Is it Design-Build…or Design-Assist?

By Steve Murphy PE, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing Services

In my role at Blach, I’ve worked on several projects in which Blach was asked to provide “Design-Assist” mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) services. 

What does this mean? How does this differ from true “Design-Build?” After spending 13 years as a Design-Build mechanical contractor, and 15 years as a consulting engineer in the HVAC business, I’m supposed to know, but sometimes I feel that I’m as confused as the next guy when it comes to the fine print. What’s up with that?

Design-Build and Design-Assist are not interchangeable. While these project delivery methods sound similar, they are in fact very different. The main difference I’ll address in this post is the designation of the firm that is legally responsible (and ultimately liable) for the design of the systems.

The project’s Engineers of Record (EORs) are design engineers that are responsible for interpreting the client’s needs and designing fully functional MEP systems for their building. Typically, there are different EORs for mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems.

The drawings and specifications prepared by these EORs communicate the intent of the project to the building contractor. Ultimately, clients choose between what they want or what they can afford (I know it’s a shock, but these can be different at times!).  

In a pure “Design-Build” project, the different EORs are typically employed/contracted by the Design-Build MEP subcontractors. These subcontractors are solely responsible for designing, installing and commissioning the MEP systems to satisfy the intent of the project. The different Design-Build subcontractors collaborate as a team and are responsible for informing each other of how their system will impact the project overall.

In a “Design-Assist” project, the MEP EOR’s are typically hired by the project architect. These EOR’s are responsible for the project’s design and they coordinate closely with the other design team members (architect, structural engineer, landscape architect, civil engineer, etc.) to ensure that each individual system is designed to meet the intent of the project.

Simply explained, MEP subcontractors are responsible (and liable) in a Design/Build project and the MEP consultant EOR’s and the architect are on the hook (from a liability standpoint) in a Design-Assist project.

At Blach, we work on projects that use both of these delivery methods. Our in-house team of MEP specialists can provide the “front-end” work required for a Design-Build project. Working under a Design-Assist approach, Blach’s MEP team can support the EORs and architect to ensure that the design development phase runs smoothly and that clients get the best “bang for the buck” on their projects. So, regardless of the project delivery type, we can help.

Posted on May 05, 2013 by Steve Murphy
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