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Finding a Contractor: How to go from Good to Great

Do you know the difference between a good contractor and a great one?

We’ve all heard horror stories about bad contractors—they miss project deadlines, don’t stick to the budget, or deliver sub-par work. But when you’re building your dream home, you want more than just a good contractor, you want a great one. Think you know the difference? Here’s the checklist that could take your project from finished to fantastic.


Thinks Ahead

Good contractors will work with you to map out the scope of your project and create a timeline for the building process. But a great contractor goes further and establishes contingency plans to accommodate for the unexpected—a plan for delays caused by weather or establishing a list back up suppliers if construction materials run short. Given erosion risks during Hawaii’s rainy season, and the long wait time for any materials ordered from the mainland, a great contractor is necessary to help keep your project on track.

Experienced but Innovative

 It’s important to find a contractor with a history of successful builds, especially one who will allow you to visit active construction sites or finished projects to get a better feel for their work. But while experience is important, high-caliber contractors make sure to pair their on-the-job training with a willingness to stay up-to-date on the best practices in construction and design. Ask a potential contractor what professional organizations they participate in, and how they are adapting their procedures to accommodate the latest in technology, home safety, and environmental sustainability. Great contractors are committed to continued excellence, while good ones tend to play it safe.


 While you won’t find a good contractor’s name or business connected to a bad review online, you want more than just an absence of poor practice when looking for the right person to build your home. As you research contractors, remember to look for both positive reviews and the recommendations of friends and neighbors. Odds are, you’ll start hearing the same names over and over again. You’ll know you’ve found a great contractor when their clients can’t stop talking about their positive experiences.

Saves Money

 Staying within the proposed budget is the hallmark of a good contractor. But a contractor who finds ways to safely and effectively reduce costs and save money? That’s a great contractor. From finding the best price on materials to avoiding fees and delays due to permitting issues, a great contractor looks for ways to save money wherever possible—which may open up your budget for special features or unique design modifications that can personalize your new home.

Lastly, you’ll find that good contractors are listed as members of good standing in local professional organizations, like the Hawaii Island Contractor’s Association and Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. But if you’re looking for a great contractor, we can help you take the next step. Home Planning Hawaii specializes in providing helpful resources for all your home design and building needs, and we’re ready to help you find a great contractor when it’s time to build a truly great home.

Dream Homes with History: The Plantation Style

From thatched-roof palaces built by indigenous Hawaiians to Romanesque-style civic centers inspired by Medieval cathedrals, architecture on the islands is in a constant state of evolution. And when it comes to residential construction, there’s no limit to design possibilities that blend both tradition and innovation.

If you’re looking to build a new home rooted in history but fully capable of embracing modernization, a Plantation-style design might be the perfect blend of classic and modern aesthetics. With the traditional single-level low profile and split-pitched roof, this style is easily customizable for families of any size, can accommodate sustainable building initiatives, and provides plenty of natural light.

Whether you value the traditional aesthetics or feel drawn to the updated variations of a Plantation-style home, here’s how to make the most of this mainstay in Hawaiian architecture.

Embrace the peace and calm created by a single-story home designed to blend into the environment. Original Plantation homes relied heavily on shade provided by surrounding trees and plants to help keep homes cool— and to provide privacy. The use of natural building materials like wood rafters and stone porticos acted as additional camouflage while keeping building costs low. As a result, modern versions of this style are ideal for homeowners hoping to create their own unique oasis, one that’s both subtle and sustainable.

Utilize traditional layouts for modern purposes. Plantation-style homes embraced outdoor living and open concept floorplans long before modern architects introduced them to mainstream markets. The iconic split-pitched roof extended beyond exterior walls to provide protection from both sun and rain, and allowed residents to keep the windows and doors open during light rainfall. Open layout floorplans maximized airflow, and large porticos expanded communal living spaces and provided an ideal space for large celebrations. Today, similar layouts increase energy efficiency and allow for large families enjoy time together without increasing overall square footage—further evidence that good design always outlasts constantly evolving trends.

Lastly, blend old and new for a home that’s timeless and sustainable. Plantation-style homes are ideal templates for customization, and easily adapt to green building methods. From installing solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, and water-reclamation systems, to incorporating windows and skylights to capture natural light, your home can maintain the essence of the Plantation-style and enjoy all the benefits of environmentally friendly design.

Whatever home design you choose, from Plantation-style to ultra-modern, Home Planning Hawaii is there to guide you toward the right professionals for your project. In addition to helping future homeowners find the right architect or contractor, we offer free online estimates for new builds and renovations, and assistance in navigating Hawaii’s complex building permitting process. Contact us today and take the first steps in building your dream home.

Making Your Home Multigenerational-Ready

Considering making your home a multigenerational living space? You’re not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 11.6 % of Hawaiians share their home with more than two generations, and the Aloha State ranks No.1 in the country for intergenerational households.

Why do so many Hawaiians choose to live with grandparents, adult children, grandchildren, or extended family? While managing space for multiple families can be a challenge, the pros often far outweigh the cons. Sharing a household means sharing the cost of living, continued independence for elderly family members, in-house childcare for working parents, and most importantly, a sense of long-term familial community and support.

Of course, it’s easier to meet the needs of a big family in a home specially designed for multigenerational living. And if building a new home isn’t an option, innovative remodeling can often turn a traditional single-family home into the perfect gathering spot for everyone–from grandpa to grandkids. Here’s our room-by-room checklist to getting a multigenerational dream home.


  • While a second kitchen in a mother-in-law suite or above garage apartment is a great concept, it may not be feasible for all families. If your remodel doesn’t include building a completely separate living and dining space, adding a second sink, additional counter space, (think a center island or L-shaped counter,) and possibly a second stove top and/or oven gives multiple chefs room to help prepare meals without overcrowding.
  • For larger families, open-concept is key to giving everyone room to relax in communal spaces. When structurally possible, remove walls separating the kitchen, dining, and living areas to create a large open space that’s both practical and multifunctional.


  • Convert at least one bathroom on the main floor into a full bath that is easily accessible to both elderly family member and small children. This means forgoing a traditional bathtub/shower combination in favor of a large shower with safety rails and in-shower seating.
  • Add an additional half-bath to the main floor, or incorporate another full-bath upstairs to prevent early-morning or bedtime traffic jams when everyone needs access to bathrooms simultaneously.


  • Add at least one additional covered and no-step entrance to the home, and a separate entrance to any in-house apartment-style space. (If the space could hypothetically be rented out as its own residence, it needs a private entrance.) This keeps family members safe from preventable falls and allows all family members some privacy and independence.
  • Remove in-home steps between levels, such as the step leading down from the entryway into the living room, or from the kitchen out onto the patio. If leveling the steps isn’t possible, add ramps and handrails so all family members can navigate safely through the home.
  • Where possible, widen doorways and hallways to at least five feet to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers.

Making a home multigenerational ready can be as simple as a small kitchen remodel or as complex as building an addition and removing interior walls. Regardless of your remodeling plans, the experts at Home Planning Hawaii can help you find skilled professionals ready to help personalize your home. Contact us today for free project estimates, answers to frequently asked questions, and help getting the right permit for your project. We can’t wait to help make your home a welcoming a safe place for generations to come.








You Should Build a Smaller Home

National building trends indicate a shift toward smaller, more affordable, and more eco-friendly homes. Of course, this trend is a natural fit for Hawaiians, who are accustomed to high housing costs and limited residential building space. But building (or buying) small comes with advantages that just might help you make your next home a little piece of paradise. Forget the old “go big or go home adage.”  Here’s five reasons to embrace small-house living…

1.Smaller homes are perfect for living in warm climates like Hawaii, where the (mostly) good weather allows for plenty of time outside. Including plenty of outdoor living space in your home design is key to enjoying a smaller space, since patios and porches allow you to spend lots of time enjoying Hawaii’s natural beauty at a low construction cost.

2.Limiting your square footage means unlimited possibilities for energy efficiency. First, it’s easier to naturally cool and heat smaller homes with well-placed windows for cross-ventilation and natural lighting. The same concept applies if you want to go green with the latest in solar technology energy efficient appliances—it’s always easier and less expensive in smaller spaces. More importantly, you’ll save money long-term when you build with environmental sustainability in mind.

3.If your home design requires less building supplies overall, you can customize your home with one-of-a-kind materials that make your new house both unique and personal. Think of it this way: while your kitchen may not be able to feed a small army, you can skip the builder-grade counters and cupboards and design something truly beautiful. Or skip adding a third bathroom in favor of a spa-style master en suite.

4.Smaller homes allow you to live closer to downtown areas, beautiful beaches, and great schools. Lot sizes tend to shrink the closer to get to desirable areas, but by reducing the square footage of your future home, you can save money and enjoy every aspect of the Hawaiian lifestyle without a long commute.

5.It’s better for your relationships with friends and family. Recent studies indicate that busy families spend more time apart than ever before. With hectic work schedules and extracurricular activities for the kids, it’s harder than ever to spend quality time with the people you love. Close quarters can help bring families together, whether you spend time relaxing in a shared multipurpose room or gathered together on the back patio.

When you’re ready go to small and go home, Home Planning Hawaii is here to help. We specialize in helping homeowners find the right builders, architects, and designers to catch your vision (and match your finances.) Contact us today for more information on getting started, and try out our free online estimator for helping perfecting your budget.

How to Maximize your ADU

If you’re ready to take advantage of the newly expediting permitting process for building an Accessory Dwelling Unit, there’s a few guidelines to be aware of before you start designing the perfect ADU.  To help, here’s Home Planning Hawaii’s handy checklist for determining your eligibility for ADU construction…


  1. Your property is not “landlocked,” meaning the land meets with the road directly or via a driveway or easement.
  1. An additional parking space is available for the ADU resident.
  1. A single-family dwelling must already exist on the property, and the owner, or direct family member of the owner, lives on the premises.
  1. Your property is not under a private covenant that forbids the construction of an ADU, and you have recorded a covenant with the State of Hawaii promising not to sell the ADU separately from the original dwelling on the property.
  1. Your lot is zoned in a residential or country district that permits ADUs, and is at least 3,500 square feet.
  1. Lastly, you must abide by the floor space limitations for new Accessory Dwelling Units:
  • 400 square foot structures for lots between 3,500 and 4,999 square feet.
  • 800 square foot structure for lots 5,000 square feet and above.

Wondering how to maximize the utility of a 400-800 square foot living space? Fortunately, good design elements work for homes of every size, especially with a little creativity.

Make sure to include room for both built-in and portable storage: think additional shelving in kitchen and closet spaces, and wardrobes or bed frames with storage included in the design.

Consider raising ceiling heights to increase potential storage spaces in pantries and closets, while also creating the illusion of a larger sized home.

Go with oversize windows that provide lots of natural light, and open up otherwise small spaces. An added bonus? Relying on natural light can help reduce utility costs long-term.

Accessory Dwelling Units can add extra income and value to your property, or can provide a comfortable space for family members who want to live nearby but retain a degree of independence. (ADUS are a great fit for multigenerational families.) And in areas like Hawaii where finding an affordable residence can be a challenge, an increase in ADUs can help address housing shortages throughout the island.

With the help of Home Planning Hawaii, you can find the perfect designers, builders, and architects who specialize in building for Hawaii’s unique circumstances. Contact us today for help with project estimates, locating the right professionals, and navigating the permitting process with ease.

Three Tips for Building a New Home in Hawaii

With Hawaii’s housing market continuing to see rising costs and limited availability, homeowners and builders are getting creative when it comes to new construction. And with Oahu Mayor Kirk Caldwell encouraging both residents and builders to explore affordable housing options like Accessory Dwelling Units and multigenerational housing, issues like sustainability and longevity are more important than ever.

Hoping to build a new home on the islands this year? Here’s three simple tips to consider when designing your new space, each one guaranteed to help make your dream home affordable, beautiful, and carefully personalized to fit your unique needs.

  1. Focus on Flexibility: With square footage sold at a premium cost, good home design will focus on providing a space with the potential to evolve over time. From loft bedrooms that can convert from a playroom to a mother-in-law suite, to indoor/outdoor dining spaces that expand kitchen size, building a new home means building for both the present and the future. Look for designs that easily allow for growth— from creating open concept layouts in common areas, to utilizing land in a way that makes future additions feasible.
  1. Support Sustainability: Not only is “green” construction good for the environment, it’s good for your budget, and helps support local economies. Construction firms are partnering with small businesses for ethically produced materials like reclaimed wood, stone, and recycled metals, all of which gives your home a one-of-a-kind look without the high cost of importing materials from the mainland. And when it comes to new materials, new homes are increasingly solar powered, energy-efficient, and water-conscious. From tankless water heaters to geothermal heat pumps, the homes of 2019 will save both natural resources and homeowner money.
  1. Invest in Income: Oahu’s City Council and the Department of Planning and Permitting recently expedited the permitting process for ADUs, or Accessory Dwelling Units while simultaneously offering tax-relief plans for new ADU construction. This means your new home could possibly generate a secondary income via a long-term tenant, or could help reduce the cost of living for multigenerational households. Even if an ADU is not in your immediate housing plans, work with your architect and contractor to ensure that a secondary residence is possible in the future.

When it comes to building your future dream home, you need the best in the business. From innovative architects to reliable builders and contractors, we can help you find your 2019 dream team and get you one step closer to creating a space that’s perfect for you. Contact us today, and check out our free online estimator to get a head-start on budgeting.



Three Next-Level Tips for a Successful Home Remodel

You’re finally ready to remodel, and you’re doing everything right: checking out references for your architect, making a budget, extending your timeline to account for setbacks, and being careful to avoid overspending on unnecessary upgrades. When it comes to a large-scale remodeling project, a little extra preparation goes a long way.

Want to take your remodel preparations to the next level? Keep your construction project stress-free and within your budget with these unexpected tips.

  • When interviewing potential architects or contractors, ask for a tour of a current building site. Established companies maintain a clean construction site, don’t disrupt the surrounding neighborhood, and are safely maintained, so it’s a great way to go beyond checking references and ensure a successful project. Taking a tour also gives builders and architects a way to introduce you to their building style and can help you visualize their proposals.
  • Make decisions in advance. After choosing a building plan, touring a spec home and an active building site, you should have a pretty good idea about your preferred color schemes, fixtures, and appliance upgrades. Make these decisions early on to prevent delays in your project in the future, when you’ll be dealing with last-minute decisions or unexpected design changes. It’s almost a guarantee that some part of your project will need to be changed or re-evaluated, so making any possible decisions upfront will keep the project on schedule. 
  • Discuss worst-case scenarios with your architect and/or contractor, and make a plan for how to solve potential problems. Ideally, the weather will always cooperate, the permitting process will be efficient and painless, and the building materials will arrive on time. Unfortunately, complications are often part of the remodeling process, but experienced construction professionals should be able to anticipate common problems, and provide possible solutions. Building in a wet climate with frequent heavy storms? How will your construction team protect your property? Is your home in an area suspect to erosion or foundation sinkage? What’s the contingency plan when building an addition? Discussing worst-case scenarios allows you to plan your timeline and budget more accurately, so it’s worth it to discuss both best and worst-case outcomes.

Want to find a construction team as prepared as you are? Contact us today and we’ll help you match with a team that shares your next-level passion for high-quality design and construction.

6 Must-Ask Questions for Your Architect

You’ve been imagining your dream house for months, (or even years!) and you’re finally ready to design and build the perfect home. Now all you need to do is find an architect capable of making your dreams a reality. Finding the right architect can be challenging, but asking good questions can simplify the process and save you time and money long-term. Here’s six questions that will help you develop a positive working relationship with your architect.

  1. Can I see your portfolio?

Even highly skilled architects gravitate towards projects that match a personal aesthetic. Looking at portfolio of someone’s best work will help you determine compatibly. If the majority of their work includes a series of commercial offices, or even residential work that doesn’t match your personal style, they might not be the best fit. Find and architect with a body of work that shows a passion for the style of home you hope to build.

  1. Can you provide references?

Established and reliable architects or architectural firms should be able to provide multiple references, from past clients and homeowners, to contractors and builders. Make sure to actually follow through and contact each reference, and ask them to describe their experience with the architect. Here’s what to focus on:

  • What did you like about working with this architect?
  • What went well during the project?
  • Did the architect stay on budget and was work completed on time?
  • What concerns, if any, arose during this project? How did this architect address those challenges or concerns?
  1. Are we financially compatible?

When it comes to establishing a budget, transparency is key. Be honest with your architect about your budget, and recognize that your budget may not fit with a particular firm’s expectations. If the architect can work within your budget, invest time in discussing the upfront deposits, fee schedule, hourly rate for additional work, and most importantly, any costs that may be excluded in an initial estimate. “Hidden” costs may include building permits, upgrades, or environmental impact surveys that aren’t directly connected to the cost of building. Before you sign a contract with an architect, make sure your estimate is as comprehensive as possible. Lastly, check back with the provided references to ensure that the architect has a reputation for staying on budget.

  1. Can I meet the team?

Most architecture firms work closely with builders and contractors on a regular basis, and will recommend one to you after reviewing your project. If you choose to work with the professionals suggested by the architect, interview them as well to get an idea of how they intend to work with you on building your home. After your plans are approved, the contractor is the person most responsible for the success of your project, so getting to know them (and asking them for references as well,) is an important part of the building process.

  1. How will we work together?

Does your architect expect weekly input on progress reports, or only for major design choices? Do you want the team to make the majority of choices, or are you a detail-oriented person invested in each aspect of your home’s construction? There’s no right answer, but transparency between you and your architect and the construction team will help expedite progress and reduce stress. Make sure you develop a clear communication plan with both your architect and your contractor, and have a plan for how to resolve the challenges that inevitably come with building a home.

  1. How environmentally sustainable is your work?

With the variety of new materials, building techniques, and technology now available in residential construction, building an environmentally friendly home is more affordable than ever. Not only will green building potentially save you money while building your home, it’s also an investment in long-term energy savings. Ask your architect how they’ve incorporated sustainability into recent projects. With all the resources now available, experienced designers should be well-versed in reducing the environmental impact of your home.

Building a home is an exciting life stage, which ideally ends with you enjoying your dream home. Let us make the process as enjoyable as possible by helping you find the perfect team for your next project. Whether you’re renovating an older home or starting with an empty lot, we’re here to connect you with the best architects, designers, builders, and contractors in the business.


Building a New Home? What Bill 64 Means for New Homebuilders

Building a new home in Oahu means living near the world’s most beautiful beaches and scenic state parks, while enjoying a vibrant local community rich in diversity and culture. There’s a reason it’s the dream living destination for people from around the world, but the journey from dream to reality is certainly not for the faint of heart when it comes to building on the island. From the backlog of building permit applications and months-long waiting periods, to navigating the complex building code, it’s no wonder both residents and industry experts are eager for solutions in residential permitting.

On November 28 2018, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced his decision to allow Bill 64 to become a law— without his signature. Supporters of the new law hope it will expedite the permit process for new construction, while detractors fear that the strict regulations may actually increase delays. As for Caldwell, he wants to wait and see how the proposed resolutions impact residential construction, adapting procedures along the way in order to best serve the community.

What do these new resolutions mean for prospective homebuilders? Bill 64 included seven resolutions hoping intended to streamline the approval process for new building permits. Here’s what’s new, and what you need to know in order to take advantage of the new regulations.

  • Permits for one- and two- family residences will be issued within 60 days of their application through the One-Time Review process, eliminating a wait process that has previously taken several months.
  • Applicants submitted through a third-party reviewer will be approved without being re-checked by the in-house reviewers at the Department of Planning and Permitting.
  • The DPP will hire four new full-time plan reviewers, and two-temporary workers to address Oahu’s increasingly high demand for residential building permits.
  • Once a week, the DPP will close all one-stop permitting locations for a “Malama Mondays” pilot program, in which reviewers will focus solely on clearing the backlog of current permit applications.
  • The number of online permits issued for home improvements and renovations, such as electric, plumbing, and solar-panel installation will be increased by 10 percent.
  • The DPP will approve permits for retrofitting fire sprinklers on existing structures within 120 days.

While all of these resolutions hope to expedite the permitting process, the new guidelines also increase the level of quality required for building plans submitting for approval. Incomplete plans will be rejected immediately, and any plan reviewed and rejected more than three times will be barred from reapplication for twelve months. Since reviewing and correcting incomplete plans several times increases the workload for DPP reviewers, the new regulations hope to motivate builders and architects to only apply for permits if their plans are complete and ready for immediate approval.

With the help of qualified professionals and experts, creating plans that take advantage of the new streamlined permit resolutions means homeowners can expect to begin construction faster than ever before. Let Home Planning Honolulu connect you with the island’s best builders, contractors, architects, and third-party reviewers, and get one step closer to making your dream home a reality.

FAQ: Getting a Building Permit

From building an ADU to the benefits of hiring a third-party to review your building plans, we’ve got answers to your frequently asked permitting questions.

How Do I Apply for a Building Permit?

 Online! In 2013, the Department of Planning and Permitting required that all plans for new builds be submitted electronically. But before you apply for a permit online, make sure you check out the DPP recommended permit checklist (link), a preliminary guide for the basic information required for permit approval.

Do I need a permit to build an ADU?

Yes. In order to build an “Accessory Dwelling Unit,” or secondary living space on property zoned for a single-family residence, you must obtain a building permit. The Department of Planning and Permitting provides another useful checklist (link)for determining what documentation you need to provide in order to be eligible for a permit. The good news? If your existing property meets all zoning, water, and building codes, approval for an ADU building permit should be granted quickly.

Is the OTR Process Right for Me?

Possibly! The One-Time Review process helps expedite the permitting process, so long as the plans submitted are complete, high-quality, and compliant with existing building ordinances.

In Oahu, the One-Time Review process entails submitting completed plans to a plan reviewer at the DPP, who provides a one-time review with comments regarding any required changes to the building plans. The architect or designer then resubmits corrected plans, and if they are accepted by the reviewer, a building permit is issued.

If additional corrections are discovered during the course of construction by the owner or an inspector, the owner must ask the architect to revise and resubmit plans to the DPP for approval, and property owners are liable for any losses or damage incurred if corrections are not made after the permit is issued.

If you are working with a residential development company to build your new home, your architectural design plans are most likely part of a design series, and should already be in compliance with most building codes, and require few, if any, corrections. However, even one-of-a-kind home design plans can benefit from the OTR process, so long as you are using licensed professionals to design and build your home. Furthermore, proposed changes to Honolulu’s permitting laws hope to streamline this process further by mandating that all OTR applications be processed within 60 days.

Can a Third-Party Review Expedite the Permit Process?

 Yes. Hiring a licensed third-party reviewer to facilitate the permitting process helps ensure that all required documents and plans are in compliance with state code before they are submitted to the Department of Planning and Permitting. In another attempt to expedite the permitting process, Honolulu is considering a law that would allow permits utilizing third-party reviewers to be approved without spot-checking by the DPP.

Hiring the right professionals can make the permitting process significantly easier. Let Home Planning Hawaii connect you with qualified third-party reviewers, architects, contractors, and designers capable of making the home-building process efficient and stress-free.