Wednesday, September 10, 2008


House kits are a popular way to build houses in Hawaii as they solve many of the construction issues unique to Hawaii.

One of the problems when building a house in Hawaii is that key structural components and hardware shipped in from the mainland are hard to replace if they get broken or were missing from the primary shipping container. We met an owner builder who had a house kit shipped from Seattle in a Matson box. He calculated that it would save him $8000 over a kit bought in Hawaii. During construction, a key roof truss was damaged. The house construction was delayed 6 weeks while a replacement component was trucked from a lumber mill in Seattle, put into a container (all by itself), then shipped to Hawaii. That was not his only problem. When it was time to put the roof on, it turns out that the specialized nails were not included in the kit and were not available locally. He had to have them air freighted over from the mainland. He was really sorry he did not buy a kit locally. Hawaii house kits resolve the problem of long delays for parts from the mainland by having the parts and replacement parts stored locally. Broken or defective parts can be replaced quickly from local stocks.

Another challenge of building in Hawaii is getting skilled construction workers. Construction companies here can’t get labor from neighboring states (or countries) as they do on the mainland for residential construction projects. Highly skilled construction people are in short supply, as Hawaii is one of the favorite places for heads of major companies and wealthy movie producers from around the world to build vacation getaways. Whenever we find someone new to town with construction skills, it is not long before they are working full time on some multimillion dollar home project, making much more money than we could pay. Though many of the house kits require significant skills to construct, the crews on the island have built them many times before so they go up quickly without many unexpected problems or shortages of critical materials.

Security is a serious issue when building a house in Hawaii as theft of construction materials is very common. There is even a term for houses built with stolen materials; it is called a “found house” meaning “I found a little of it here and a little of it there”. This is a particularly difficult challenge if the house is being built in a remote area. Our building project in Ocean View ended when we were advised by several builders that before they would consider making an offer to build, a plan for the security of the materials would have to be worked out. Several ideas were proposed to resolve the issue. One idea was to get a trailer or camper so we could live there for the duration of construction. Another suggestion was to first build an Ohana, a small one bedroom house at the front of the property so it would be available for someone to live there to provide the needed security for the house when we were not there and to provide a place for us or workers to live during the construction. Kits help alleviate the security costs by reducing the construction time requiring less time and expense on providing security.

Reducing the construction time can also save you the cost of alternative housing during construction and the cost of gas if the crew is commuting from another area. Local contractors have a very high level of skill in building the popular house kit models and they can offer valuable ideas about how to configure a model to best meet your needs. For example, the model could be built with higher interior walls (9 foot ceilings instead of 8 foot ceilings) to get more air flow, the master bathroom could be expanded into the space of one of the bedrooms, and decking for the porch could be upgraded . The county building permits process, which can take a while, may go faster with a well known kit model since the county has seen and approved the same blueprints repeatedly. Some people with building skills build the kits themselves. A family from Alaska built an HPM kit house in about 90 days, during their normal winter stay away from Alaska. It is an exceptionally well built house even though they were not professionals in construction.

Locally designed house kits are often architected for Hawaii and its special climate and insect issues. The houses usually have long overhangs, large lanais, and good air flow.

Though we received a permit for an HPM house kit, the security issue convinced us that the time was not right for us to build. Building in a remote area of Hawaii means you have to be ready to spend the majority of your time there or have another person that is willing to be there. Though we feel the draw of being on acreage in Hawaii, we’ve lived on a remote on acreage in Texas in the past and after six months found ourselves constantly driving to town for food, friendships and entertainment. We are looking at areas to build in the Hilo area so someday we can have the best of living in Hilo and our own place. So far, renting is working out really well and keeping us from considering a move.

If you decide to build, then finding a great contractor is critical. Our advice is to find the company you’re going to use for your construction loan. They have contractors that they have worked with in the past and are usually happy to recommend the good ones. A construction loan requires regular inspections before each milestone payment is made which gives loan companies a great view of the better builders. Asking several mortgage companies for their contractor recommendations for a given area and project provides a way to find out who is highly thought of by lenders. We have worked with Tim Delozier at Amera Mortgage on building loans. We have found Tim and his staff very helpful and supportive through our challenges of building versus buying or in our case not-building in Hawaii .

Here are some House Kit links for Hawaii

Multi-facetted home kits are made in Oregon from cedar and shipped over in crates. We have been out to see these models in Puna and were very impressed with how they look and the people that we met that sell them. The house plans look even better to us after living here10 months because they are very open and airy. They are a round design which is easy to add a large porch.

Trojan Lumber in Hilo has added many new house model designs. Their Polynesian Series King model prices look very competitive. We have not met anyone who has built one of these so we are not sure how easy they are to build.

Kavana homes are very popular on the island because they will give you a price to build the house on your lot and you don’t have to have a contractor. We have seen these being built on many lots and the company has a model home near Hilo airport. But we have not met any one who has built one or had one built. The price looks very attractive but they are not our favorite designs because they look very “mainland”. The roof lines are short without large shaded porches and the windows are small. But the kits have price and convenience appeal.

HPM Hawaii house designs have been our favorite as they have a lot of Hawaii friendly designs and the price for materials is very reasonable. HPM keeps all the kit parts in stock; we haven’t heard of anyone having supply issues with their kits. The Lahula model is our favorite design as it has a great porch and an airy interior. We have seen these house plans finished, met people who have built them, and watched them being built. So far all reviews have been very good. Many contractors have extensive experience building this model which can speed up the project significantly.


Katherine said...

Thank you for this post! Can't wait to poke around those links. Loved your 10 tips for a great home in Hilo too.

I was just wondering about kit houses last week. I'm an Oahu expat currently in Cupertino =) and it's just so lovely to see how often we're on the same wave length. Thanks for inspiring us.

A reader since Dec 07,

Thais said...

You've selected the best model, I think, too! An "Island/Plantation" look with a nice floorplan and without the Mainland suburbia look. I can't understand why folks on this island select house styles which harken to the mid-west or the western, ranch style of the 60's!? This week I actually saw a Pennsylvania Deutch style barn, complete with hex and weathervane in Waimea... go figure!
By the way, thanks for posting your research on contractors and a bit on solar stuff as I earlier suggested.
Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Kavana homes is a general contractor.

Custom Home Packages said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Custom Home Packages said...

Custom Home Packages designed in the Island Style with outdoor living in mind. Team effort of two small local companies. Proficient Contracting and Accent Design Services both in business for over 15 years in Hawaii.

Mahalo From Koa

Anonymous said...

Anyone have an opinion on Castleblock Homes? I've never seen one up close, and even photos are hard to find. But no termites sounds great. Thanks!

Rusty5 said...

I built a Deltec house in Hilo 2 hrs ago, and love it. The are not inexpensive, but offer superior hurricane and earthquake advantages, as they were designed for the southern USA, and the Keys, etc. They are super strong, multifaceted, and have all of the weight on the exterior circumference. Therefore, there are no weight bearing interior walls! This means very high sloped ceilings throughout, and wall placement anywhere you desire.
The downside is they must be shipped from South Carolina, and e the Hilo planning dept. Took awhile to figure it all out and approve it. I don't think that will be a problem anymore, as I already paid that price. Hilo is a fabulous place to live!

Abner Kent said...

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