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Steel is for Real

Hawaii leads the nation when it comes to the use of steel framing

Very rarely are the words “Hawaii” and “leading the nation” used in the same sentence—especially when “beach” and “sun” aren’t included. However, a 1998 survey conducted by the local non-profit organization Hawaii Steel Alliance (HSA) reported that the state is doing just that, boasting the largest percentage of steel-framed housing starts in the nation. According to the survey, 50 percent of all new residential construction projects in Hawaii that year used steel framing.

“Steel framing caught on fire in Hawaii in the early nineties because of all the advantages it has over wood,” says HSA President Bob Lazo. At approximately $25 per square foot, the price of steel is equivalent to, or as much as 30 percent higher than that of lumber—meaning home builders don’t exactly save any money initially. Homeowners will instead save money in the long run, says Lazo.

According to HSA, $200 million is spent in Hawaii each year for prevention, repair, and control of termite damage. And although pressure-treated lumber is less susceptible to wood-rot deterioration and termite damage, galvanized steel is invincible to it. “People will spend $40- to $50,000 to repair termite-damaged homes,” says Lazo. “Steel simply lasts longer than wood.”

Metal Work: Castle & Cooke Project Manager Doug Pearson tests some steel framing.

Contractors and developers in Hawaii haven’t been using steel long enough yet to determine its length of life, however, tests conducted by HSA show an average life of 200 years. In comparison, the typical lumber-framed home in Hawaii is considered to be reaching the length of its life if it goes over 60 years.

Shelf life was a small factor for Coastal Construction Co. Inc. when it switched over to steel framing. According to Coastal Construction President Kenneth Sakurai, it came down to the bottom line: Steel is cost effective from a contractor’s point of view. “The high price of shipping lumber from the mainland is a factor,” says Sakurai. “A wood stud weighs three times as much as a steel stud.”

Coastal Construction has built over 3,300 steel-framed homes in the state, and steel-framed homes account for 95 percent of its total business. Sales for the company have been averaging $40 to $50 million annually, which is what Sakurai predicts will also be the year-end tally for 2001. This year, however, the company hit an unexpected spike in revenues, due to a $9 million renovation project it completed for the Mauna Kea Palms Ltd. Partnership. According to Sakurai, sales for 2000 should fall somewhere between $60 to $65 million, about a 43 percent increase over last year.

Coastal Construction built its first steel-framed home for Castle & Cooke Homes Hawaii Inc. in 1993. Alan Arakawa, vice president of development and construction for Castle and Cooke notes additional advantages to steel framing: “In addition to its resilience to deterioration, steel beams are less flawed than lumber,” says Arakawa. “It’s straighter and more precise. From a marketing standpoint, it adds to the quality of the framing, and that gives us an advantage.”

Arakawa says it’s hard to put a dollar amount on how much sales have increased as a result of switching to steel framing because it was a slow integration process. Castle and Cooke was the first major developer in Hawaii to build an entire development out of steel, with its 164-cottage project in Mililani Mauka in 1992. The company then strategically integrated steel framing into the majority of its projects, until committing all of its projects to steel framing in 1995. According to Arakawa, roughly half of Castle and Cooke’s 1999 gross sales can be attributed to Hawaii development and construction, all of which are supported by steel-frames.

A little more than 2,000 of the current 3,500 homes in Mililani Mauka are framed with steel, making it the largest steel framing development in the nation. According to Arakawa, about another 3,000 more homes will go up in Mililani Mauka over the next seven or eight years, for a total of roughly 6,600 homes.

“Homeowners in Hawaii are more apt to choosing steel-framed homes,” says Arakawa. “But we don’t try to market ourselves as the biggest builder of steel-framed homes. We do it because it’s an effective good way to build.”

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