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General Contractor vs. Remodeler: What’s the difference?

General Contractor vs. Remodeler: What’s the difference?

Remodelers…design-build contractorsgeneral contractors…SUBcontractors…

You’ve seen all these terms, and as far as you can tell their definitions are pretty simple.

Could you easily define what makes them different, though?

If you’re reading this now, you’ve definitely seen the term “design-build” because that’s what our company is! This hyphenated term is pretty clear: a design-build contractor both designs remodels and executes the actual construction work.

Except…that’s not all. Design-build refers to a whole project delivery system. That means things like project management and additional subcontracting are handled by the same entity.

So…what does a general contractor do, exactly?…

Learning what each remodeling professional does is helpful, but it won’t tell you which kind of contractor you should hire for YOUR remodels. To learn exactly what the benefits are of working with a general contractor versus a design-build remodeler, keep reading and I’ll hash it out for you!


What is a general contractor?

Maybe there’s some “wiggle room” on titles in certain industries, but in the remodeling world, names hold a LOT of weight. There are industry organizations like NARI (the National Association of the Remodeling Industry) and loads of certifications and licenses that differentiate between professionals.

By the official definition, a general contractor handles the construction part of a remodeling project. This means the project plan has to be in place before the contractor gets involved. This kind of contractor is hired to manage a project based on an existing design, whether that was put together by a registered interior designer or an architect.


What is a design-build remodeler?

A design-build contractor or “remodeler” takes care of all the tasks under the design phase AND the construction phase of a remodel. This means the architectural or structural design plan as well as interior selections and finishes are planned out by the same professional who executes that plan.

NARI accredited 2019_official - Signature Home Services North TexasDesign-build contractors have years of experience in both design and construction. For example, take me and Rob:

  • I’m a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and a Registered Interior Designer with the state, and am a member of the Interior Design Society (IDS) with a NCIDQ certification. (These are the kinds of certifications a professional designer will have.)
  • Rob, for his part, is a member of NARI, a Certified Remodeler (CR) and a Certified Graduate Remodeler (CGR). (These are some of the highest standards of construction and craftsmanship certifications.)

Membership in NARI is a BIG indicator when vetting a design-build contractor’s expertise because membership is based on meeting certain industry standards.

You can also look for NARI accreditation, which is only granted to design-build remodelers that meet VERY specific standards. To get an idea how high that bar is set, our company is the first and only NARI-accredited remodeler in the state of Texas!

So…if you’re thinking, “Alright, it sounds like a design-build remodeler is the ‘full package,’ but I still don’t know which I need for my project,” check out the list below. I’ll get into exactly when you should choose a design-build contractor over a general contractor for your remodel.


Checklist: Which of these are true for you?

There are very real benefits to choosing each kind of contractor depending on your needs. If you’re a real “DIYer,” for instance, AND are confident that you can manage your own project…then you might just hire subcontractors to take care of the stuff outside your experience like plumbing or electrical.

On the other hand, if you have a specific designer or architect you want to work with for a bigger project, then maybe giving a ready-made plan to a general contractor will do the trick for what you need.

There are several benefits to working with a design-build contractor that are worth factoring in, though. If you could imagine yourself thinking any of the following statements, a design-build relationship is probably the best choice for you.


“I want someone to take me through every step my remodel”

If you want help every step of the way, it’s best that help come from the same professional team. A design-build contractor will have the staff, experience and portfolio to facilitate a seamless experience from dream to a done design.

Working with a general contractor could cause disruptions as you switch from one professional to another throughout the stages of your project.

Just look at our process here at Signature Home Services…this is how involved a design-build remodeler will be during every step.

remodel Process by signature home services


“I want to ‘see’ my design…I need help visualizing it!”

Setting up floorplans and collecting samples of finishes, fabrics and paint colors is one thing. But seeing a design in a 3D rendering is something completely different!

3D computer-based renderings are part of the design-build process. They help you really see and FEEL what your finished space will look like…it’s a beautifully immersive experience that helps you make selections AND get excited about the end result!

This type of 3D rendering design work can be done with an architect, too, but you would have to hire the architect and then the general contractor separately…you would also want to ensure that the design from the architect is fully understood by the contractor so nothing gets “missed.”


“I want access to a full team of experts with specialized trades”

A general contractor might be a “jack of all trades,” but a design-build remodeler will have a whole team of devoted experts to handle each trade with expertise. This kind of full-service remodel leverages collective experience to ensure that every detail is done by a master tradesperson.

Work is not just done better with a team of experts when working with a design-build team, it’s also done faster. Remodeling contractors can also foresee issues and resolve them before they turn into expensive delays or frustrations.


“I want my contractor to be fully licensed and insured for everything my project needs”

Full-service design-build remodelers will have licenses for the specialty work their staff performs as well as insurance that covers remodeling construction, specifically.

The right insurance for a contractor is expensive, by the way. It’s so expensive that, unfortunately, the cost has become a disincentive for general contractors who can purchase a state minimum “general contractor’s insurance” instead of a policy with superior coverage.

Design-build remodelers, on the other hand, carry insurance for all their trades. This provides far better protection for them and for you!


“I want to work with a company whose sole focus is remodeling”

Design-build remodelers won’t be juggling their contracting work with other jobs or side-projects. This is the case for some general contractors, though not all.

Switching between active projects is another distraction that causes delays with general contractors. Design-build remodeling firms, on the other hand, have a team assigned to your project so they can focus and complete your project without anything else getting in the way.

Which leads me to…


“I really, really don’t want my remodeling project to take forever!”

Because of the full staff, design-build contractors are able to commit to a specific timeline for your remodel…and then stick to it. General contractors struggle with this due to their overall project bandwidth and the need to subcontract specific parts of your project out. They lose control over certain timing considerations.


“I don’t want to manage this project myself…”

Design-build remodelers excel at project management.

Coming back to our own example, Rob and I have honed a specific system to complete large projects as efficiently as possible. By mapping out our “project management milestones,” clients know what to expect and we help drive staff to every accountability we set.

Project management milestones include things like quality assurance inspections, too, to avoid reworking or correcting issues later.


Ebook 2_Guide to Choosing Your Perfect Contractor_graphicWhenever it is time to get started on your next remodel, think about this checklist…and ask yourself which of these statements ring true for you.

No matter who you do choose to work with, I want to ensure you have all the best information to make the right decision for you and your family. Start by downloading this complimentary guide to choosing the perfect contractor. It has worksheets and added considerations for you so you can make the best call for your family.

Next up, keep reading to ensure the contractor you do select meets and exceeds your expectations in these three essential ways!

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