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Choosing between an Architectural Firm or a Design-Build company to lead your Home building or construction project? An Interview with Newgrange Design-Build

By Amy Lee

Choosing between an Architectural Firm or a Design-Build company to lead your Home building or construction project

Tell us a little bit about your firm and the services you offer.

Newgrange Design - Build, founded in 2008, is an eco-conscious building company that has merged sustainable design with quality construction to streamline the design-build process, and deliver healthy, sustainable, and beautiful buildings. We are striving to lead a generation of designers and contractors to bring green buildings to a competitive and changing building industry. Through education, experience, and dedication - we've been able to integrate the best practices from architecture, engineering, and construction, to deliver high performing buildings that work for both people and planet. Roughly, Fifty (50%) percent of our countries carbon pollution is emitted into the environment through building construction and operations. Fifteen (15%) percent of our monthly costs are spent on fossil fuel energy and the cost of dirty energy is rising; and over Ninety (90%) percent of our time is spent living and breathing unhealthy indoor air. Our mission is to bring sustainability to the forefront of the marketplace and challenge the status quo of how traditional buildings are designed, built, and operated.

We provide a unique value to building owners by integrating our in house team of accredited design, engineer, and construction professionals with outside architects to create full design documents, construction budgets, and construction management services. Our goal is to maximize value for our customers through implementing technology, collaboration, and efficiency at all phases of the project.

Through our in-office collaborative space and remote-meeting technologies, our cloud based project-management and hands on construction-management approach; to 3-D drawings, energy models, and concise construction documents - there is a fluid flow of information between architects, engineers, and construction professionals throughout the entire process. This open, transparent, and collaborative process allows all team to members to contribute in effective ways to the design, efficiency, and budget of the project. This paradigm shift from the traditional design-bid-build process to an integrated design-build process is resulting in creative, sustainable, and financially conservative homes and buildings.

What are some key questions that homeowners should ask before hiring a design or construction professional?

In today's world, I think it's extremely important for home and building owners to make sure their design and construction team understand the importance and consequence of holistic design and construction. When a decision is made in one area of the home, your team needs to know how it affects the efficiency, durability, performance, and cost in another area of the home. For example, if I choose to upgrade my windows or insulation in my new building - then I can reduce or alter the size of my mechanical systems, which could allow for increased comfort, controls, and reduced annual operational cost.

I'd want to make sure homeowners are asking questions about how they're building envelope is designed and constructed to achieve air tightness and thermal performance. (What components and installation practices are going into your walls, doors, windows, and roof?) Are mechanical systems sized correctly - (is a load calculation being performed?) Have energy recovery systems or heat pumps been considered - (would an ERV, hot-water heat pump, or mini-split work well in your home?) How is the indoor air quality being monitored and are you using materials that are formaldehyde free or have low VOC content?

In your opinion, what are three qualities that every design and construction team should possess in today's marketplace?

  • Must have experience with both sustainable design and construction principles.
  • Must be goal oriented, transparent, and organized.
  • Must be professional and courteous.
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What is your philosophy behind creating beautiful yet livable homes for your clients?

Our philosophy is to integrate form and function in all critical decisions on our projects. It's our job to make sure we can bring the most value to our customers, and we do this through integrating beauty and purpose behind all building components. .We work to create environments that aesthetically pleasing and beneficial to buildings owners and occupants. We use the acronym CEDAR (Comfort, Efficiency, Durability, Air Quality, Renewable Resources) to help inform budget decisions when balancing form and function in the design phase. Some examples of building components that integrate a balance of form and function are exterior shading systems in the forms of canopies, shadow boxes, and green walls to eliminate summertime solar heat-gains; Or Reclaimed lumber walls that integrate plants to improve air quality, or even versatile doorways to create indoor, outdoor spaces.

As a design and construction company, how do you make sure that you understand what your client wants?

We have an initial integrative design meeting that establishes goals and milestones at the very onset of the project. This ensures the goals of the client are fully aligned and recognized by the people and parties that are responsible for achieving them. Additionally, as we progress through design and construction we expose schedules, budgets, and decision making, provide timely updates and progress reports and ensure an open dialogue-allowing for honest and valuable feedback.

What advice do you have for homeowners deciding to either work with an architectural firm or a design-build company to lead their project.

For me, the main reason to choose a company with design and construction expertise over an Architectural firm to lead the process comes down to three main objectives ,budget, timeline, and sustainability. Traditional architectural led projects often times let expertise in "form" and aesthetics dictate decisions. This can lead to big disconnects between design, engineering, and construction teams, and no doubt has an affect on the schedule, finances, and environmental cost of the building. Alternatively, a design-build company brings expertise in engineering, construction, and sustainable design to the very beginning of the project, which allows for collaboration, sustainable decisions, and effective execution. Where an architecturally led project lacks in efficiency and economics, a "holistic building" or design-build approach steps up in its place to bring a more beautiful product - cheaper to operate, healthier to live in, and good for the environment. A design-build team still needs a good architect on the project team, but is often led by a design-build contractor who can integrate the respective objectives and contracts from multiple parties to meet the goals of the project, and bring the most value to the owner and their building occupants. The beauty of the design-build approach is that the whole project team (designers, engineers, contractors, owners, and even financial lenders) can make informed decisions about aesthetic, efficiency, and economics concurrently and together. We all need to do our part to create a sustainable future, and living in well designed and built sustainable "green" building is one way to reduce carbon emissions and save money, sounds like a win-win to me.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you and your firm?

The best way to contact us is send an email to info@newgrangedevelopment.com or direct to me at sean@newgrangedevelopment.com; or if you'd like more direct answers, you can call the office at 773-309-1783 or call me direct at 773-677-1783.

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