buildings Wiki).

Design and Build means the contractor takes on the responsibility for the design, having the designer and contractor as a single team, who the client hires directly to complete the project from start to finish.

This overlap of responsibility means that designs don’t have to be finalised before building commences, and therefore the final scheme can be agreed while the project is in progress. But… you don’t always get what you want, and design often gets sacrificed for profit!

In a traditional procurement route, the client hires an architect who completes the designs before starting the tender process, where contractors and service providers are chosen based on their qualifications, price and suitability for the project.

The chosen contractor and specialists then enter a contract with the client to deliver the architect’s designs, usually with the architect continuing to oversee the project to completion, either personally or by hiring a project manager.

Along with the architect, various other consultants may be employed to ensure the project will be of high quality and compliant with building regulations, such as structural engineers, who provide the structural design and monitor the contractor’s work to ensure the building is structurally sound.

Because the design is finalised before the contractor is hired and due to the various specialists involved, traditional procurement takes longer and costs more than a Design and Build project but, in return, provides a high level of security and quality assurance.

What are the risks of using a Design and Build company?

When we design and manage a project, the contractors and any specialists you hire have an obligation to us and to you to build exactly as we specify, down to the millimetre.

We also employ a full suite of specialists and consultants, from essentials such as structural engineers and mechanical and electrical consultants, to site-specific specialists such as arboricultural consultants or traffic management consultants.

There’s no two ways about it: this approach comes at a cost. But the benefit is multiple layers of accountability and numerous specialists who all want to do what’s best for the project and want to maintain their reputations. There are so many eyes on a project from every conceivable angle, reducing the risk of anything going wrong, or being being built in a shoddy way.

If you hire a Design and Build company, you’re trusting that they will do a good job from start to finish. There will be no one monitoring them other than you and Building Control (who, as I discussed in my last blog, are limited in what they can oversee and enforce), so if they decide to cut corners, you’re unlikely to know unless you happen to be an experienced house builder yourself.

The final delivery cost is agreed upfront, but quality is not guaranteed when the designer and the builder are wearing both caps. Even more dangerously, as we saw in our own project, they may skip structural details that are easily hidden beneath plaster and paint, leaving you non the wiser that your new extension is in danger of collapsing.

It’s worth saying that many Design and Build companies have strong reputations and are perfectly well-suited for smaller projects with budgets that can’t justify the expense of an architect but, even then, I would recommend hiring an independent project manager to oversee it.

But for any project of a larger scale, especially one that could endanger the rest of the house if it’s not done correctly, it’s in your best interests to pursue a traditional procurement route.

To learn more about the benefits of hiring an architect, you can always get in touch with us at [email protected]

Philip Jones-Lloyd