Difference Between Contracting, Construction

The Difference Between Contracting, Construction Management, and Design-Build

Constructing a building is a complex affair. It requires the collaboration of multiple parties, all of whom need to be on the same page regarding goals, workmanship, and timelines for project completion. 

The average North Carolina commercial owner tends to assume that the only way to build a business is to hire a general contractor, who then subcontracts out work to other specialists as-needed. While that’s certainly one viable approach, it’s not the only way to construct a building, nor is it always the best option. Construction-management-at-risk (CMAR) and design-build delivery methods can also be employed, often to great effect.

As long as owners work with reputable construction firms, the results should be the same regardless of which building delivery process the firm employs. That said, there are some crucial differences between these three popular delivery methods. Read on to find an in-depth comparison.

Working With General Contractors

Most construction firms work with a mix of in-house contractors and independent contractors to complete projects. General contractors have experience with everything from qualifying sites and reviewing contracts to assembling teams of workers, managing subcontractors, and ensuring on-site safety. 

Working with a general contractor is very beneficial since they take on the responsibility of planning and management. Licensed contractors take on the responsibility for ensuring that the work being performed on the worksite is done correctly and safely. They supervise the job from beginning to end. Since they are the ones who hire subcontractors for specific jobs, they are in charge of what work gets done and when. Owners don’t have to worry about making sure each subcontractor does their job correctly because the general contractor will already be on top of it. 

General contractors also understand the laws and regulations regarding construction and building codes, which definitely comes in handy. They also play a big role in the validity of product and material warranties. Some features like windows and roofs require a contracting professional to install them to not void any warranties. 

Working With Construction Managers

Unlike general contracting, construction management involves taking a hands-on approach from the initial design phase all the way to the final walkthrough. This approach to building delivery is often referred to as construction-management-at-risk (CMAR). The idea behind CMAR is to ensure that everyone is on the same page and develop a mutual understanding between owners, designers, and construction managers well before the actual construction begins.

As general contractors, construction managers typically work with a combination of in-house personnel and specialized subcontractors. The difference is, they also work with building planners, site surveyors, and designers during the earliest stages of project development to guarantee a well-organized, consistent approach that delivers projects on-time and within owners’ budgets.

The primary drawback of CMAR in comparison to design-build models is that choosing the right construction manager can be a challenge. It’s never wise to uncritically accept the lowest bid from a construction manager. Instead, owners will need to take the time to request multiple bids and evaluate each CM’s estimates for project costs, overhead, markups, and contingencies independently.

There’s some good news for owners who are operating on a budget, here. A good CMAR will offer far more accurate cost estimating during the earliest stages of the project and will make a point of ensuring cost transparency throughout. The risk of change orders is low, and a more collaborative process can reduce the chances of dealing with unexpected delays.

Working With a Design-Build Company

These days, more owners than ever are opting to take a more turn-key approach to building delivery. They hire design-build companies to take responsibility for the entirety of the construction process. Design/build companies assign one GC per project to act as a single point of contact and responsibility. The GC assumes responsibility for everything from design outcomes to cost control, all while working with subcontractors and designers to keep everything on schedule.

Not all owners like the design-build model for project completion, but it’s perfect for those who prefer to take a more hands-off approach. Design-build firms take care of all the details, requiring only minimal time commitments from their clients throughout the design and construction processes. Since the GC is responsible for all aspects of project completion, there’s also a lower likelihood of owners needing to get involved in conflicts between contractors and designers.

In most cases, the design-build model for project completion offers superior results. The entire team works together to collaborate on everything from conceptual designs to material selection and scheduling, so it’s easy for everyone to stay on track. The expedited nature of design/build project completion timelines also helps to maximize construction value.

The primary downside of working with design/build companies is that the lack of competitive bidding can drive up prices for the project. owners who want to play a more hands-on role in the design and construction processes may also feel like they’re being left out of the loop. 

Of course, owners will still have a say regarding functional and aesthetic intent. However, they won’t have the benefit of working with an independent design team that can advocate for them in opposition to contractors as needed since the design team answers directly to the GC, not the client.

Choosing the Best Solution

There’s no one building delivery method that will offer the best fit for every client in every circumstance. Use the comparison provided above and choose the methodology that best suits the needs of the project. If cost-effectiveness is the top priority, opt for a design-build or a CMAR model. If project quality and timely delivery are the top priorities and owners don’t want to waste their time dealing with details, design/build firms are a better fit.

Find the Perfect Solution

J.M. Thompson Co. offers a wide range of general contracting, CMAR, and design/build services. Our company has been in business for over 100 years and has developed a reputation for excellence. Browse our website for more general information or call (919) 851-1611 to discuss a specific project and its requirements.