Building code revisions ahead: County Council to take up last 2 pieces of construction requirements

  • A house under construction in 2018 in Hilo (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

The Big Island is moving into 2018. The 2018 international building code, that is.

After a year’s delay and consultation with contractors, business groups and members of the architectural, engineering and real estate sectors, the county administration has proposed adoption of two chapters of the code with county-specific amendments. The chapters cover new and existing residential buildings.


“The code is founded on principles intended to establish provisions consistent with the scope of a residential code that adequately protects public health, safety and welfare; provisions that do not unnecessarily increase construction costs; provisions that do not restrict the use of new materials, products or methods of construction; and provisions that do not give preferential treatment to particular types or classes of materials, products or methods of construction,” the administration told the County Council in a May 26 letter signed by Mayor Mitch Roth and Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst.

The 78-page proposed code, Bill 44, is scheduled to be taken up at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday by the council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit.

The code dictates everything from how much water you can add to your concrete when pouring a slab foundation to how many square feet you’ll need for each person in your safe room. Safe room doors will have to open inward, while swimming pool gates will have to open outward.

An area of much controversy when the council adopted the energy code — testing for air leakage in building thermal envelopes — won’t be necessary for spaces that aren’t air conditioned, but are required for spaces that will be.

Another costly item, the requirement for automatic sprinkler systems as a fire control, won’t be required until June 30, 2027, and will be exempt entirely in any new or existing detached one- or two-family dwelling unit in a structure used only for residential purposes, provided the structure doesn’t require a variance from access road or firefighting water supply requirements.

The State Building Code Council was established by the Legislature to adopt amendments to international fire, plumbing, building and electrical codes. Once the state council adopts its version of the codes, the counties have two years from that adoption date to make further amendments and adopt their own updates.

Hawaii County last year requested and received from Gov. David Ige a reprieve from meeting the deadline for the building code. In 2019, the county also missed the deadline for the International Energy Conservation Code and strict new regulations were put into effect that increased energy efficiency, but also raised the price of home construction.


A less stringent energy code was then passed in February, 2020, and in August, the council adopted electrical and plumbing code updates in addition to passing a measure to reorganize the construction codes to help streamline the law.

“Bill 44 moves in the last two chapters, the residential and existing building codes and completes the framework to house our construction codes in one place,” Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, chairwoman of the Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit, said Friday. “This is significant, and now gives the community and DPW a comprehensive cookbook for work on existing structures and residential construction practices.”

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