Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is design-build?
A:
Design-build is a contracting approach under which both project design and construction are sourced to a single entity that assumes responsibility for every step of the process.

Q: How does design-build differ from design-bid-build?
A:
The traditional design-bid-build approach entails contracting separately for engineering design, architecture, and construction. For example, if a client wants to build a new water treatment plant using the traditional method, the client issues a Request for Proposal (RFP) to engineering firms for the design plans, selects the most qualified firm among those responding to the RFP, and negotiates price. The engineering firm then develops preliminary and detailed designs. Once a design has been accepted, the client solicits sealed bids from construction firms to build the plant from the designs that the engineering firm has created. Construction then proceeds. Design-build allows the client to contract with one entity for both the architectural/engineering design and construction.

Q: Why has the use of design-build for public water and wastewater systems grown so rapidly?
A:
The need to expand and improve water and wastewater systems is rapidly increasing as the result of population growth and aging and deteriorating infrastructure. The Clean Water Act requires that wastewater treatment plants meet environmental standards, and the Safe Drinking Water Act requires that every American have access to clean, safe drinking water. The EPA estimates the costs of the needed infrastructure improvements at more than $500 billion over the next 20 years. Design-build offers one route to meet the need more efficiently and effectively than the multiple-year bidding process typical of design-bid-build procurements.

Q: Is design-build right for every project?
A:
No. No single delivery method is suitable for every project. Design-build is best suited for a project where basic performance or design specifications can be largely fixed prior to design and construction. The client must be willing to set the specifications and allow the service provider to fulfill them in the best possible way. If a project is not clearly defined at the outset or may need constant client input at different steps in the process, then design-build may not be appropriate. However, when speed of completion is a priority, then design-build may be the most attractive option.

Q: What are the advantages of design-build for a client?
A:
Design-build offers many advantages to the right client. Design-build gives the client the ability to contract with a single entity to deliver a quality product without taking on design ownership. Moreover, it has the ability to reduce cost through innovation borne out of the engineer and the contractor working as a single entity. Having engineers and construction professionals on the same team provides the client with a single point of accountability, allows for construction-related input in every stage of the design, further reducing time and construction costs, and results in a design that enables the use of construction best practices. This also fosters collaboration and trust in the working environment, with all parties sharing common objectives and working as a team to identify the best-value solutions for the client. Finally, design-build can allow the client to extend qualifications-based selection to the construction phase of a project.

Q: What are the potential disadvantages for a client?
A:
Design-build requires discipline on the part of the client to make decisions earlier on in the process to establish the framework for the project. Those clients who want to have continuous influence over detailed design could have difficulty adjusting to design-build.

Q: Will I save money with design-build?
A:
Maybe. Design-build has the potential to reduce construction costs by eliminating the potential for conflicts between the designer and the contractor. If the client makes design changes during the project, design-build may become more expensive. The potential benefits of design-build for a client include a single point of responsibility for both design and construction, simplified contracting and speed of project delivery; often these can save money, but not on every project.

Q: Design-build saves time, but will the quality of the product be as good as with design-bid-build?
A:
Yes. As long as the initial design and specifications are well planned, the final project will be comparable to or better than a design-bid-build project, without the potential for designer-contractor conflicts that can cause delays and additional problems.

Q: Who has the responsibility for over-runs?
A:
This is negotiated in the contracting phase. Overruns that result from client-directed changes to the design during the process are usually borne by the client, while overruns that result in the absence of any change in the scope of the contract are usually the responsibility of the design-build service provider.

Q: Do design-build projects preclude participation of small firms?
A:
Not at all. In many cases smaller firms can partner with other firms to complete a project. If a small design firm, for instance, does not have construction capabilities, it may find a construction partner and bid on a project together as one entity. This kind of arrangement can provide benefits similar to those delivered by a single integrated design-build firm.

Q: How can a client avoid the perception of favoritism in procurement decisions for design-build projects?
A:
This perception can be an issue for the client. However, it can be mitigated by ensuring that the bidding process is competitive, open and transparent, and that the final contracts can withstand rigorous scrutiny by all parties.

Q: Who are the members of the Water Design-Build Council, and what are the eligibility requirements for membership?
A:
The Council’s nine charter members are the leading integrated design-builders serving municipal water and wastewater utilities. The firms include: Brown and Caldwell, Carollo Engineers, CDM, CH2MHILL, Earth Tech, HDR, Metcalf & Eddy, MWH and Veolia Water Solutions & Technology. To join the Council, a firm must be engaged in the provision of integrated design and constructions services and have in-depth engineering capabilities for the design of public water and wastewater treatment facilities.

Q: What is the purpose of the Council?
A:
The Water Design-Build Council was founded to promote the sound use of integrated design-build services for development and rehabilitation of water and wastewater systems, and to develop and promote a set of best practices to enable municipalities to realize the full value of design-build.

Q: Where can I get more information about design-build and the members of the Council?
A: Questions not answered on this website should be referred to Linda Hanifin Bonner, Ph.D, CAE, WDBC Operations Manager. She can be reached at lhanifin@waterdesignbuild.org.

Q: I have a project I am considering doing as design-build; can you refer me to the best member of the Council for my project?
A: Any project-related inquiries that we receive are shared with each member of the Council simultaneously. They will respond to your inquiries themselves. The Council does not provide design-build or referral services.