Go Small and Go Home: The Benefits of Smaller Homes, ADUs, and Ohanu Units

Many people dream of owning a home in an island paradise, including several of Hawaii’s current residents.  But Hawaii’s long-term housing shortage continues to raise concerns for residents and businesses alike, especially as housing prices continue to increase and new inventory remains elusive.

For many, smaller homes, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), and Ohana Dwellings may be the best solution. Whether it’s forgoing larger square footage for a smaller and more affordable home, or adding to your existing property to accommodate family members or renters, here's what to consider when building a smaller living space.

Benefits of Building Smaller

First, it’s important to distinguish between building a smaller home, and the “tiny home” movement popularized on social media and home-improvement programs. Tiny homes are typically under 600 square feet, and many are built on mobile platforms without traditional access to water or electrical services. Although some tiny homes are permanent structures with a foundation and standard utilities, many are designed to allow the owner to live “off the grid” as possible.

Regardless, the benefits of both a “tiny home” and smaller house are similar. You’ll save money on building materials, time at the permitting office, and pay less in utilities every month. And if designed well by an experienced architect or designer, can still be just as functional as a larger home.

When building smaller, focus on creating “flex spaces” or spaces that serve multiple purposes, your home office can double as a guest room, or the living room that becomes a home gym with the proper storage organization. Avoid “space wasters” like formal dining rooms and elaborate entryways.

Benefits of ADUs and/or Ohana Dwellings

An ADU, or Accessory Dwelling Unit, is an additional home built on the same property as an existing single-family residence. ADUs are often referred to as “in-law” apartments in real-estate listings.

Ohana Dwellings are similar to ADUs, since both are the second homes to an existing residence, but an Ohana Dwelling can only have a “wet bar” as opposed to a fully functional kitchen. Additionally, in most parts of Hawaii, Ohana Dwellings can only be rented to a family member of the property owner.

Both ADUs and Ohana Dwellings are seen as crucial to mitigating Hawaii’s affordable housing crisis, but there are many benefits to the property owner as well:

  • ADUs and Ohana Dwellings both increase the overall resale value of your property.
  • Potential for increased income through renting out the secondary property, which can help mitigate both the cost of construction and the high cost of living in Hawaii.
  • Multigenerational family living. ADUs and Ohana Dwellings allow multiple family groups to live together, including elderly family members who wish to age in place instead of in an assisted-living facility.

Getting Started

Whether you're building your primary home or a secondary residence, Home Planning Hawaii is here to assist. We help connect homeowners to the architects, contractors, designers, and other professionals needed to make your dream home a reality. Contact us today for resources on getting started, and don’t forget to check out our free online cost estimator for help planning your budget.

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(808) 222-4069

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Mon - Sat 8:00 - 5:30,
Sunday - Closed


200 N Vineyard Blvd.
Ste A325 - 5145
Honolulu, HI 96817

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