Friday, April 29, 2011

Hawaii style house kit appeal

After living on the Big Island for over three years now, we are still surprised at the large number of “cold climate” style houses that are built in Hawaii. While looking for lava xenoliths at Kiholo beach recently, I marveled at  a huge ocean front mansion with no eaves to keep direct sunlight from beaming into the windows and not a single window that opened to let in the fresh ocean breezes. Further down the beach is a house that is almost the opposite known locally as “the Bali house”. It is completely open to the air and was built with logs from the Indonesian Island of Borneo, but since this part of Hawaii is drier than Indonesia, the logs shrunk and split requiring extensive retrofitting. We continue to study house designs that take into consideration the costs of building, the long term cost of ownership, minimizing utilities, with the best architecture for the Hawaii climate. When we add it all up, Hawaii style house kits continue to have great appeal both for functionality and overall costs.

The most comfortable houses in Hawaii are designed to keep the living space cool and bug free. Long overhanging roofs that cover large lanais are popular in local houses because they keep the sun from shinning directly into the windows and heating up the house. They also allow all the windows to be open all the time, even in driving rain without water splashing into the house. Large, open interior spaces maximize air flow. The popular pier and beam construction in Hawaii raises the house above the damp ground and can add protection from bugs. Most Hawaii style house kits use these design elements to keep the house cool, bug free, and minimize the need for air conditioning.

Another benefit of using a local Hawaii style house kit is that the materials are kept on the island so if a building part is broken or missing during construction, you don’t have to wait for a shipment from the mainland. Local construction crews have experience building the popular versions of the houses and the county permit process is often smoother since the blue prints are well known by those on the zoning committees.

HPM’s Lauhala house design is our favorite with 1345 square feet, including 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, plus another 450 square feet of covered lanai. The cost of building a house kit can vary a lot depending on how much of the work you do yourself. In 2005, I met a family with two teenage boys that built the Lauhala house kit in 60 days. They claimed their cost of construction (excluding living expenses) was $42,000, which was basically the cost of the house kit. This didn’t include the water catchment or septic system or the cost of connecting to electric, land etc. It did include several upgrades to the materials used for the large lanai and kitchen counter tops. It may not be a typical scenario since the Dad and his sons had some minor building experiences, but the house turned out great even though it was the family’s first attempt at building a kit. The same kit has risen in cost to $61,400 and, according to HPM, they are planning to raise the price even further in the next couple of weeks.

To get a contractor to build a kit house, versus building it yourself, adds significantly more costs. Contractors that I spoke to projected the following charges in addition to the cost of the house kit itself:

  • Security at the building site– around the clock for 60 days at $17 an hour = $24,480.
  • Fuel costs - getting crews to and from a remote site at 3 trucks a day for 40 days of construction = $9,000. (this is likely to be substantially higher with the rising cost of gas).
  • Construction workers - 4 workers x 40 hours a week for 8 weeks at $25 to $35 an hour (net cost includes social security, tax, workers comp, sick days, lics, other worker costs) = $32,200 to $44,800
  • Contractor costs of management, risk, and profit = $40,000
The total cost in this case comes to $140,000 plus the cost of the kit and other costs assuming no delays due to weather or lack of workers. Building some or part of the kit yourself or even living on the site to provide security and support can make a big difference in defraying the costs of the construction making a house kit a more affordable option.

If you are thinking about building in Hawaii, check out HPM’s house designs to get an idea of popular features for the Hawaii climate. HPM currently offers 14 house kits many of which have the best Hawaii style designs we have seen.

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