Community Spotlight: Things to Know When Building in Hawaii

Building your dream home in Hawaii can be an exciting process. However, if you’re not sure where to start, it may be helpful to at least know some of the permitting process details and zoning regulations. You’ll also need to know that each local area of Hawaii has additional codes and regulations along with the state requirements. Here are some of the general things you will want to know before building your dream home in the beautiful state.

Have a Plan

Before you begin your permitting process, you will need to have a plan. It’s best to work with a licensed architect who can help steer this process. You’ll be required to show a plot plan complete with details—including driveway easements, setbacks, utilities, and street names. Your plan needs to be in black and white with no photos.


In Hawaii, you’ll find several different residential zoning restrictions. It is important to know building lot restrictions. For example, you’ll see different “R” factors pertaining to specific lots. The “R” will be followed by a number representing square footage. You’ll see something that looks like R5 for a zoning regulation. The “5” represents 5,000 square feet. This means that you are allowed to build a single family home with one kitchen per 5,000 square feet. For homes that are zoned R10, you are permitted to build two single family homes with separate kitchens. This may be important if you plan on building a guest cottage on the premises.

Special Zoning Considerations for Oceanfront Living

If you plan on your dream home having a luxurious ocean view, you may want to understand the exact constraints for your ocean front property. Most ocean front properties in Hawaii come standard with special zoning requirements. Hawaii is well known for shoreline conservation, which can oftentimes be difficult to navigate. “Special Management Areas” are coastline protections that state additional environmental regulations. Furthermore, you need to remember that all beaches in Hawaii are public, which can put a damper on your private paradise. Talk to your architect about landscape design too.

Building Green

Building in Hawaii gives you the opportunity to work with your architect to design an environmentally friendly home. Building green is a great way to ensure Hawaii maintains its beauty with minimal impact. Sustainable living is encouraged on Hawaii, and Hawaii does have some of the most expensive energy costs within the U.S. Therefore, you may be hoping to make use of the Hawaiian sunshine to lower energy costs. Sadly, solar power net metering may not work for you here. Hawaii is in a bit of a green pickle when it comes to green energy. Most net metering programs have been halted due to excess energy. However, you can still build your home completely off grid — but expect to pay a little more. If you intend for your home to take advantage of the natural sun and wind for power, discuss with your architectural team first.

Advice from a Pro

Residing in Hawaii is definitely living the dream. Foregoing the building process alone isn’t recommended. In fact, you’ll find that with state building codes and additional local regulations, it’s best to entrust the planning and building of your dream to an expert. Smith Brothers has had the pleasure of building extraordinary properties spread throughout the islands of Hawaii, including Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island. Contact us today for more information on building your dream home in Hawaii!

If you enjoyed this blog you may want to read our blog about, “The Environmental Benefits of a Sustainable Home.”

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