County to loosen energy code restrictions

  • A new home is under construction in the Kona Vistas Subdivision off Lako Street earlier this year. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — Changes to the county’s energy code aimed at making home construction more affordable, while still becoming more energy-efficient, are the subject of public “speakout” sessions for design and construction professionals early next week.

The 40-page draft code would replace the International Energy Conservation Code that went into effect in August, after Hawaii County missed the deadline to implement amendments.


Maui had modified its code in March, and Kauai modified its in November, leaving Hawaii County and Oahu using the state code. The City and County of Honolulu adopted amendments to the code last week, according to a Department of Public Works bulletin.

The sessions are scheduled for 5-6:30 p.m. Monday at Aupuni Center in Hilo and Tuesday in council chambers at the West Hawaii Civil Center.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, chairwoman of the council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit, said she hopes to see suggestions and justification for changes from those in the field who are directly affected by the changes. Lee Loy hopes to schedule a committee hearing on the measure Dec. 3.

“We heard a big outcry from the design professionals and I applaud the department for putting something together in the 90-day timeframe,” Lee Loy said, “which lends itself all the more reason for the professionals to show up Monday and Tuesday.”

Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder, an electrician, was happy to see amendments coming from the department. He said some quick cost comparison shows a possible 3% to 7% increase in the cost of building an average home under the proposal.

Still, he said, the construction changes should save money in the long run as well as make residents more comfortable.

“Keep in mind though, this summer was hot — it’s still hot! There is no ignoring that our climate is changing,” Kanealii-Kleinfelder said. “Our Public Works Department staff has done a tremendous job of amending the state version and adapting it to meet our own needs.”

The proposed code, published Tuesday, tracks many of the changes Maui and Kauai made, while also including changes specific to Hawaii Island.

For example, the current requirement of fully insulated roofs would be replaced by a choice of at least one of these three options: Energy Star compliant roof covering, radiant barrier or attic ventilation via a solar attic fan, or ridge or gable ventilation. That proposal was made after the Roofing Contractors of Hawaii reported the existing international code would double the cost of roof insulation.

The new version also allows jalousie windows, a popular and low-cost way to passively cool homes on the island. And it would make the blower door test, where an air-c0nditioned building is tested to see if it’s airtight, discretionary rather than mandatory.

The proposed code doesn’t prohibit the use of nonstandard materials or construction, such as in indigenous Hawaiian architecture. It gives the building code official discretion to require construction plans, research reports and tests prepared by a registered design professional in order to determine whether to allow lower energy standards.

The code applies to new construction and major renovations, not existing structures.

Once the Building Division gets feedback, the County Council will consider a bill to implement the changes, which will allow further public input during the council meetings.


The Building Division is asking design and construction professionals to read the draft code and bring written recommendations, such as additions or deletions, as well as justification for the amendments and contact information for additional follow-up. That information can also be emailed to

The draft energy code can be found at

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