Alternative building materials & designs

Questions & answers for minutes 11/12/2010  Alternative building materials & designs

What can we do to allow for recycled building materials as well as naturally renewable building materials such as bamboo and Strawberry Guava that are excellent for construction but are currently not “legal” building materials.

Scott: Can make a campground that has “impermanent” structures as part of a special use permit.  these structures would not need to be permitted. Overnight camping is not allowed by State Law.  The state does permit overnight camp grounds through the Special Permit process.   Both state and county codes do not define a camping device/unit.   What constitutes a tent?  Is a yurt as acceptable as a pup tent?  Are trailers and mobile homes okay?  Is a tarp strung between two trees acceptable?  Is tying tree limbs and creating a cover from banana leaves acceptable?   Is a grass hut okay?  Is a temporary wooden shelter okay?  The answer to these questions will surely fall back on the concern for public safety and health.  But just how far should government go in defining public safety and health?

With regards to sustainability of our Island’s food supply, about 20 years ago 80% of the food consumed on our islands were produced on our islands.  Today 90% of everything we use here is shipped in, and it used to be much lower.

A few years ago several County employees the County tried to make some designs for small cheap housing buildings. At the time, Department of Health insisted that any new dwelling would have to install a cesspool or septic system which drove the cost beyond affordable for the group of people that were trying to be helped. but then they said that people had to make cesspools for them, which is so expensive that it defeats the purpose of making inexpensive housing.   Today, if a complaint is given to the Department of Health about people not having a proper waste system and it is found that they are defecating in a bucket and then it is disposed of at a county refuse center, then that is okay.   Not the best answer to this problem.  The state of Hawaii allows for approved composting toilets which is a much better solution.

We can support this idea after the Cost of Government Commission comes out with a recommendation.  Their minutes are on their web site.  Scott had a meeting with two of the committee members and made 8 recommendations.  But even if they make a recommendation, there is no requirement for the Mayor to do anything about them.

Karin: Mike Reynolds came up with a simple hut plan, that he got approved by the county.  It was inexpensive and a minimum level of safety and space.  Then people could use those plans to begin with, and maybe add on after that.   Make a modular design hut that can be added to.  People have done competitions for such designs, and then made books from those.

What about existing legislation covering traditional design such as the Hokuluea Method?

Building department is trying to streamline the process of getting plans approved for buildings. They were trying to create a provision to use indigenous building materials, but it never went anywhere.


1 thought on “Alternative building materials & designs

  1. John Schinnerer

    Re indigenous building materials provision – there is in fact the first step of such a provision in the code. See the last two pages (p. 97-98), here:

    This is a recent amendment putting this language about indigenous building methods/materials into the code.

    Section 5-3.3 says that the building official shall submit a proposed bill within 24 months of the effective date of this division of the code.

    This document:

    …shows the effective date of this amendment to building code to be May 11, 2010.
    So basically, the 24 months time limit is about 1/4 used up – building dept. has until May 11, 2012 to actually submit a bill as described in 5-3.3.

    In other words – it’s in process, in the very slow world of County government.
    An inquiry could be made to the building official to see what the current status of drafting the bill is.

    Meanwhile there is some possibly powerful language in the remaining sections, 3.4 – 3.6, that could be useful in framing other alternate materials and methods that are not particularly Hawaiian indigenous materials and methods.

    In particular:

    5-3.4 starts by saying “The provisions of this code are not intended to prevent the use of any material, alternate design or method
    of construction not specifically prescribed in this code,…” and then goes on to say how that might happen (basically, the building official has to approve it, generally by being satisfied that it is OK/safe).

    5-3.6 appears to say that the county requires the builder of any such alternative structure to take responsibility (liability, as they see it) for any such structure and consequences thereof.
    In other words, how it ought to be in any case, instead of the county usurping the builder’s liability and then enforcing restrictive codes from fear of lawsuits.

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