How Much Does it Cost to Build a Home in Hawai’i in 2021?

If you’re looking for a blank canvas with expansive possibilities in paradise, then you’re probably not going to be satisfied with buying a house designed by – and for – someone else, when you could buy a plot of land and build your dream house in Hawai’i. It’s not for everyone, but for a do-it-yourselfer or patient, creative individual, the process of building a home in Hawai’i can be just as rewarding as the end result!

Does this sound like you? Then read on! At Hawai’i Life, our real estate agents are well versed in land sales and we’ve learned a thing or two about the pros and cons of building a house in Hawai’i. Today we’ll share what we’ve uncovered about the cost of building a home, what you need to know before you begin construction, and why building a house in Hawai’i really is worth the investment.

The Cost of Building a House in Hawai’i

According to, building a custom house in Hawai’i can cost as low as $160 and as high as $900 per square foot, depending on the features, location, and whether or not you’re hiring a contractor. You can, however, get that number closer to $160 if you go the do-it-yourself route. Should you prefer to do the building yourself, be prepared for a larger time commitment.

If you consider that the average cost of building a house on the mainland can be as low as $150 per square foot and as high as $500 per square foot for customized and luxury homes, seeing this difference in cost may be perplexing. It helps to keep in mind that the chain of Hawaiian Islands is the most isolated population center on the planet (the nearest landmass, California, is a whole 2,390 miles away)!

The Hidden and Unexpected Costs of a New Home in Hawai’i

In addition to the average cost of building a home in Hawai’i, there are other costs that may not be as obvious. Don’t let the following variables take you by surprise:

Building Permits

Building a house in Hawai’i is a process that starts with having a contractor draw plans. Hiring a contractor will cost you a minimum of $50 extra per square foot, but it’s a fee that is well spent. As the county will want to see your building plans, your contractor will pull permits to build your house and make sure that the home is planned and built to Hawai’i building codes. Hawai’i has comprehensive building codes to prevent such issues as beach erosion.

The fee for building permits will vary depending on the county in Hawai’i. For frame of reference, the minimum fee for a building permit in Hawai’i County may be $10 for work up to $500 in value and $355 for work up to $50,000 in value.

Information on Maui County permit fees can be found here: The County of Maui, Hawaii. Information on Honolulu County permit fees can be found here: City and County of Honolulu

Obtaining a permit is a two-phase process and in the first phase, your plans are reviewed. Once your plans are approved, you’ll receive a permit to start building! In the second phase, inspections occur, and continue throughout each stage of construction. The inspector will close out the permits at the end of the build.

The Excavation Process

When building a house in Hawai’i, you may run into bedrock and additional labor and heavy machinery for excavation may be necessary. If a geotechnical survey was not conducted by a civil or soils engineer before excavating, then this can be a common but unforeseen  new construction cost.

To avoid surprises like this, hire a civil engineer or soils expert before beginning the build. They will be able to identify the stability of the land and determine everything necessary for a suitable foundation.

Construction Materials 

From drywall to windows, most construction materials must be shipped across the ocean to Hawai’i, making material costs 1.5 to 2 times more than they would be on the mainland. To keep costs reasonable, you can talk to your builder about incorporating building materials found right here in Hawai’i into the design, such as volcanic rock for walls, and chia or brush box wood for floors.

Labor Costs 

Unless you are building your home with your own hands, labor is an important cost to factor into the building process. Fortunately, you can stay within budget if labor is managed properly.


It’s critical that you prioritize what appliances and features you add to the house you’re building in Hawai’i. For example, if you want a swimming pool, a wrap-around lanai, and a temperature-controlled wine cellar, decide what is most important now and what can be added in at a later point.

With new construction that is well-planned, you can take into account the hidden costs that might otherwise sneak up on you when you’re building a new home and keep the unexpected costs to a minimum.

Building a Home Costs Time

Life moves slower here in Hawai’i and the relaxed pace of “island time” is one of the many reasons we choose to call Hawai’i home! If you expect workers to complete a building project on Oahu as fast as they would in, say, New York, you’ll be disappointed. Pulling the required permits may also take longer than you expect if you’re moving to Maui from LA.

After you submit the proper paperwork to obtain a building permit, you may have to wait from 4 to 8 months for approval. Consistently check the status of your application online and keep in touch with the reviewing agencies to help expedite the process and avoid lengthy delays. You can always opt to construct your house with your own hands if you want more control over the pace of the construction process, but you will still have to file for building permits.

Whichever option you choose, try not to get too insistent on a specific move-in date that you forget to enjoy the experiences that make life in Hawai’i so special. Sunsets at the beach, a hike to a waterfall, or a round of golf at a renowned course (in the middle of winter!) will be just the reminder you need of why building a home in Hawai’i is worth the time and money.

The Benefits of Owning a Home Built for You

Naturally, constructing a home can be a stressful process for anyone, and Hawai’i presents its own unique set of challenges. There is a deep satisfaction, however, in building YOUR house from the ground-up instead of buying a house on the market.

It will require patience and careful planning, but in the end, you’ll have a brand new home built to meet your specific needs. You’ll be hard pressed to find a house on the market that reflects your lifestyle, vision, and personality so acutely.

Ready to settle on the site of your new home in Hawai’i? Here are 5 existing land offerings you’re sure to find inspiring:

Hana, Maui

A great opportunity to create your own private sanctuary near Maui’s tranquil town of Hana. Located directly above Koki Beach, this beautiful 2 acre lot is within walking distance to the beach and a quick drive to Hana town, yet it’s surrounded by wide open space! Get all the details here: 50 Mile Hana Highway Lot 


Kilauea, Kauai

Nearly 8 acres in one of the most desired locations on Kauai’s North Shore. Overlooking a stunning stretch of coastline called “Secret Beach,” this cleared and level parcel offers more than 250′ of ocean bluff frontage. This parcel is a blank canvas with expansive possibilities: Kauapea Road Parcel

Kealakekua, Hawai’i

The soil of this large acreage parcel is as rich as its history, as this was the original pasture land for King Kamehameha’s cattle. At a cool 4000’ feet, this extremely peaceful 81+ acres has the potential to be reforested with koa, sandalwood, and other Native Hawaiian trees. Included in this land offering are plans for a Craig Steely Architect house designed for the site. Find out more here: 81 Acres in South Kona


Hilo, Hawai’i

A nature lover’s dream, this nearly 26 acre property features waterfalls, native plants, untouched forest, and access to magical swimming spots. With a conservation district use permit, a great respect for the pristine native forest, and a penchant for preserving nature, there’s a good chance that you can build your Hawai’i dream home right here: Kaiwiki Road Property

Waialua, Oahu

Own one of the last large, beachfront properties on Oahu. Seven acres to be exact! Build up to 2 dwellings here, and let the ocean and land feed your family and your soul. Barns, stables, AG processing buildings, and other agricultural accessory structures are also permitted. Read more on building your sustainable, island lifestyle here: Land on Farrington Highway

The Difference a Real Estate Agent Can Make

As you may have gathered, real estate in Hawai’i is not the same as anywhere else! That’s why it’s imperative that you team up with a real estate professional who can answer your questions and offer their expertise.

At Hawai’i Life, our agents have an abundance of expertise in land sales. If you have questions about where to build and how to maximize the land you buy, your Realtor can help guide you through the process. And seeing your house start out as foundational studs and become your dream home will make the extra investments in your Hawai’i home all worth it.

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Thomas rusnak

October 24, 2021

how can you take an article serious with a comment like this…”Building a house in Hawai’i is a process that starts with having a contractor draw plans.”…Have you guys heard of Architects?…A contractor builds the house…an Architect DESIGNS the house…very disappointing article. To many other flaws to comment on

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