Of the decisions I have made as an Architect, I think the smartest one I have ever made was to refuse to get involved with the house my parents built on their retirement lot. My parents had owned several desolate acres in New Mexico for years, always intending to build a house when they retired. I have only ever seen it in photographs, but it looks like the photos Viking sent back from Mars when I was a kid.
Of course when it came time to start designing their house, they started asking for free advise. They didn’t pay for my tuition, so they couldn’t hold that over my head, but I didn’t mind until I heard a few things that sent up warning flags in my head. First of all, I was not too familiar with the climate in which they would live. Although they were to move to New Mexico, it was not desert. Their property was in the foothills of the mountains. While it still goes up to 120 degrees in the summer, nights would get rather cool. In the winter, it can actually snow quite a lot there. In fact they got much more snow there than we did here in Pensylvanian this year. My step father had ideas of installing a coal burning stove and a swamp cooler in the house, neither of which I had ever seen as primary heating and cooling. I didn’t want to be responsible for them freezing to death in their sleep.
Here was the big warning flag, though: my step father had visions of a log cabin. Did I mention their property, nor none in sight, had any trees what-so-ever? The biggest vegetation there would be considered as weed-like shrubs here and cut down in short order. No matter how hard I tried to explain to him that his idea was ridiculous and probably cost-prohibitive, he would not admit that I knew better than he did. I saw the way things would go.
So I gently explained that it would be much easier on everyone if they would meet some local builders on their next trip out and see what they had to offer. They knew the climate, the permitting process, as well as the local building materials. The builder was going to build it anyway, and probably wouldn’t follow the directives from some moron from back east anyway. So that is what they did and they currently reside in a respectable stucco house with a clay tile roof, heated by a traditional furnace. They do have a swamp cooler instead of a traditional air conditioner and it works quite well, as I understand it, and I am still on speaking terms with my parents.