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  • Carol Mckee

A Cautionary Tale... Choose the Right Architect



Where are we at with this project and why have we been radio silent? What follows is a long overdue update. The short answer is that we are not going to build the house that we had been planning on. While friends and family are aware of this it made sense to publish it here, since the blog has been a resource for readers with a lot of information, and anyone following along needs to understand what happened in hopes that you do not fall into the same dilemma.


So why aren’t we building it?


There was a combination of events and circumstances that caused us to rethink everything. Much of this was the professional services rendered in the design of the building, and the significant gaps in how it was put together as results. Some of it was a change in circumstance and priorities, and some of it was factored around the huge cost increases of materials and shortage of labor in the early aftermath of COVID-19.




We had serious misgivings about the project when we received the construction documents. Candidly speaking, we were very disappointed in the final outcome of what was designed by the architect. The cost of what materials were double our budget. We did a lot of cross checking to make sure that things were accurate as many materials that were incorporated into the design were new and not on our radar.


A couple of examples: The design called for a magnesium insulated exterior sheathing which were specified on the construction documents. This was a surprise to me as I expected it to be zip sheathing. The magnesium sheathing was going to drive over $100,000 of excess cost over zip sheathing. This type of magnesium board is a great fireproof product and normally used on commercial buildings not residential one. There was also a “miscalculation “in the insulation needed under the slab which added an additional $60,000-$80,000 of cost. This was insulation designed in were it was not needed. These were just two examples of the architect's design driving up cost unnecessarily but there were other things as well. These were egregious errors that completely stunned us.


The architect offered to make corrections, but after discovering these issues we had completely lost faith in the company, it's ability to create the design and understanding of cost, and we did not trust that as we uncovered more things in the build,/construction methods/specifications that they would be right. Having lost trust in the architect and seeing the disconnection to what it costs to build a building we negotiated an end to the business relationship.




It was really devastating and it took us a while to get over it and decide what the next steps would be.


Ultimately this is a lesson learned and we hope it can benefit our readers as it will most definitely benefit our customers. It is vital that anyone working to build a custom designed house, Passive House or traditional design, try to ascertain and locate an architect that has a good, solid, and realistic understanding of the concept (especially in a Passive House build) and that their approach to the cost of what it takes to build is in relation to the customer's budget. It can look pretty, and that’s fine, but if you specify processes, procedures and materials that are astronomical in cost, or not needed, it can completely kill a project. It is vital that the architect that is chosen for your project not only be certified with Passive House (PHIUS) but also that they understand what drives cost in the design and how their design choices will impact the cost of the project. Not every architect with a certification in the concept has that financial understanding and that proves to be a critical element.



What other factors figured into our decision?


On top of the cost problems outlined above, by the time we got the drawings and construction documents from the architect, it was six months later than when they were supposed to be delivered. The timing meant that material costs had gone through the roof, and availability was low all from the COVID-19 effects on the supply chain.


We were building this to be a Passive Home for ourselves personally, but also to have a showroom of what a Passive House can be. The house as designed, not including the garage, was at about 5200 square ft. In looking at our personal needs, and the market that we are looking to appeal to should we ever choose to sell the home, this sizing just did not make sense.


On a personal side of things my wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer through the same period of time. Thankfully she has been fully recovered and cleared of further complications from this, but it really caused us to also evaluate. Where did we want to put our resources, should we consider moving closer to our children sooner than we expected, and did we want to up that much money for what we hoped was our forever home (and reality is no home is forever) are all things we had to consider.




As a Passive Home builder from the business side of it, we want this concept to be available to as many buyers and income levels as possible. I don’t know if on a single-family residence, a Passive Home will catch on for a first time home buyer, but we are hoping that when someone wants to move up from their starter home, that they will choose to build a passive house. So for that reason as well we felt that the showroom home we would build should be reflective of the size home that our target customer would want to build. So we are looking at that being 2700 to 3500 square ft. Of course that’s a guess at what people want, but it’s an educated guess based on our years of experience in the construction industry.


So what is next for us? We will tell you about that in our next post...

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