In Hawaii, it almost always makes more financial sense to build new than to buy. Even so, average costs for new builds in the Aloha State can range from $300 to more than $600 per square foot.

“If you’re planning to build, you’ll want to maximize your budget, and prioritize the features you and your family really need without breaking the bank,” says Evan Fujimoto of Graham Builders.

As president of the award-winning Honolulu design-build firm, Fujimoto offers realistic strategies for assessing your family’s needs and creatively stretching your budget without compromising quality or expectations.

“Focus on features that you’re confident will really improve your family’s life and enjoyment of the space — improved flow, better insulation and natural light, energy efficiency,” Fujimoto recommends.


If the design maximizes natural ventilation, it can reduce or even eliminate the need for air conditioning. To keep the home cool, Fujimoto recommends using ceiling insulation with a higher R-value, meaning the number that reflects insulation’s ability to resist heat passing through it.

Simplification and downscaling are two key words to keep in mind during the design phase. Fujimoto encourages building smaller if possible. Since even numbers work better for material usage, design and build on a 2-foot grid.

“Simplify the footprint of your home by minimizing corners. Try to keep floors at one level and avoid step-downs. And stack floors without too many projections or cantilevers — structural elements that extend horizontally and are unsupported at one end,” Fujimoto adds.

Use standard sizes and materials whenever possible and avoid customization, to cut costs. Open layouts maximize space, and reduce the need for multiple walls, doors and partitions.
For more savings, include an attached carport or garage (which eliminates the need to build at least one wall), and minimize the windows in your design.


“Opt for one larger window versus two smaller ones,” Fujimoto says. “Reuse cabinets, doors and old hardware, if they’re in good shape. And don’t go overboard with pricey light fixtures; use lamps with switch-operated outlets.”

When choosing a color palette, Fujimoto says it’s thrifty to be conservative. Use a single wall, ceiling or trim color on the inside with only two colors on exterior walls and trim. He recommends a minimal finish palette — using one shade of countertop for all bathrooms, for example.

Last but not least, Fujimoto recommends avoiding trendy finishes and features.

“Build to suit your lifestyle,” he concludes, “not lifestyles of the rich and famous.”


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 on April 6. Register now at or call 808-593-2808.