The case for design-build trade contractors


I was recently reminded of the many outstanding, high quality specialty trade contractors in West Michigan.

As a construction manager, I rely on the expertise of the trades to help successfully deliver projects to our clients. The most successful trade contractors are active members of the project team, bringing ideas and insight to complex challenges. More and more, specialty trades are joining project teams early in the process, which is providing building owners with a more well-rounded project team that can exceed typical project expectations.

Typically, specialty trades such as HVAC, plumbing and electrical join a project team early under a design-build or design-assist agreement. These contractors can take the place of a traditional engineer or, better yet, work in conjunction with a traditional engineering firm to complement their work. Here are a few ways that a design-build trade contractor can strengthen your project team.

Hands-on experience

Design-build trade contractors link the design of the facility directly to the labor force that will ultimately install the system they are designing. In addition to designing the systems to operate properly and efficiently, the design-build contractor is assessing the constructability of the design and suggesting ways the work can be done more efficiently. Mechanical and electrical systems, for instance, can represent over 30 percent of project costs. Efficiencies gained in the installation of these systems can be significant.

Close to the costs

Design-build contractors are purchasing equipment and materials every day. These companies are close to the suppliers and manufacturers of the products that will be incorporated into a new build. Having this close understanding of material costs can help owners and construction managers pinpoint building costs early in the design, saving projects from costly value engineering later.

1 + 1 = 3

I believe that the strongest case for design-build trade contractors is the extra value that the owner receives during pre-construction and planning. When you couple a skilled design-build contractor with a traditional engineering firm, you get a much higher value than each individual firm can provide on their own. It is well known that changes to a building during construction are much more costly than those made during the design process, so it’s my belief that the more attention the project receives during the early stages, the fewer changes will be needed later on.

Please don’t take this post as a proclamation that design-build trade contractors are always the right solution for the building owner. There are many situations where the traditional engineer’s services make more sense. I would, however, strongly encourage project teams to consider the inclusion of more specialty contractors on their planning team and also consider the expertise of contractors beyond mechanical and electrical trades. Masonry, glass and metal panel contractors can also lend considerable insight to the design of a building exterior. Specialty casework suppliers can assist in creating sophisticated designs. Consider removing the traditional boundaries between the project planning team and the trades that will actually do the work. They have a big stake in the success of your next project.     

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