Architect Error and Omission Change Orders Expert Article

In this article, experts from the architectural practice at Robson Forensic provide an overview of error and omissions change orders. The discussion includes an explanation of change orders, the difference between errors and omissions, as well as what is reasonable to expect from architects and project owners.

Architect Error and Omission Change Orders

Change order is a term used in the construction industry for formal modifications or alterations of the contract. A change is a modification in the original scope, contract schedule, or cost of work. Change orders are a formal contract modification incorporating a change into the contract and are part of the normal construction process. During the construction phase they are sometimes disruptive to the orderly progress of the work and can be a burden on both the owner and contractor because quite often they increase both the duration and cost of a construction contract.

Changes in scope or details of construction result from various reasons and include unforeseen conditions, owner requests, building official requirements, value engineering, material/ equipment substitutions, or error and omission in the contract documents. The latter has the most potential for owner dissatisfaction and typically causes an increase in the contract sum during construction because contractor costs for making changes will be higher than if the same or similar work was not included in the original bid.

Some owners believe that error and omission change orders should be paid by the design professional. Neither the standard of care for services by a design professional nor the nature of professional services would support the position that design must be perfect. Human error must be anticipated.

The American Institute of Architects distributes Best Practices as a service to its members. Standard of Care: Confronting the Errors-and Omissions Taboo Upfront is an AIA Best Practice that explains several important change order concepts.

  • Design is performed by architects as an intangible professional service, just like any other professional service, and it is subject to the same human limitations as the practice of medicine, law, aviation or accounting. Moreover, design documents are not products either-construction document drawings and specifications are simply instruments of the architect’s service, which is defined in law as intangible intellectual property1.

It is important to establish that construction drawings and specifications do not serve as an instruction manual to contractors on how to build a building. They serve to define project scope and design intent.

A report by the National Research Council has suggested that construction changes due to error and omission should not increase the cost of construction by more than 5%2. A similar study performed by the Construction Industry Institute (CII) found that the correction of design error and omission impacted the cost of construction in the range of 3%3. The AIA has suggested that a typical project could produce up to 7% of the contract’s value of change orders4. Therefore, depending on factors such as project complexity and time and fee constraints, the threshold of acceptability for errors and omissions based on nationally recognized studies and industry practice can be established in the range of 5%. This is an equivalent to 95% perfection.

In conclusion, architects are sought because of their special education, training, and skill. They have a professional duty to use ordinary skill and competence as members of their profession. The practice of Architecture does not pursue perfection, but rather strives for ordinary skill and care. Owners who hire architects, and contracts that rely on the architect’s work product, are not justified in expecting perfection, but should expect reasonable care and competence as any other profession.

Architectural Professional Liability Investigations

Robson Forensic employs architectural experts specializing in issues ranging from architectural design and code compliance to architectural standards and project management. Our architects have designed and built industrial, residential, commercial, and institutional projects and can help make sense of any issues relevant to your investigation.

To discuss your case with an expert submit an inquiry or contact the authors of this article.


  1. Dale L. Munhall, AIA and Leo A. Daly, Standard of Care: Confronting the Errors-and Omissions Taboo Upfront (AIA Best Practices, February 2011)
  2. L.G. Lewis Jr. P.E., Construction Contingency; Standard of Care vs. Cost of Design Errors and Omissions (Engineering Times, February 1999) p. 23
  3. Ibid.
  4. Barry B. Bramble, Michael T. Callahan, Construction Delay Claims (Aspen Publishers Online, 1999)

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Catherine Peterman, Architecture, Construction & Premises Safety Expert

Catherine Peterman, AIA, NCARB

Architecture, Construction & Premises Safety Expert
Catherine Peterman investigates cases involving construction disputes and defects, workplace and construction site safety, premises safety, and professional architectural practice. Catherine has… read more.