Building on the Big Island: Step 7 – Navigating the Building Process in Hawaii

Construction Standards

In recent years, construction standards have been increased to more closely follow the lead of the mainland. Hawaii County is using the 2018 International Building Code/IBC with the addition of many county modifications. These can be found online here. There is some very helpful information on this website, particularly in the Building > Permit Information section. The Tips for First Time Home Builders are really important to review if you have never built here before.

Building on the Big Island of Hawaii

Who You Must Work With

You must use a Hawaii-licensed architect, electrician, plumber, and Hawaii-licensed general contractor if you are not building as an owner/builder.

Potential Hazards You Must Plan For

There are some important potential natural hazards that you prepare for in your building plans, including:

  • Hurricanes – Our effective design maximum wind speed in most of Kona is 110 miles per hour.
  • Earthquakes – The seismic category is level E, which is high and similar to California. Safe rooms are not required in a residence. County inspectors and architects must review, sign-off, and inspect foundations and framing. We build mostly with Douglas Fir wood framing as does the west coast of the U.S. Wooden trusses are used for roof construction. Fully wrapping the house framing envelope in shear panels (plywood) for strength is a difference here.
  • Termites – For termite protection framing lumber must be treated by soaking in a borate (salt) solution upon arrival in the state. Plus, if using a concrete slab foundation, ground treatment prior to the pour is required.
Building on the Big Island of Hawaii

Permits and Inspections

County of Hawaii building permits are inexpensive, $1000-$2000 typically for everything. (Note: Hawaii County does not tie infrastructure improvements to building permit costs.)

Slow permit processing is typical, as are inspection delays. (It would be nice to pay more for a higher level of service.) County of Hawaii has changed from a face-to-face building permit process to the online “epic” system. All submissions are now uploaded. Permit processing is a minimum of 3 months and there is often a backlog creating a wait of 6-9 months.

There are very few required inspections, however, your architect of record is required to inspect the structural integrity after roof truss installation.

Building on the Big Island of Hawaii

Additional Pieces to Keep in Mind

Construction delays are few if you plan ahead. Rain usually comes before or after building hours. Workers do not disappear to go surfing (very often). People are typically happy to be here and are friendly with the Aloha spirit. Give them time to enjoy Hawaii also. Does your project really need to be completed that fast? Slow down a bit and enjoy the process.

Big box stores and lumberyards are well stocked and close by. However, when you need something that is not available from these resources, the items are not just a day’s trucking away as on the mainland. All special orders that must be shipped are two to three months out. Plan well and in advance for these types of delays.

Some of the pandemic and subsequent building boom delays are still with us. Manufacturing is catching up…slowly. Some items are still hard to get and still expensive, e.g. metal roofing.

Home costs shot up 22% on average between 2021 and 2023. Lumber costs are dropping some. However, overall costs do not seem to be receding much.

Construction start time delays are long as the island’s labor force is working through the backlog from the influx of buyers moving here in 2021 and 2022.