Thorough design plans are a crucial part of nearly every good remodel. For homeowners who work with a professional designer or architect to plan their remodel, there is often some confusion about whether they own the design plans. The question of who owns the remodel designs can sometimes affect the outcome of the project and indicate how seriously the architect or designer takes their responsibility.
As one of Portland’s leading remodelers, Lamont Bros. Design & Construction works with hundreds of homeowners every year to design and build the remodel of their dreams. During the process of planning a remodel, homeowners will often ask us, “Do I own the design plans?”
The purpose of this article is to discuss remodel design ownership. After reading, you’ll understand whether or not you own your remodel designs. You’ll also have more information on how ownership can affect the construction of the project. The topics we’ll discuss include:
- Liability and Responsibilities of Design Ownership
- Who Typically Holds Ownership of Design Plans
- Benefits of Working with a Contractor who Maintains Ownership
- How to Obtain Ownership of Your Designs
Liability And Responsibility in Construction Design
Before discussing ownership, it’s important to first address the issue of liability. When a designer or architect creates design plans for a construction project, they take on a huge amount of liability. Their decisions as a designer can have a massive impact on people’s lives. As a result, they must take care to ensure the project is designed correctly.
One famous example of a major design failure is the 1981 Hyatt Regency Hotel incident in Kansas City. The hotel featured a set of 3 suspended catwalks that hung above the lobby of the hotel. Right before construction, the engineers made a slight alteration to the original structural design to make them easier to build. Just over a year after the hotel opened, these catwalks collapsed as a result of these last-minute changes.
The disaster killed 114 people and injured 216 more. Ultimately, the engineering firm was found liable for the failure, lost its license, and was sued for over $3 billion.
When designing a construction project, a designer or architect has several responsibilities for which they are liable. Here are the 3 most important.
Design to The Client’s Needs
The first responsibility of a designer is to curate a customized remodel plan set for the client. Because this is a custom project, the plans should be uniquely designed to meet the needs of the homeowners.
The designer’s job is to interpret the client’s lifestyle and preferences, incorporating them into the remodel. Their knowledge of current trends and remodeling best practices ensures up-to-date solutions that enhance the homeowner’s daily living experience.
Follow Construction Code & Best Practices
Beyond ensuring that the designs meet the client’s personal needs, it’s also the designer’s responsibility to ensure that the remodel designs follow building code. These laws and regulations govern construction safety by setting specific standards that every building must follow. In addition to laws and regulations, a designer should also be familiar with industry best practices. These common principles, though not legally binding, employ proven techniques and processes that enhance quality and longevity.
It’s the designer’s responsibility to know these building codes and best practices. They can use their knowledge to ensure that every element of their designs comply with relevant regulations and industry standards.
Ensure the Project is Built Correctly
The final element of liability that most architects and designers assume is that of construction administration. This means that once the plans are complete, the designer remains on the project in a supporting role. During this phase, their job is to ensure the project is built correctly.
From a construction administration standpoint, the designer’s job is to assist the build team in interpreting and implementing the designs. They collaborate with contractors and subcontractors, conduct site visits, and address any issues or modifications that arise during construction. This way, the designer still bears much of the liability of ensuring adherence to building codes, design intent, and the client’s vision.
Who Owns the Design Plans in a Remodel?
So, to address the question, “Do I own my design plans,” typically, the answer is no.
If you hire a designer or architect to design your remodel, they will likely retain copyright ownership of plans.
You as the homeowner own the home the designs are based on and will own the physical remodel, as well. However, the design plans remain the intellectual property of your designer and are licensed for use on your project.
This is especially true for design-build firms like Lamont Bros., where the designers play a pivotal role in construction administration and project management.
Benefits of Working with a Contractor Who Owns the Designs
It isn’t necessarily a bad thing for you as the homeowner if your designer owns the design plans for your remodel. Working with a designer who maintains ownership of the design plans can result in a better-quality finished product.
Most designers who operate this way tend to have more involvement in the construction process and care enough about the project to ensure that their designs are built correctly.
Assurance of commitment to quality and attention to detail
Remodel design plans aren’t about pretty pictures on a page. The success of the designs is measured by the quality of the project they help build. When a remodel designer retains ownership of the designs, it indicates an ongoing commitment to ensuring that the final project meets a high level of quality and safety standards.
It means they have a vested interest in seeing the remodel through to completion rather than simply handing the plans off to the builder and letting them do as they please. By maintaining ownership of the designs through construction, the designer signals a commitment to ensuring that the project gets built to the same quality standards that went into the design plans themselves.
Importance of construction administration and its impact on project success
The build team carries most of the responsibilities for constructing the project. However, most field crews’ strength lies in the execution of construction processes rather than the interpretation of a project’s vision. The project needs someone who understands how to communicate what must be done to bring the designs on a page into reality.
A remodel designer or architect who maintains ownership of the designs recognizes the significance of the construction phase and is actively involved in overseeing the construction process. Their involvement ensures that the design plans’ intent is upheld, any potential issues are addressed promptly, and the project stays on track.
Less Liability & Risk for the Client
In cases where the designer hands ownership over to the client upon completing the designs, the client becomes the one responsible for ensuring that the project is built correctly. If something goes wrong, there is little opportunity for recourse.
When a remodel designer maintains ownership of the designs, they assume a greater level of responsibility and liability for the project. This in turn reduces the liability and risk that the client bears. The designer’s expertise and involvement in construction administration minimize the chances of errors, inconsistencies, or non-compliance with building codes. This protect the client from potential legal and financial repercussions.
What if I Want to Have Ownership of my Designs?
In some atypical cases, a homeowner may want to sever their relationship with the designer and assume ownership of their remodel design plans. Though rare, there are times when this can make the most sense for a homeowner who wants more control over the execution of their project’s construction.
When working with a designer who typically maintains ownership of their design work, you can expect to follow the following steps to obtain ownership of the plans.
1. Releasing the designer from liability through a signed agreement
By releasing ownership of the design plans, the designer also releases any responsibility or liability associated with the project. This means that they bear no fault if something goes wrong with the project down the road. To take ownership of your designs, you’ll likely need to sign an agreement that releases your designer from any further liability.
2. Considerations regarding additional fees for acquiring the drawings
Because the design plans are the intellectual property of your designer, you may need to pay a fee to gain ownership of it. Not all designers will require a fee, but others may charge several thousand dollars to release the design documents. You’ll likely pay higher fees to purchase drawings from designers who would otherwise make additional income from their involvement in construction administration.
3. Assuming the Risks & Responsibilities Of Design Ownership
Once you’ve released your designer from their liability and purchased ownership of your designs, there’s one thing left to do. Now that you own your designs, it becomes your responsibility to make sure they get built. Because you are the owner of the design plans, it’s your job to find a build team, help them adhere to the design’s intent, and ensure that the final project meets construction code.
Want to Learn More About Design-Build Remodeling?
After reading this article, you should now have a firm understanding of design ownership and the responsibilities that come along with it. Now, take the next step in your research. To learn more about whether or not the design-build process is right for your remodel, read our article, “When to Hire a Design Build Firm — And When Not To.”
Think you’re ready to start the process of remodeling your home? Don’t go at it alone. Click the button below to schedule a free design consultation with a member of our design team. We’ll help you navigate the challenges of remodeling your home from start to finish.