Design-Build vs General Contractor: What’s the Difference?

Design Build vs General Contractor: A photo of the Metke Remodeling Team

In almost every home remodel, there are two sides to the equation. The design phase of the renovation and the construction phase. In the past, these were often handled by two entities, a design firm and a general contractor. Today, design-build contractors are becoming more popular, but you may be asking yourself, “design-build vs general contractor: what’s the difference?”

Design-Build vs General Contractor: What’s the Difference?

We are often asked to explain the difference between a design-build construction company and a general contractor, so here goes. A design-build firm such as Metke Remodeling employs a full-time design team who handles conceptual design options, construction drawings, and product/finish selections to finalize drawings.

We then take care of the construction side of things–what a general contractor usually takes care of. This includes permitting for construction, hiring subcontractors, and other work associated with the project, such as demolition. General contractors take the plans that have been drawn out beforehand and bring them to life.

That’s where the difference comes in. A general contractor is hired after initial plans have been drawn up and a design-build firm handles both the initial planning and the construction work. It’s taking both phases of a renovation and bringing them under one roof.

The Design-Build Process

After viewing the job site and discussing the project scope with the homeowner, a retainer for starting the design and budgeting process is collected and a thoughtfully prepared set of plans is created in tandem with obtaining the costs associated to build that project. This is followed by a review of the design concept and project costs with the homeowner.

These plans may be further re-vamped until the homeowner agrees with the design plan AND project costs they have been presented. Once the contract is signed, the project is turned over to the team’s Project Managers and lead carpenters to begin construction for their home remodel.

That is what defines a design-build firm. The big benefit of the design-build approach to the client is the project is imagined, designed, and completed with the budget in mind. If you start with the budget and create a design and specify materials that meet the budget, it is a lot easier than trying to fit the real cost numbers into an already-designed construction project.

A second benefit is the time savings (and that means reduced costs), having design and construction teams under the same roof. Plans are modified based on a budget before the drawings are finalized, cutting down on the time cycle of draw, bid, redraw, and rebid, to get to a workable budget.

What Does a General Contractor Do?

A general contractor is not the same as a design-build firm that is staffed with a design team, builders, and carpenters. A general contractor only concentrates on construction, working on plans and designs already created by outside designers, normally hired by the clients.

When you work with a general contractor, they are only responsible for construction, often subcontracting all of the work to outside subcontractors. They will often provide a “bid” for your project that is based on preliminary or final designs and specifications.

If the contractor has not measured every square inch of the potential remodel space, there is no way to determine how much labor or materials will be required to perform your project. The final contract price will generally be more than expected. And if you do not have a complete design with full specifications and structural engineering, you may hit unexpected snags.

There are thousands of small details that are part of a remodel. When all those details are handled under one roof the result is a better-managed project with less room for error, both physically and fiscally. If designers and builders are two separate entities, miscommunications can often occur.

To summarize, when you hire a design-build company, it saves you time and money in the design phase as well as during the construction processes. The synergy of one team under one roof, from start to finish, improves project coordination and ensures results are all on the same page from concept to completion.