Category Archives: Drafting Service

What’s the 411 with Hawaii ADUs?

Honolulu’s mayor signed a provision for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in September 2015. Now, qualifying owners of freestanding, single-family homes have a new way to generate revenue – by renting a secondary residence situated on their property. ADUs are a response to the Mayor’s Affordable Housing Strategy, developed in response to the shortage of inexpensive rental housing on the island.

It is important to understand that ADU approvals, design and permitting requires adherence to very specific standards. Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) discusses frequently asked questions about permitting related to ADUs at this link.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here we discuss some of the most common questions about ADUs:

Q: What is an ADU?

The DPP specifically defines an ADU as “an accessory or second dwelling unit, including its own kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom facilities, attached or detached from the primary dwelling unit on the zoning lot.”

Importantly, an ADU is subordinate to the primary residence. However, it does not have to be detached from the existing home. While many ADUs feature new construction, it is possible to remodel some existing single-family homes to create them. However, every ADUdesign must include a kitchen, a bathroom, and at least one bedroom. Current building codes apply to such renovations/additions.

ADUs are usually found to the rear or side of the existing dwelling, and they are subject to strict size limitations. For example, an ADU on a lot from 3,500 to 4,999 square feet (SF) in size must be 400 SF or smaller. On a 5,000+ SF lot, ADUs can be up to 800 SF in size.

Q: In what ways are ADUs important?

ADUs help address Honolulu’s chronic housing shortage, and they provide aging residents a convenient way to downsize.

Relieve Housing Shortage – It is no surprise to those living in Honolulu that the cost of living is substantial. In fact, one site ranks Hawaii’s capital 4th out of 66 U.S. cities, although it is still 14 percent less expensive to live in Honolulu than New York City. However, with rent for a 900 sqr-ft furnished apartment averaging more than $2,000 per month, and utilities averaging more than $250/mo, many workers struggle to find affordable housing. ADUs address this need.

Aging in Place – ADUs also offer aging homeowners a unique opportunity to downsize while remaining on the very same property that likely hosted endless parties and other memorable family events over the years. A senior can “age in place” by eventually moving out of the larger primary residence and into the smaller ADU. The homeowner can then rent out the larger home to generate potentially substantial rental income.

Q: Where can an ADU be built?

Zoning is crucial to ADU development. Although there is an important caveat, an ADU may be built on lots zoned R-3.5, R-5, R-7.5, R-10 or R-20. Construction of an ADU is also possible in a Country District with a lot measuring 3,500 SF. The caveat? Even when a lot is appropriately zoned, there must be adequate utility infrastructure in place, and the ADU cannot conflict with existing restrictive covenants. This effectively eliminates ADUs from consideration in master planned communities or those with homeowners associations. The ADUmust also comply with any land use provisions that come with the specific zoning.

When eligible, only a single ADU is possible on a lot with one single-family home on it. This excludes lots with duplex homes as well as those with an existing ohana unit or guest house.

Q: How do ohana units and ADUs compare?

These two kinds of living spaces differ as to maximum size, occupancy, and parking. ADUs are subject to size restrictions, while ohana units are not. Only family members may live in an ohana unit, while there is no such restriction with an ADU. Finally, ohana units must have two off-street parking spaces, while ADUs only need one (those less than a half-mile from a rail station have no parking requirement).

It is also important to note that the property owner (or appropriate relative) must live in the primary residence or the ADU. Exceptions exist for serious illness or active military deployment. Leases for ADUS must be at least six months long. When a property is sold, the primary residence and the ADU must be sold together.

Owner Built Design, LLC is a key resource when you are looking into an ADU. Let me put my decades of experience to work for you. Please contact me today.

Foundation Erosion and How to Deal with It

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Trouble in Paradise

Foundation erosion is a common problem in Hawaii.

For a number of reasons, not the least of which are rising sea levels and frequent flash floods. Whether your property is beachfront or inland, and no matter which island you live on, foundation erosion is one of the most devastating things that can happen to your home — and many homeowners don’t even know it.

Fortunately, there are a number of preventative actions that you can take to protect your home. The following are some proven methods to prevent foundation erosion; take note of them today to avoid tragedy tomorrow.

Maintain Your Drainage System

Keep an eye on your gutters and downspouts and remove any blockages that might prevent proper water drainage. Rainwater should always drain away from your house so that the soil under your foundation remains firmly in place. If you suspect that your gutters are undersized for the home, have an expert look at them. You may need to replace them.

Fix Cracks Immediately

Repair any cracks in your home’s foundation immediately. Cracks will allow water to seep into the inside of your home’s foundation, eroding it more quickly; additionally, internal deterioration will be harder to detect until it’s too late.

Plant Wisely

Certain types of grasses and bushes can more effectively hold soil in place. You may also need to use a special type of compost if your soil is sandy. Even so, using plants to protect your foundation from erosion is often cost-effective and cost-efficient.  It can also be aesthetically pleasing.

What If I’ve Already Noticed Erosion?

Illustration of micropile repair due to foundation erosion.Many foundation erosion problems can be repaired using micropiles. Micropiles are created by drilling a hole into the soil, inserting a strong bar or pipe, and filling the hole with grout. These holes can be anywhere from two to eight inches wide depending on the size of the property and the damage incurred. A good foundation repair contractor will use micropile technology in conjunction with other foundation repair techniques (such as slab leveling, slope stabilization and tieback anchors).

However, if your home has serious foundation erosion problems, you may need to consider “amputating” a portion of your house and replacing the foundation to protect the rest from further damage. Of course, this is a last resort that should only be done in consultation with an expert, as it’s expensive and time-consuming to remove and rebuild a portion of your home.

Foundation erosion can cause significant damage. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to do everything possible to prevent erosion on your property. Planting the right vegetation, maintaining your gutters and drainage system, and regularly inspecting your foundation for cracks can prevent headaches and hardship.

At the same time, discovering signs of potential foundation erosion doesn’t mean you’ve lost your house. Seal the cracks and establish sturdy erosion control barriers (such as concrete pavers or liners). Then talk to an expert to see what type of foundation repair is in order to prevent more home damage.

How to Keep These 5 House Pests Out of Your Home

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Trouble in Paradise

Hawaii’s rich biodiversity and unique wildlife are among its most attractive qualities. The tropical climate on the islands is heaven for over 3,000 native species of plants and animals. As a homeowner, however, you probably want to keep nature where it belongs: outside.

Here are five house pests you’ll likely encounter in Hawaii, and a few tips on how to keep them out of your home.

  1. Centipedes

​Hawaii is home to three species of centipedes: the stone centipede, the tiny Mecistocephalus, and the Chinese Red Head. While all three are common household pests, homeowners need to be particularly wary of the last one. Also known as the Vietnamese Centipede, the Chinese Red Head is one of the largest centipedes in the world. They often growing up to 8 inches long. This species preys on nearly everything and can even attack when provoked. Although not poisonous, the bite from a Chinese Red Head centipede is extremely painful.

Because centipedes prefer dark, damp places, you may find them in closets, hiding in yard clippings, and even creeping in crevices in your lanai. In order to reduce the number of potential hiding places, keep clutter and debris away from your home and caulk any cracks or open spots.

  1. Cockroaches

Another extremely common house pest in Hawaii is the cockroach. The three species you’ll most likely encounter are American, German, and Surinam (or “burrowing”) cockroaches.

Dead Cockroach House Pest
Photo by Steve Snodgrass

Cockroaches breed in warm environments and can enter your home through even the smallest openings. You can encounter them everywhere from kitchen floors to boxes of clothing. Since cockroaches can adapt to almost any surrounding, they are notoriously difficult to eradicate. However, proper sanitation and simple Borax traps have proven very effective in keeping these crunchy crawlies out of your home.

  1. Spiders

Spiders feed on a number of insects and can help lower the number of pests in your home. However, be on the lookout for two poisonous species in Hawaii: the black widow spider and the brown violin (or brown recluse) spider.

Although a few people die every year from the bites of these spiders nationwide, these house pests are usually not aggressive unless attacked or threatened.

If you see an unusually high number of spiders in your house, you should seal any holes or cracks you can find around your doors, windows, and crawlspaces. It’s also a good idea to keep any shrubs or bushes well-trimmed and away from the siding of your property.

  1. Rats

If you see a rat in your home or scurrying across your lanai, it’s most likely a common house rat. Averaging from 5.5 to 7 inches in length, these rodents are usually gray or brown with light tan bellies.

The common house rat is a “commensal creature”. This means they like to be near humans, entering homes through cracks to seek shelter and have a steady supply of food. They also have extremely sharp and strong teeth that can gnaw through electrical wires, wooden doors, walls, and more. While rodent control services are your best bet when it comes to ridding your property of rats, home renovations can be employed as a preventative measure.

  1. Ants

Ant infestations are among the most commonly reported pest problems in Hawaii. Since ants are social insects that live in enormous colonies, if you see an ant in your home, you can assume that there are hundreds more. On the islands, be on the lookout for carpenter ants and tropical fire ants.

Carpenter ants are reddish black in color and feed on wood, which means they can cause widespread structural damage. Tropical fire ants are tiny and bright red; they attack in swarms and have an extremely painful sting that can cause severe allergic reactions. Since ants enter your home through cracks around doors or windows, it’s important to seal all openings and renovate any old or decrepit structures.

Many of the household pests above can enter your property through cracks or unsealed openings. While poison traps and caulking may work in the short-term, renovations and remodeling can help you replace old features that leave your home vulnerable to annoying (or even dangerous) house pests.

Photo by Boston Public Library

How To Protect Your Home From Flash Floods

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Trouble in Paradise

How To Protect Your Home From Flash Floods

Living in Hawaii may be paradise — but even paradise has its problems. Take flash floods, for example: flash floods can be extremely dangerous and devastating to both people and property, and anything that stands in the way of a flash flood is at risk of being destroyed. Flash floods are more likely to occur after it has already been raining for several days; however, one of the most insidious aspects of these floods is that they can occur even when there are no visible signs of rain.

Use the following tips to help you prepare and protect yourself and your home from flash floods:

Be Aware and Be Prepared

Follow these general safety tips to help stay ahead of a flash flood.

  • Listen for warnings from the National Weather Service whenever there have been heavy rains.
  • Also, check NOAA weather radio for updates.
  • Sign up for civil defense alerts to get automatic text updates about flash floods and other emergency situations.
  • Know how to shut off your utilities safely in the event of a flash flood.
  • Create a flood preparedness plan with your family.

Protect Your Home and Property

Like the old adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to prepare for flash flooding is to build or renovate your home with the possibility of flash flooding in the back of your mind. Here are some tips to protect your house and property against flash floods:

  • Know your elevation and flood zones: if you’re in a flood-prone area, you may need special building permits to build or retrofit your home.
  • Ensure that your property has adequate drainage. If water pools on your property with no place to run off, you should consider installing drains.
  • Be aware of nearby streams and gulches that are prone to flooding with heavy rain.
  • Secure any fuel tanks on your property.
  • Reinforce your roof.
  • Make sure your home’s foundation is solid.

Know When to Hire a Professional

If you plan to build or retrofit your home to protect against flash floods, a professional drafting service can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. These services use software that can help you anticipate any potential issues with a project before you start building, and an experienced professional can coordinate with structural engineers and government agencies on your behalf. Hiring a drafting service can also achieve a perfect combination of form and function, helping you build a house that can withstand the elements — as well as a home you want to live in.

Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives

How Collaborating With An Experienced Draftsman Can Bring Your Vision To Life

An Architectural Draftsman Helps You Empower Yourself

There are plenty of diverse challenges that arise in owning and maintaining a home. But what about when you want to renovate, remodel or expand your property?

There are plenty of practical reasons for thinking about adding home improvements like the impending arrival of a child or caring for an aging loved one. No matter your reasoning, you likely have a picture in your head of how you would ideally like to see these additions come to fruition. At the end of the day, you’ll be living with these changes for years to come. So why wouldn’t you want to have direct input into how your vision is sculpted?

In working with an experienced architectural draftsman, you are putting yourself right in the driver’s seat rather than handing the keys off and hoping for the best. Here are a few more reasons why you should turn to a architectural draftsman for your next home improvement project.

Getting Set Up

First and foremost, before even getting to the stage of formally mapping out your remodel or addition, you’re going to need to know what permits are required. Altering or adding to your home in any way is obviously going to impact the inner workings of its originally approved construction.

Have you thought about new electrical wiring, plumbing or windows and beyond? You’ll need several different permits for each of these aspects, and a architectural draftsman can clearly identify, explain and walk you through the process of obtaining what you’ll need to get started.

What Is It Going To Cost?

Now that you know what you’re going to need in terms of permits, you can start to think about what a reasonable budget is for your project. In immediately handing off your vision to an architect or engineer, you’ll be given the specs and a price as they are.

A good architectural draftsman can help de-mystify some of the more technical aspects of your project while staying true to what you’re looking for and your budget. Oftentimes, a architectural draftsman can actually save you money by empowering you with the knowledge necessary to trim the fat that may come from being hands off.

Moving Forward with An Architectural Draftsman

Vanilla Architectural Draftsman standing next to BIM ModelWith your budget set, a architectural draftsman can now take your dreams and realize them in a design. As mentioned, this is your house and altering it comes with plenty of emotional twists and turns.

An experienced architectural draftsman can help manage your expectations and take some of the stress out of this next step in your life. Get the home you’ve been desiring and keep the potential risks and headaches at bay by contacting a architectural draftsman today!

What is an Accessory Dwelling Unit?


What Is An Accessory  Dwelling Unit?

An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a second dwelling unit, including its own kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom facilities. It may be attached or detached from the primary dwelling unit on the zoning lot. ADUs are intended to be “accessory” to the primary dwelling and are typically much smaller.

This new law allows homeowners to build and rent a second home on their property.

It could be attached or detached. It could be the garage. But small kine, not large, where it becomes unaffordable. ~ Kirk Caldwell, Mayor of Honolulu

Benefits of Accessory Dwelling Units

  1. An increasing number of communities across the nation are allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), also known as granny flats and second units, within residential areas to increase their affordable housing supply.
  2. ADUs offer a variety of benefits to communities. They create housing options that support workforce housing, provide flexible living arrangements for multigenerational families, and provide supplemental income for homeowners.
  3. ADUs also support sustainability because they are often conversions of underutilized space and consume less land than new single-family development on vacant land.
  4. Elderly and/or disabled persons who may want to live close to family members or caregivers, empty nesters, and young adults, find ADUs convenient and affordable.
  5. As identified in the Affordable Housing Strategy, there is a major shortage of affordable housing on Oahu, especially for rental housing. ADUs can help address this problem by allowing existing homeowners to build or convert a legal second unit on their property.
  6. The ADU Ordinance was signed into law on September 14, 2015, by Mayor Kirk Caldwell. The purpose of this Ordinance is to allow ADUs as a permitted use in Residential and Country zoning districts to encourage and accommodate the construction of ADUs, which will increase the number of affordable rental units and help ease the housing shortage in the City.

I would like to keep my dad home with me. That’s why I’m doing it. You forget about the hidden homeless. There’s many hidden homeless members in our community. ~ Kahaunani Mahoe-Theone, ADU applicant

Oahu Housing Crunch Eased by ADU's
Image from


1.  Decide what type of ADU fits your needs.

2.  Check if you meet the basic requirements.

3.  Complete the Ohana/ADU Public Facilities Pre-check Form.

4.  Prepare construction drawings.

5.  Apply for a building permit.


An ADU can be attached or detached from the main dwelling. There are several ways by which an ADU can be added to a lot:

  1. Addition to or alteration of an existing structure.
  2. Construction of a new structure.
  3. Recognition of an existing structure that was built without a building permit.
  4. Conversion of an existing structure that exceeds the maximum floor area and/or cannot offer the least off-street parking (Zoning Adjustment required).


Prior to applying for a building permit, check if the basic requirements to adapt, build, or convert an ADU on a lot are met.

This ordinance is the most significant affordable housing ordinance the city’s adopted in years. ~ Ron Menor, Honolulu City Councilman


  1. The lot is zoned: R-3.5, R-5, R-7.5, R-10, R-20 or Country District.
  2. Minimum lot area of 3,500 SF
  3. The lot is not landlocked.
  4. The lot does not have more than one dwelling unit, i.e., more than one single-family dwelling, two-family dwelling, accessory ohana dwelling, guest house, multi-family dwelling, planned development housing, cluster, or group living facility.
  5. Either the main dwelling or the ADU will be occupied by the property owner(s), the owner’s family, or a designated authorized representative.
  6. The owner(s) of the lot will record covenants running with the land with the Bureau of Conveyances or the Land Court of the State of Hawaii, or both, as is appropriate.
  7. Private covenants do not prohibit ADUs.
  8. The lot can fit one parking space in addition to the parking required for the primary dwelling unit. No parking is required if the lot is located within one-half mile of a rail transit station.
  9. Floor area maximum: 400 SF (for lots with an area of 3,500 to 4,999 SF) and 800 SF (for lots with an area of 5,000 SF or more).

* For more detailed information, see Ordinance 15-41. 

There are three possible outcomes:

Outcome 1: If you meet all the requirements, proceed to C.

Outcome 2: If you do not meet any of requirements 1 to 7, you cannot build an ADU on your lot.

Outcome 3: If you are converting an existing structure into an ADU, AND you meet requirements 1 to 7, but do not meet either 8 or 9 or both, apply for a Zoning Adjustment (refer to E). Once the Zoning Adjustment is approved, proceed to Section C.


After completing the Ohana/ADU Public Facilities Pre-Check Form (refer to E); there are two ways to apply for a building permit. New buildings must be filed electronically through ePlans. Alterations or additions may submit a hard copy application.


Listed below are pertinent forms and other important information that is needed to adapt, build, or convert an ADU.

  1. Ohana/ADU Public Facilities Pre-Check Form
  2. Internet Building Permit Application
  3. Basic Requirements Information about lot size and zoning district.
  4. Access to ePlans
  5. Zoning Adjustment Information for preparing and applying for a Zoning Adjustment: ADU Application Instructions
  6. Restrictive Covenant Sample draft of a restrictive covenant. Restrictive Covenant Sample

After a building permit is issued and construction of an ADU is underway, inspectors will inspect the building, electrical work, and plumbing. Once your inspection is completed, the Certificate of Occupancy will be issued.

This web page is a general guide, please consult each county agency for other details and/or the latest amendments and changes.

For more detailed information, visit the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting website,

All information is subject to change. Revised September 2015

Sep 14, 2015 – Accessory Dwelling Units: The ADU Ordinance was signed into law on September 14, 2015, by Mayor Kirk Caldwell.  The purpose of this Ordinance is to allow ADUs as a permitted use in Residential and Country
zoning districts and to encourage and accommodate construction of ADUs, which will increase the number of affordable rental units and help ease the housing shortage in the City. Following are Bill 20 (2015) CD1, ADU informational documents, Ohana/ADU Pre-Check Form and Director’s report.



4 Steps to Building Permit Approval

Is Your Home Design or Addition Prepared for A Building Permit?

When talking about home design, I’ve heard them a lot over the years, the horror stories about building permit processing in Honolulu and other Hawaii counties, but I believe the process does not have to make you uneasy. In my nearly 30 years of providing home design and building permit services in Hawaii, I want to offer these hints on the best way to create a better outcome, and perhaps improve your outlook. I hope these tips help make our owner builder process easier on you as a homeowner.


The Honolulu City and County Department of Permitting and Planning website offers a system to submit permit applications online. In fact, it is a requirement for you to enter in your project information online so that you can get an internet application number before you go to the building department. In most cases, this is the first number you will be asked for when you approach the building permit intake counter.

This process does speed things up at the counter because it saves much of the data entry by the intake clerk. The information you provide from your home through this system shows up in real-time in the city’s building permit database and will then be available to anyone that you call or visit in person in the Honolulu and Kapolei building permit offices.

In addition, while on the building permit website, you can find a great deal of useful information there including a tool to help you estimate the permit fee online as well, this is helpful when planning your budget.


This sounds obvious but make sure your building permit plans are complete. As straightforward as it seems, many of the basic conditions aren’t met by a surprising amount of older builders submitting their home design plans. Frequently, the building permit drawings are drawn poorly or the details that are needed are not shown. Making sure your drawings are complete enables the reviewer to make remarks that are clear and methodical in the beginning of the review process, thereby minimizing delays and unforeseen difficulties later on. Otherwise you might find yourself asking why they didn’t just ask for that the first time around or at the desk. But when your project is not presented clearly and missing lots of views or information, you can be sure your review will take a long while.


Let’s suppose that you are doing something which is a large-scale job, like a large addition, or a tall retaining wall then you are likely to need a licensed engineer or an architect anyway, so why not be sure to have one involved with your project from the beginning? Incompleteness is the number one cause that can get your plans rejected at the intake desk. This is a very defeating experience that you don’t want to know, believe me…it is painful. It most often is something which does not seem to be needed, or maybe not even considered that turns out to be an essential element of your design. Something like a retaining wall you had not notice a need for but it needs a stamp from a structural engineer, now instead of having one on board initially, you may have to start all over again to make it work.


Owner builders frequently believe they do not have the money or the time so they want to do the drawings themselves. But a hastily prepared, or amateur design will probably create lots of comments from the building permit reviewer, often flat-out rejection, and the meaning that to the home owners is more time, and often more money. In today’s economy, with the escalating costs of time and materials, if you suffer a setback like pages of comments or rejection of the drawings, you are most likely losing time and money as a result.

Many times, homeowners will hire a draftsman to create their project drawings for them, as opposed to an architect with the idea that it will soften their budget a little. This can be a problem at times because occasionally the drawings are not enough and it may be hard to get the corrections you need. In most cases, architects will be the most knowledgeable, particularly about the building codes that differ by county. Although I have a degree in architecture from the University of Hawaii School of Architecture and almost 40 year’s experience in the construction industry, I have always worked with licensed engineers and architects to be sure all the design criteria I give is enough for the project.