Lee Loy amendment to fix ‘lame’ requirement of permits for window AC units

  • A window air conditioning unit is seen at Hale Halawai. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • A window air conditioning unit is seen at Hale Halawai. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

In the wake of a Department of Public Works press release that drew scorn when it was re-posted on Mayor Harry Kim’s official Facebook page, Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy has written an amendment to the construction code clarifying that building permits are not required to install a window air conditioning unit.

Lee Loy said Tuesday she was motivated to make a quick fix because of “just how lame the whole idea sounded. I was thinking, you need to pull a permit or pay a fine that could be higher than the actual cost of an AC unit had me rolling my eyes and knowing we needed to fix this.”

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The county’s July 7 announcement, also sent to media as a press release, stated “Air conditioners fall under Hawaii County Code Section 5-19(a) of the recently updated Energy Code and existing residential construction falls under Section R503.2 as amended. Obtaining a permit for your air conditioning system enables you to have peace of mind knowing that the system is compatible with your home’s electrical system.”

It went on to note in a Q&A section, “What if I buy an air conditioner that fits in a window opening? That type of air conditioner also requires a building permit.”

Permits would range from a minimum of $10 to $200 and should be granted within a week, the press release states. Fines for not getting a permit could range up to $1,000 per day, and those who installed a unit or system without a permit should get an “as-built” permit, the press release said.

The county administration deleted the post the following day, after hundreds of negative comments. But Lee Loy, who chairs the Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit, in a joint press release with DPW Director David Yamamoto, said Tuesday the first press release “caused significant alarm but also provided a timely opportunity for correction.”

Hawaii County is the only county in the state requiring a building permit to install a window AC unit.

The County Council is scheduled July 22 to consider Bill 179, creating a new construction code. Lee Loy’s amendment, along with three technical amendments, will be considered at that time.

The amendment exempts permit requirements from window-mounted AC units in residential units where emergency egress is not impaired, exempts portable AC systems and exempts maintenance and repair that do not cost more than $7,500, rather than the current limit of $4,000.

Permit requirements will continue to apply to permanent air-conditioned systems, more commonly known as central or split air-conditioner systems.

Lee Loy said she “pushed real hard to get this done,” because she wanted to give the public time to read the amendment and be able to comment on it at next week’s meeting. Public comment can be submitted online or in person at the council meeting.

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Lee Loy said her research of the county’s building permit database did not find any cases where people applied for a building permit for a window AC unit. The county Building Division said in a statement the current law has been in effect since 2009, and the permit process gives it the opportunity to “evaluate the impact of larger concerns related to obstructions of emergency egress.”

(The County Council meeting date has been corrected in this article.)

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