Expand Your Home in Hawaii ?: ADU vs. Ohana Unit Explained ?

In the Aloha State, where the spirit of ‘ohana runs deep and the real estate market is as challenging as it is dynamic, homeowners are looking at innovative ways to expand their living spaces. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Ohana units emerge as two compelling options, each offering unique benefits and considerations. With insights from the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting, let’s explore these options to help you decide which path might be best for your home expansion project.

ADUs: Independence and Income Potential

ADUs are designed as independent living spaces that can be either attached or detached from the primary residence. These units come with their own kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and often, their own utility meter, making them ideal for rental purposes, housing extended family, or as a future downsized space for homeowners. Limited to 400-800 square feet depending on the size of your property, ADUs offer a flexible solution to the housing shortage while providing homeowners with potential income or additional living space. The City and County of Honolulu have laid out clear guidelines and resources for homeowners interested in adding an ADU to their property, emphasizing the importance of adhering to zoning and size requirements.

Ohana Units: Keeping Family Close

Ohana units, a concept unique to Hawaii, are similar to ADUs in that they may also have their own kitchens and must comply with city ordinances. The key difference lies in the occupancy requirements: for Ohana units, the property owner must reside in one of the dwellings, and a family member in the other. This setup is ideal for multigenerational living, allowing families to stay close while maintaining a degree of independence and privacy. Like ADUs, Ohana units require thoughtful planning to ensure they meet all legal and zoning requirements, providing a harmonious living arrangement for all family members.

Making the Right Choice for Your Home

Choosing between an ADU and an Ohana unit depends on your specific needs, family dynamics, and long-term goals. Both options can significantly enhance your property’s value and utility, whether you’re looking to generate rental income, accommodate family members, or prepare for future lifestyle changes. It’s crucial to consider the legal, zoning, and design aspects of each option, ensuring that your expansion project not only meets your needs but also contributes positively to Hawaii’s housing landscape.

Navigating the Process

Expanding your home in Hawaii with an ADU or Ohana unit requires careful planning, adherence to regulations, and a clear vision for your property’s future. The City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting provides comprehensive resources and guidelines for homeowners embarking on this journey. By familiarizing yourself with these requirements and considering the long-term impact of your expansion, you can make informed decisions that benefit your family and community.

Embracing the Opportunity

As Hawaii continues to face housing challenges, ADUs and Ohana units represent important solutions for homeowners looking to make the most of their properties. Understanding the differences and requirements of each option allows you to choose a path that aligns with your values, enhances your property, and supports the broader goals of sustainable and inclusive housing in Hawaii.

For more detailed information on starting your home expansion project with an ADU or Ohana unit, visit the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting.


Whether you opt for an ADU or an Ohana unit, expanding your home in Hawaii offers a unique opportunity to address your family’s needs while contributing to the solution of the state’s housing challenges. Careful planning and adherence to regulations will pave the way for a successful project that enhances your home’s value and your family’s quality of life.

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