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Why Early Constructability Input is Valuable in Design-Build Projects

The greatest value in the design-build method, and especially in MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) design-build, is how inherently collaborative it is.

Some may see this as a challenge, but far more often this is an opportunity to create a more effective construction project.

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The reason design-build projects are more effective is that all or most of the major players - from the general contractor and the architect to the engineers and the owner (or owner representative) - actively discuss the project from the beginning. Significantly, different perspectives bring different obstacles and challenges to light, especially when discussing how a specific construction design actually gets constructed.

Why Constructability Matters

Navigating questions and concerns of constructability solves four primary challenges from the owner or developer’s perspective:

  1. It ensures that the design is practical and safe
  2. It eliminates in-the-field issues, the resulting schedule delays and change orders
  3. It informs the owner/developer of valuable ways to decrease the overall project budget through specific MEP construction choices (also known as value engineering)
  4. It ensures that post-construction maintenance considerations are considered before and during the project

Using the traditional construction procurement method, an architect will collaborate with the owner directly to map out a design. That design is effectively incubated apart from valuable outside perspectives, including constructability experts or general contractors.

Only once a project design is complete is it sent for bid to general contractors – and the reward for the project often will go to the lowest bidder.

There is a flaw in this procurement process. If the design hasn’t properly considered constructability factors, the budget for the proposed design could be more expensive than expected. For example, a new roof mounted air conditioning unit is shown on bid documents to be in an area that cannot be reached by a crane and alternative methods to put the new unit in place are extremely expensive.

Depending on the severity of this cost increase, this could then force the designer to go back to the drawing board, create a new design with constructability considered, and potentially go through the bidding process again.

On the other hand, design-build gives constructability a voice before designs are completed, ensuring that the owner gets the most value for the money in the long term. Constructability experts could suggest, for instance, that less expensive piping materials be used (PVC in lieu of copper). They could also suggest reducing the number of cooling units in a building, for example lowering cost without sacrificing A/C performance.

A willingness to be collaborative from the beginning allows the owner and architect to make the tough budget decisions early, rather than the frustration of having to make changes later.

Constructability Offers Value for the Owner, Designer, and General Contractor 

The owner/developer, designer, and general contractor have different goals. The owner wants to create a functional, beautiful project as cost-effectively as possible – he wants the building to last. The designer wants to create beautiful, functional work and their primary goal will be pleasing the developer while seeing their creative integrity through. The general contractor (GC) shares the desire to complete the job well but will be more focused on the fundamentals of the construction process and efficiency.

As a result of these three perspectives, value varies.

The message to the owner and the designer is largely the same. As design documents or ideas are pitched, constructability experts provide a check by informing what resources the design will take to construct and how much it will cost (do we need to buy a crane? What should we prefabricate?). This will help both parties make budget-informed decisions along the way.

The value for the GC will be slightly different. Timelines, particularly in a design-build project, can be quite tight for the GC and his or her subcontractors. Constructability will help provide a check to ensure choices that promote efficiency don’t compromise the integrity of the project. A GC will know that time doesn’t trump safety nor a well-made project, but constructability offers a helpful set of eyes to ensure project execution is sound.

TD and MEP Design-Build 

Value engineering and constructability are vital to a project that both functions properly and delivers the most value for the money invested. Having a strategic partner with expertise in MEP and maintenance resources can give you a helpful resource for any design-build project that will require mechanical, plumbing, or electricity - which is to say any construction project. If you're looking for a trusted partner in project assessment or for a consultation, feel free to contact us

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