Friday, August 31, 2012

Hawaii’s extraordinary “average” home

The US Census and other data collecting organizations have ranked the average Hawaii home the highest of all states in the US in numerous categories including cost, size of household, and ethnicity of home dwellers. The average Hawaii home is anything but average when compared to homes on the mainland.

Homes in the state of Hawaii have the highest average value in the US with an average price of $537,400 in 2010.  The second highest ranked state was California with an average home price of $458,500.  Despite being the highest priced, the average Hawaii home is almost half the size of an average mainland home at 1300 square feet versus 2700 square feet.   The cost difference of an average home in Hawaii and an average home in Mississippi, which has the lowest priced homes at $96,000 on average, is over 559% for a home that is half the size.  When comparing the cost per square foot of a house, Hawaii is in a league of its own at about $413 a square foot, on average.

Hawaii also tops the list for the average size of household in the US, which means on average more people are living in a Hawaii home, even though they are half the size.  The high cost of rentals and homes in Hawaii makes it common for extended families to live under one roof.  We notice that people without family in Hawaii tend to have roommates to help cover the high cost of rent. 

The people that dwell in the average home in Hawaii are also unique as compared to the mainland.  Close to 50% of Hawaii residents are Asian or Polynesian and another 25% of the residents are two or more races.  Hawaii is the only state in the US where less than 25% of the residents are white and whites are a minority.

One of the things we find refreshing about life in Hawaii is how different living here is from the mainland. People in Hawaii have a unique way of doing things and there is no other place like it in the US.  The high cost of living in Hawaii ensures that everyone living on the islands really wants to be here.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hawaii and sun protection

Every year we visit our dermatologist and  wonder if something will have to be cut off, frozen off, or sampled for cancer.  Even though we pour on high-SPF sunscreen every day, having fair skin in the tropical Hawaiian sun increases our risk of getting skin cancer.  This year, the Doctor told some things about sunscreen and skin cancer that we did not know.

The SPF (skin protection factor) number used for sunscreen is based on a “fractional calculation” of the amount of sunlight being blocked which is 1 divided by the SPF number. So, SPF 15  allows 1/ 15th of the sunlight through which means it blocks about 93% of the sunlight.  SPF 30 allows 1/30th of the sunlight through, which blocks 96% of the sunlight. We didn’t realize that doubling the SPF number only meant that 3% more of the sunlight was blocked. 

The SPF number on sunscreen is only related to blocking Ultra Violet B (UVB) rays which cause sunburns.  We use sunscreen and usually stay inside from 9AM-4PM in Hawaii when UVB is the strongest.  Though that protects us from sunburn,  it turns out that UVB is not the primary cause of skin cancer. 

Ultra Violet A (UVA) rays have been known to damage the skin, but it also responsible for giving you a great tan.  Only recently was it was discovered that UVA exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer.  This is a problem because UVA is the same strength all day, so doing our walks later in the afternoon is not providing us any protection from it.  We assumed that the thick vog (volcanic emissions) in Kona was filtering out all the UV rays, but UVA goes right through clouds and vog.  We are even exposed behind a glass window inside our house or car. Researchers believe that this is one of the reasons workers in offices with large windows have increased rates of skin cancer. Our Hawaii tans and freckles are from five years of UVA, even though we thought we were minimizing our sun exposure.
The  FDA has not approved a SPF-like rating for UVA, so using sunscreen does not necessarily provide any protection. There are some ingredients that are thought to help block UVA such as oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide, however it is not known how much protection they really offer.

We like spending time on the beach and soaking up the Hawaiian sunlight, so keeping track of how much time we are outside as well as wearing hats and covering up is our best protection. Meanwhile, we hope that more is learned about the risks and benefits of UVA.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lowering the Cost of Living in Hawaii with Online Shopping

Shopping for fresh produce on Hawaii Island is a delight. The huge selection of fruits, vegetables, beef, pork, chicken, and lamb raised on Hawaii Island makes many healthy foods abundant and affordable.  Shopping for organic grains, oils, and health supplements not grown on the island, however, is a major challenge. We have waited for weeks for health supplements and organic grains to be available in island stores. The lack of merchandise and high prices have led us to shop online for our “mainland health foods”.

Perishable foods from the mainland have to be transported a long distance in refrigerated containers. The cost of shipping increases the prices of imported goods by 25% to 75% and the products are usually close to being out of date. Even non-perishable organic foods are often quite old by the time they show up in our island’s stores. We assume this is because they are warehoused on the mainland before being shipped to Hawaii. We have been buying from Amazon for years, but during the past year we have increased our food and supplement purchases from them. Amazon has slowly added a large selection of organic health foods and they have also provided a new way to dramatically lower the cost of transporting the goods to Hawaii.

When we purchased an Amazon Kindle last year, we received a month free of “Amazon Prime”, which costs $79 a year to join after a free month.  The first month we found so many good deals on organic grains with free shipping that we decided to join. We were sure we could save the $79 over the course of a year just on shipping costs. (Amazon Prime also includes other stuff like a Kindle library, free TV shows, movies, etc.).

The online prices for Prime seem to change frequently and shipping is sometimes free one day and not the next, so we watch closely. For foods that we eat frequently, like rice and pasta, we order them by the dozen.This strategy has allowed us to buy pastas, rice, and flours, for up to 66% less than any store on the island; a package of organic rice pasta is $2.75 versus $6 from the local health food store when they have it. Some products come to us directly from the mill or factory, so the food is extremely fresh. Even better, the packages are delivered by FedEx, UPS, or USPS to our doorstep so we do not have to pay for gas to go buy it.

We have a list of things we buy repeatedly,so when we see a good price with no shipping costs, we make the purchase. Since we shop regularly, we created a Hawaii Amazon Food Store with the health supplements and food products we buy.

Recently, we tried buying something different then food online, something much bigger. We have been planning to replace our mattress for over a year.  Our last bed cost $2000, so even though we have been uncomfortable for some time, we have been reluctant to spend money to buy a new one. We wanted to try out a memory foam mattresses, but the ones advertised on TV are about $1500 and even the cheaper versions are about $800 for a 12 inch thick queen-size mattress.  We considered the choices at COSTCO and wondered how we would ever get the huge, heavy box home. Since we have never tried this type of mattress, and some online reviewers complained that they made them hot at night, we were concerned about investing in an unknown.

On a whim, we searched on Amazon Prime, and were surprised to find a 12 inch memory foam mattress with great reviews and free shipping to Hawaii for $388.99.  The price seemed unreal compared to what we had seen elsewhere, so we ordered it. Four days later, a huge box arrived and was carried in by a very strong FEDEX guy. Having read the reviews, we knew not to open the box until it was in the bedroom. We managed to push the box up the stairs and when we cut it open, out flopped a tightly packed, thin roll of foam. When the binding was cut, the foam instantaneously expanded into a queen size square.

After an hour, the mattress had risen almost 10 inches and by evening it was fully expanded to 12 inches. Our house is warm, about 85 degrees, so that helped the foam to expand quickly.  The mattress is the most comfortable we have ever slept on in our life and we are having excellent nights of sleep.

Even on a remote island, there are ways to “shop” and get low cost deals that improve our health and the quality of our life in Hawaii.