For those who are planning to build a new home, or embark on a renovation project, it’s sometimes difficult not to think of building permits as a necessary evil. What are the benefits of obtaining a building permit? How extensive must a remodeling project be to require one?

Per the Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP), building permits “are required to construct, alter or demolish any structure, do electrical work over $500 or do plumbing work over $1,000 within a 12-month period.” Accessory utility sheds of less than 120 square feet don’t need permitting, nor do cabinetwork, painting or floor covering projects. Visit for forms, applications and comprehensive information.

“Presumably, laws that regulate building, zoning, energy, environmental, and health and safety codes exist for good reason,” observes Evan Fujimoto, president of Honolulu design/ build firm Graham Builders. “They are intended to elevate the safety and quality of life in our communities. But it’s sometimes a little tough for homeowners to understand how they benefit by obtaining a building permit.”



As Fujimoto points out, DPP has a mandate to enforce codes and regulations that help ensure homes are constructed to meet standards for safety and quality of life in our communities. Those criteria include appropriately sized and placed setbacks and height envelopes, zoning standards for density and parking, and standards to ensure utility infrastructure capacities are not overburdened.

“Construction projects go through the permitting process to make sure they comply with building standards,” he says. “And simply going through that process and obtaining that permit helps protect the value of a property.”

A building permit is no small deal in terms of the legal responsibilities of both the homeowner and the builder. The permit is confirmation that key systems like plumbing and electrical are installed by licensed subcontractors, identified on the building permit, and that qualified building inspectors will review their work. Contractors on permitted projects must abide by state and federal safety regulations, and larger projects are inspected by safety officials for compliance.

“The last thing a homeowner wants is a major injury or fatality occurring on their project,” Fujimoto notes.


Failure to obtain a permit can significantly reduce a property’s value, he adds.

“Unpermitted structures and additions can be excluded from homeowners’ insurance coverage. They may be subject to fines, removal or other costly remedies. And trying to sell a home with unpermitted improvements can expose sellers and their agents to liabilities if they aren’t properly disclosed.”

Last but not least, obtaining the proper permits is simply being a good neighbor.

“Imagine living in a non-conforming house or apartment that wasn’t constructed safely,” Fujimoto says. “What if a neighbor built illegal structures that encroach into setbacks or create fire hazards? Good neighbors abide by the rules and are considerate of those around them.”


Founded in 1990, Graham Builders remains the only local general contractor honored with Better Business Bureau Hawaii’s Torch Award for Small Business Ethics.

The firm’s next free “Building Your Home for Life” seminar is scheduled for April 1. Register now online at or call 808-593-2808.

CONTACT 808-593-2808