You’ve been collecting pictures of your dream kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and ideal layout. You’ve weighed the pros and cons of building versus buying in Hawaii. And you have decided to build!
But how much does it cost to build a home in Hawaii? And what are some unexpected costs?
Pat Bader, owner of Acumen Builders Ltd, based in Hawaii Kai, has been remodeling and building homes in Hawaii for nearly three decades – seeing homes go from foundational studs to luxury dwellings.
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Lex Allen, owner of Solid Build Construction, Inc., based in Kapolei, has built custom homes, additions, and lanais, and done full remodels, including kitchens and bathrooms, across Oahu.
With their many years of experience in the home building business, Pat and Lex kindly offer their advice for future Hawaii home builders.
What is the average price per square foot to build a home in Hawaii?
According to Rider Levett Bucknall, an international leader in the construction industry, the following are residential construction costs in Honolulu:
Low (per square foot) – $290High (per square foot) – $780
Low (per square foot) – $205High (per square foot) – $455
Pricing can vary depending on if you hire a general contractor or choose the owner-builder route. When asking for pricing from various contractors and friends, we”ve found the low-average for a single-family home to be around $250 per square foot.
How much does it cost to build a kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom, or master bedroom in Hawaii?
While there are many variables when building a room, the following chart give the basic, low-end cost with no customization to typically build a room on Oahu:
Cost by Room
Kitchen – Minimum $25,000Bathroom – Minimum $15,000Living Room – Minimum $125 per square footBedroom – Minimum $125 per square footMaster Bedroom – Minimum $125 per square foot
What are some additional upgrade costs that people might consider?
“Upgrades typically add 10-15 percent to the baseline cost. Some upgrades will add even more. There are many different upgrades that people consider in the home-building process:
Appliances, such as refrigerators, stove hoods, dishwashers, ovens, washing machines, and dryers. Different brands, materials, and features have different costs. The low-end appliances typically have white glazing and are from brands like Kenmore or Whirlpool. Kenmore and Whirlpool have a range of options, including more luxury-like appliances with stainless steel. Brands like Bosch, Viking, Sub-Zero, and KitchenAid are typically considered more upper-end appliances and cost more.Flooring. A lot of companies make economy flooring with a certain millimeter and a luxury model with a thicker type of flooring. Sometimes companies will additionally include underlayment materials, such as sound proofing and moisture barriers. Interlocking flooring, such as the currently popular vinyl and laminate flooring, is typically thicker and an upgraded cost. There are pricey luxury vinyl interlocking systems that sometimes even compare at price to the typically highest costing flooring – exotic hardwoods and travertine tile.
Trims. The basic type of trim usually is a manufactured or pre-primed wood. An upgraded trim would be hardwood or stain-grade wood.Cabinetry. American-made cabinets typically cost two to three times more than cabinets made in China. There are particleboard, solid wood, and many other materials used for cabinets, which often drive the cost.Countertops. Entry-level counters are typically laminate and post-formed tops. Mid-level counters would be prefabricated quartz or granite. Marble, quartz, and Corian usually cost more as they come in sheets or slabs and require onsite templating and fabrication.Swimming pools, lanais, entertainment areas, views. Upgrades to build a pool, an expansive outdoor space, indoor movie theater, or vast windows to take in the view can all add to the cost of building a home.
When I build a home, I will put together a building schedule with the material price list as well as the labor cost. This allows clients to consider and select their upgrades and see the total cost of the build.” -Pat Bader
“Additional upgrade costs typically include the following:
Upgraded waterproofing in showersUpgraded moisture management (moisture barriers or flashings) on exteriorsUpgraded cabinets and vanitiesUpgraded flooringUpgraded lightingCentral air conditioning with energy recovery ventilatorsUpgraded insulation and home sealingSmart home wiring and technologySolar panels
Upgraded, energy efficient windowsUpgraded exterior fiber cement siding and trimUpgraded exterior fasteners (i.e. stainless steel)Upgraded roofing (i.e. metal)Exterior features, such as lanais, pergolas, decks, pools, and outdoor kitchens
There is a lot you can do if your budget allows for it, but you do not want to skip on hiring a contractor that goes above and beyond the building code. Hire someone that studies best building practices and the latest building sciences.” -Lex Allen
What are the additional unforeseen costs after the build begins?
“When doing a remodel, one of the big unforeseen costs in Hawaii is hidden wood rot and termite damage to beams or other structural members.
Mechanical elements, like plumbing or electrical, might add to the cost of a remodel. A home might have faulty electrical wiring; faulty wiring could be due to improper workmanship, damaged wire insulation, and corrosion.
For a new build, a common unforeseen cost is in the excavation process, if a geotechnical survey was not conducted by a civil or soils engineer before excavating. Builders may run into bedrock or “blue rock” that cannot be easily excavated without heavy machinery and additional labor. Hire a civil or soils engineer to determine the stability of the land and what would be needed for a suitable foundation before beginning the build.
If you have a well-planned new build, you will have minimal unforeseen costs.” -Pat Bader
Do you recommend people having an extra budget before they begin a build?
“Yes, I recommend people have a minimum of 10 to 15 percent of the build cost as an extra budget. Some people might want to have even more. Typically what happens during a new build is there is a change of heart or desire to alter the design. Sometimes people decide to do upgrades that they initially thought they did not want.
I once did a second-story addition, and when the owners walked onto the newly built floor, they saw first-hand their new, incredible view. They decided to put a large window in a wall that previously did not have one, and they also relocated the air conditioner. Those sorts of design changes should be anticipated.
A lot of times these changes will occur for upgrades too. When people are looking at finishes during the project, they think, ‘Why not? We aren’t going to go through this type of construction process again for a long time.’ These are upgrades they have considered all along, and at some point, they realize they want to spend the extra money on the upgrades – whether that be roofing, electrical and plumbing fixtures, windows, cabinets, flooring, or appliances.” -Pat Bader
“Sometimes people are very nervous before they begin a build, so they want everything to their budget. However, as they enter into the building process and begin to trust their contractor, they start to see that construction costs are expensive, and the budget is what it is. Meaning, the contractor has to stick to the budget.
But people usually start to explore other ideas as they start building, as it is an exciting process. Therefore, it is recommended to have a “dream” side budget for little wanted things that weren’t discussed at the beginning due to the cost.
I recommend having 10-20 percent additional for “dream” items. Therefore, if you are doing a $200,000 build, you might have an additional $20,000 to $40,000 saved.” -Lex Allen
What are some items that people should consider before building a home in Hawaii?
“Regarding lot location and a new build, I always ask my clients, ‘Which way does the wind blow?’ The question takes on a double meaning.
It is important to know where the predominant trade winds are coming from and how best to design your home with optimal air flow. In Hawaii, a lot of people prefer fresh air, so it is important to understand air flow during the design and concept phase.
I also ask this question so that clients give thought to their neighborhood dynamics. In a home they previously owned or tore down, they knew what they liked or did not like and had more concrete ideas on how to enhance the view, block out noise, or locate items. When buying a new lot, it is important to identify those things as much as possible. Spend time at the lot observing noise, park locations, rains, wind, water drainage, and more.
It is really important to understand your lot before building. We all need a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedrooms, but understanding what is going on around you will enhance your final build.
Other questions to ask include the following:
How much space do you need?How many cars do you have?Do you need an office?Do you often host guests?Do you have children?Do you have an expanding family or are you downsizing?What are the views? In Hawaii, it is important to always optimize the view.Do you want to have outdoor areas? Do you want a lanai – covered or open?Do you want indoor entertaining areas?
Truly understanding your lot and thinking about future needs and wants for space are the main areas to consider before beginning a build.” -Pat Bader
What are some signs to look for when selecting a builder?
“Find a contractor who understands the complexities of the building process and systems: moisture and vapor management, bulk water management, proper air sealing and insulation, and durable construction materials. It is important the builder is passionate about the building sciences and cares about building a quality home. Let your architect design your dream house, and then hire a contractor to make sure the home is built to last.
Go around and look at other homes the builder has constructed:
Is the sliding less than four inches from the concrete or deck (or less than eight inches from the ground)? If yes, this is a sign the builder isn’t good.Some builders on Oahu run the floor joists all the way out to the deck/lanai. It is good for their budget, but it doesn’t give you a four-inch stepdown from the interior flooring to the deck. This means the siding will be too close to the exterior flooring of the lanai, and when it rains and is windy, that moisture will weep into your home.Are the roof-to-wall junctions on a two-story home flashed properly with one-piece kickout flashings?For example, if fiber cement siding was used, did the builder caulk the butt joints in the field? If yes, this is not a good builder. Fiber cement best practices advise not to caulk butt joints but to back-flash them instead.Are roof-to-wall junctions on a two-story home properly flashed with one-piece, prefabricated kickout flashings? If they are instead flashed with site-built flashings, this is not a good builder. Was an effective rainscreen system used behind the siding to alleviate moisture build up?Walk around the home at an arm’s length, about three feet away. Are the details constructed properly, or do you notice a rushed job?Is regular pressure-treated lumber or are notched 4×4 posts used for exterior applications? If so, that railing or deck might not be built to last.
When getting ready to build a house, try to find a builder that can sit down and educate you on building a home that endures the harsh elements of this hot, humid, coastal, Hawaii environment.” -Lex Allen