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Liability & procedural questions re: house plans found online

  • 1.  Liability & procedural questions re: house plans found online

    Posted 08-04-2020 14:31
    Hi,

    I received an email from someone who emailed several certified passive house consultants he found through the PHIUS website.  This person sent a link to a house plan that he wants to build, and a  google maps location he wants to build it, and said that the contractor owns that land, so that contractor would have to build it.  He stated his interest in passive house building, and listed several things he knows he has to do already, showing that he had researched it technically.

    When I receive emails of this nature which show serious interest, I always try to respond to be helpful, even if I am not sure if the job is the right fit.  At the nascent stages of firm building, this seems important.  So I responded to him, walking him through the steps he would need to take on to officially certify via PHIUS, asking him whether he is interested in certification per se or improving building performance without certification necessarily but employing PH techniques, and then advised him that he needs to ask the builder whether they would be open to building in employing different means and methods than they are used to.  When obviously part of an email list, my expectations are low in hearing anything back, and frankly in this case, I was expecting it to end there.  However, he got back to me within the day, thanking me for my response, and asked me whether I would want to work on this project.

    Now I have several concerns and questions.  What is the process when working with plans from an online company like this?  If he in fact is asking me to be the architect of record (which I need to clarify), wouldn't I have to fully review, and engage structural and MEP consultants to review, the entire package, as I, in effect, will be assuming liability for the entire project?  My assumption here is that a client who finds plans online is trying to circumvent the typical full service design fee here and expects that it would be much lower, and the way these websites seem to market the plans is that the client can hire a local architect or engineer to "make changes."  But on my side, that seems like a load of liability to taking on without charging for a full review, which I think would be substantial.  It seems like basically the only phase that would be somewhat complete is schematic design.

    I'm at the relative beginning of this journey as a solo practitioner, and have yet to submit anything for permit directly under my own license because of my caution with taking on liability.  I've been working on a retrofit and renovation of my own home for several years now, and my plan had been to always file that first and learn on my own dime.  But as my project is complicated, I've yet to launch it into permit and construction, and in the meantime, especially this year, several opportunities have arisen.  In this case, I applaud for being interested in high-performance design to go above and beyond for energy efficiency, but I do have concerns in engaging in the project.  I'm also concerned because the project is nearly two hours away from me, so being involved in CA and working with the builder to execute a good project will be a challenge.

    I would very much appreciate your thoughts about whether my concern about liability is valid or misplaced, what your experiences might be with engaging with these catalog-type plans, and if you were to consider this, how would you structure the fee for architecture and additional consulting services, and what would you make sure to insist upon in contract negotiations and ultimately the contract?

    Thanks so much for any thoughts!

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    Samina Iqbal
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  • 2.  RE: Liability & procedural questions re: house plans found online

    Posted 08-09-2020 20:04
    Hello Samina,

    I am not able to give you a full answer at the moment, but I believe that your concerns regarding liability are justified. Once you attach your name to the project any issues that arise will likely be yours to resolve. You can ask the client more about how he or she came to choose the online plans but there too, I believe that you would have to go through the entire due diligence with the plans, perhaps with engineering or other consultants, like you would for any project.

    Good luck with the prospective client, who appears serious about proceeding, but should be guided in why you must go through many of the same steps that any other project would require.

    Daniel Alter, AIA
    DANIEL ALTER ARCHITECT PLLC






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