“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

-Albert Einstein

“As long as the world is turning and spinning, we’re gonna be dizzy and we’re gonna make mistakes.”

-Mel Brooks

No doubt about it, mistakes will be made along the way as you design your home. Mel Brooks and Albert Einstein knew a thing or two about mistakes. Both of them made mistakes in their life and both are very famous people whose impact on the world is unquestioned. So, mistakes are simply a part of the journey. Mistakes that seem to repeat themselves or people who make mistake after mistake, on the other hand, should be watched carefully. Eventually, you’ll need to decide if the mistakes are moving you toward your goal or keeping you from it.

Your architect will catch most of their own mistakes before you have a chance to see them. As a result, you won’t know that mistakes exist in the plans the majority of the time. That’s a good thing. An architect’s ability to review and repair your plans before submittal is a sign of his or her professionalism. It is best to submit a clean set of plans to the building department and bank. After all, you don’t want to get approvals for something that you won’t actually build. An example is a roof pitch that is too low. Assume the bank approves the plans as is, but the building department won’t because the composition shingles you have displayed on the plans cannot be used at the low pitch outlined on the elevations. Now you find yourself stuck. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a hassle you don’t need to experience.

If your architect makes a mistake and does not catch it right away, that’s still okay. Let him or her know you’ve found a mistake in the plans and they should fix it right away. If they don’t fix the problem, even after you have pointed it out to them, something is wrong. This is a red flag for sure. Don’t let them continue with the design until they have fixed the problem you pointed out. There is a good chance they will forget about it if it is not fixed right away and you’ll end up back in the situation similar to the above example.

Knowing when to pull the plug is hard to quantify. It is different for every person and every architect. Some of you likely have a higher tolerance for your architect’s mistakes than others. Some of the architects you work with may be more prone to mistakes than others. Like Einstein pointed out, if mistakes are not made, envelopes are probably not being pushed. This translates directly to your home design if you plan to build something outside of the box. For example, an architect is more likely to make mistakes on a design using materials he or she has never encountered before than on a conventional home.

With these potential variances in mind, be careful not to allow too long of a leash for your architect. If mistakes are slowing the project down considerably, step in and find out what the cause of all the mistakes is. Help out if you can by discussing the details of the design the architect is working with. For example, if you brought the idea of a straw bale house to your architect and they are not familiar with the details of such a building, help educate them as best you can. Send them to appropriate websites like www.StrawBale.com and connect them with a consultant who specializes in straw bale construction (www.StrawBaleConsulting.com). If you don’t have the expertise to help your architect, find someone who does. A little extra money spent up front will save you thousands of dollars in delays and mistakes down the line.

That brings me to my next point: delays. Some delays are inevitable; however, multiple delays are not. Set a timeline with your architect. Have a deadline for completion and submission that you can hold him or her to. If an extension is requested and a reasonable cause for the request is given, then you can grant it. If no reason is given, you may want to consider other action. Be sure there is a clause in your contract that gives you recourse if deadlines are missed. It may be financial compensation, additional services for free, or some other arrangement. Exactly what you get in return is up to you. The point is that some pressure needs to be placed on the architect to stick to the deadlines. Without it, you may find yourself waiting, and waiting, and waiting with no way to speed up the process.

If you find yourself in the place of needing to fire your architect, it will be important to know what your contract says for such occasions. Know this in advance. Don’t wait until you need to implement the clause to find out that there is no clause to let you out of the contract. There should be a section that allows either party to terminate the contract if the other party does not complete their end of the deal. There may be a severance clause that allows you some type of compensation, or you may just get a “get out of jail free” card and walk away from the contract altogether. Either way, be sure you know how to get out if you need to.

Hopefully none of this will ever come into play during the design or construction of your home. If it does, at least you will know what to do and what to look for as early warning signs. Here’s a quick summary of things to consider.

    • Identify contract clauses like early termination and deadline management.
    • Keep open communication with the architect.
    • Note his or her responsiveness to your feedback.
    • Track the number and frequency of mistakes that you find in your plans.
    • Be aware of the speed at which noted mistakes are fixed.
    • Consider using a consultant who specializes in the type of construction you plan to use.
    • Don’t give your architect too long or too short of a leash.
    • Know what you want and speak it clearly and with confidence
    • Stay open to feedback from your architect.
    • Learn from your architect and teach him or her what you know.
    • Have fun! If you’re not having fun, you might get bored with the process.

As always, the list will grow as you find your own angles to the situations presented. Stay open, stand strong in what you know and be flexible in your beliefs. You may learn more than you had planned to and you may teach equally as much. Remember that the design process is a flow, not a stagnant picture.