Building code: Council balks at increased home construction cost

  • Forms are in place for the foundation of a new home being built on Alii Drive across from Lyman’s Beach at Holualoa Bay. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Forms are in place for the foundation of a new home being built on Alii Drive across from Lyman’s Beach at Holualoa Bay. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Forms are in place for the foundation of a new home being built on Alii Drive across from Lyman's Beach at Holualoa Bay. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

A cost-conscious County Council balked at new construction code requirements that builders say could add at least $10,000 to the cost of building a home.

The council on Wednesday postponed action on Bill 44, the proposed building code, to give the council and administration a chance to work out cheaper alternatives in some sections of the code, such as the one that would require sheathing under rooftops on new construction.


The code prescribes a minimum of 5/8-inch sheathing when trusses are 2-foot on center and 3/4-inch sheathing when trusses are 4-foot on center.

Sheathing plywood currently costs consumers almost $100 a sheet for 5/8 inch plywood and more for 3/4 inch sheets.

Joe Belisario, a planning consultant with 40 years experience and owner of Hawaii Design Group, told the council that local people are already priced out of the housing market, and the proposed building code would make it worse.

“If we are trying to streamline the process, we’re gong backward,” Belisario said.

Several architects, however, asked the council to move the new code forward. If the county doesn’t meet its deadline to adopt the 2018 code, the county will automatically revert to the statewide 2012 code, which hasn’t been amended to incorporate specific local elements, they said. The county is currently using the 2006 code.

“Keeping current with model codes benefit the health and safety of communities that use them,” Kona architect Terry Cisco said in testimony. “If we choose to lag behind current safety and energy codes and demonstrate stubbornness to code improvements, the quality of building stock will continually be lowered.”

County Public Works officials say there is a self-imposed deadline to begin using the new code in November. It’s unknown what ramifications it could face from the state if it doesn’t meet the deadline, after having asked Gov. David Ige for a one-year extension last year.

Acting Deputy Building Chief Neal Tanaka said the code is prescriptive, meaning design professionals can use the code as a recipe, or they could “design it out,” proving to the county they can create the “structural load path.”

Bottom line, he said, safety has to prevail, although certain aspects of the code will be less onerous than in the past. For example, the old code required the entire structure to be brought up to the most current codes if renovation costs exceeded 50% of the building value, which dissuaded many from renovating their homes. Now, design professionals have more flexibility to show which components would need to be brought to code, he said.


Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, who installs solar panels, said he’s been on plenty of rooftops in his business, and he has yet to see them inadequate for the job, even without sheathing.

But Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, chairwoman of the council’s Public Works and Mass Transit Committee, said there are other ways housing costs can be reduced without sacrificing safety. A home could be built without a garage, for example, or with fewer cabinets, she said.

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