Type 1 Error: A error in design and/or implementation that costs you time, energy, money or emotional well-being as long as it remains present in the system.

Committing a Type 1 Error (T1E) is like building a bucket to carry water with wood that has been eaten through by termites – it’s going to leak, no way around it, but it still sort of works. You just lose a lot of water (waste a valuable resource), create a mess every time you use it (make extra work in cleaning up after each use) and have to make a bunch of extra trips to gather the water you need (spend more energy than if you had a leak-free bucket).

Type 1 Errors are often fundamental – i.e. something that a lot of other systems/elements depend on or are built on top of – and are often “discovered” when it is “too late” to do anything about them but deal with it. 

Type 1 Errors are expensive to fix once they are built into a system – usually because so many other things depend on the system being the way it is, and would themselves have to be re-designed and re-implemented in order to solve the issue at the root. 

Type 1 Errors are often allowed to persist due to the psychology of previous investment – “we’ve already put so much time/energy/money/equity/blood/sweat/tears into this, we can’t start over!” –  and for this reason are heavily biased towards remaining unchanged. The costs of fixing them will be felt in the present and near future, but the benefits are way off in the distant future. What is almost always discounted is the the slow, steady drain on your time, energy, finances and emotional wellbeing if the error remains unaddressed – “we’re used to it”, “It’s not that bad”, “We’ve made it work this far” – often because “it has always been this way”. For these reasons it is best to avoid at all costs committing Type 1 Errors them in the first place!

Fortunately for us, human beings have the gift of being able to change through insight, not just Pavlovian repetition!

Type 1 Error Warning Signs (Iceberg Dead Ahead!)

Failure to plan out your design process prior to beginning it.

  • Begin with a design framework (try Team Pulse, SADIMEA or GOBRADIME), edit the plan based on pre-planned feedback as you execute it.
  • Failure to plan the process = starting with details before pattern.
    • Critical things will be missed, and their absence will compound in the design until it is realized either “too late” in the process or in physical form upon implementation.

Details before pattern.

  • Know when you are getting ahead of yourself. Have the discipline to write down your awesome idea about where the fire pit should go and save it for when you reach the appropriate place in the design process. 
  • Make sure that the larger patterns inform the smaller details! (This is why we always start with a full site work up!).
  • Small details scaled up to broad pattern without knowledge of the whole create unproductive chaos, fragmented focus and set the compound effect working against you.

Failure to design in options.

  • More likely than not, something you design and implement will have to be re-designed and re-implemented – oh so rarely is it perfect the first time! Make sure to design in options to retrace your steps, rebuild, and reboot! 
  • This is why the permaculture principle starting with small-scale, intensive solutions is so important. Starting small gives you the option to start over.

T1E’s We Have Known

Type 1 “Invisible Structures” Errors

This is a short list of T1E’s we have witnessed or made in the realm of human relations. These are possibly the most damaging T1E’s, and of all the flavors, the most difficult to fix once made. They can also have the most profound impact once they are rectified.

  • Making verbal agreements without ultimately getting them in writing. Human beings are forgetful creatures, and we also have a tendency to remember things differently. Get it in writing.
    • GREAT RESOURCE: Joel Salatin’s book Fields Of Farmers outlines the process they use at Polyface Farm to create their Memorandums of Understanding with entrepreneurs running nested enterprises under the Polyface umbrella.
Cover of Joel Salatin’s Fields of Farmers.http://www.polyfacefarms.com/product/fields-of-farmers/
  • Failure to delineate procedures for handling disagreement before it even happens. We recommend that you establish co-owned principles held by decision makers within a given whole that guide how decisions are made. Do this work at the beginning of any large project or undertaking and get buy in from all stakeholders. See The Chaordic Stepping Stones for one possible process to guide you through this.
  • Lack of clear understanding between all parties of expectations (for behavior, contribution, communication etc). Write down individual expectations. Ensure they are heard and understood by everyone. Have everyone write down how they need to be interacted with in order to do their best work. Assume nothing!

Type 1 Infrastructure/Built Environment Errors

The symptoms of T1E’s in the built environment are most often dealt with by spending more money and energy for the lifetime of the structure. Most of the modern built environment is actually one giant compounded mess of T1E’s from the perspective of energy use, ecological impact and psychological well being (but we’ll save that for another post). Here are some T1E’s to be aware of for those of you building your own or retrofitting.

  • Placing thermal mass where it will be cold when you want it to  be warm, and warm when you want it to be cold. You will always be fighting this with either time, effort, money or all three at once!
    • Know your sun angles and where they are at different times of year when you want a heating or cooling effect. Align your needs with natural pattern.
  • Building in a flood plain. ‘Nuff said.
  • Lack of easy access to mechanical items that need physical tending to ensure proper function.
    • Don’t put your pig nipples so far inside the pen that you have to climb the fence everyday to check if they are working or not (been there, done that!).
  • Burying pipe when you don’t have to.
    • Either 1) don’t dig a trench if you don’t have to,  or 2) leave that trench open as long as you can – i.e. the system is running and functioning as intended for a while before you fill it in.
    • Document, label, and map which pipes are which and what they do before they get covered up! Measure key intersections of the buried line from permanent landmarks in case you have to get down there again someday!
  • Constructing PVC piping that requires cutting PVC to repair critical parts!
    • When linking numerous specialized pieces of irrigation equipment together (i.e. check valve -> pressure reducer -> bi-directional valve -> Mazzei Injector -> Master AC Valve etc.) make sure you can remove critical expensive pieces without having to cut them out! Use unions whenever possible, especially around the more pricey items like filters and electric valves to make that repair following a freeze-induced burst of a sonic weld SO much easier and quicker.

Type 1 Earthworks Errors

Earthworking T1E’s result in amplified erosion, top soil loss, ecosystem damage and a host of other environmental ills, some fixable and some potentially catastrophic (depending on scale). Holistic planning of earthworks and understanding both their desired function and capacity are critical in avoiding costly T1E’s that rear their ugly heads (usually when its wet and cold outside). Luckily, earthworking T1E’s are relatively straightforward to address with holistic design, hand tools, maybe tractors and some diesel fuel, and some sweat.

  • Constructing earthworks without adequate spillways for handling overflow. Run your numbers! Know your catchment area, know your max events, then build for something way bigger than that.
  • Putting the spillway on the dam wall. Yes, we’ve seen this (quite a lot actually). Spillways on dam walls are guaranteed to fail in an expensive way. Always discharge water over a properly sized sill a healthy distance away from your dam wall.
  • Cutting vertical edges on roadsides. Soil (even rock eventually) will eventually move to find a stable angle of repose. Gravity always wins in the long run.
  • Installing a culvert with less grade than the inbound water flow. Culverts are by nature a last-resort option for moving water away from sensitive areas. They concentrate flow, speed up water, discharge with high energy, and are prone to plugging (always when you need them the most). Often, they just move the problem from one side of the road to the other. See an example of the “not my problem” design method in action (starring poorly planned and maintained culverts) in our case study video on Double Fetch Compound Erosion.

Type 1 Animal System Errors

  • Placing feeding/sleeping/watering areas downslope from manuring areas. Gravity always works. To help keep animals healthy make sure gravity (i.e. slope, water flow pattern etc) is moving manure away from these areas.
  • Having understrength fencing (electric or tensile) for keeping what needs to stay inside in and what needs to stay outside out. Neighbors dogs and baby piglets, baby chicks, baby anything…

As always, this post is evergreen, and is regularly updated with new learning and experiences. If you have any T1E’s of your own to add to the list and are willing to share so that others may learn from your mistakes/experiences, please drop a comment and we’ll append it to this post. Thank you for reading!

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