Yes, window AC units require building permits in Hawaii County

  • YAMAMOTO

Hawaii County is the only municipality in the state that requires people to get a building permit to put in a window air conditioner, a circumstance many say is not cool.

“Really??? county council candidates?” state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, D-Puna, posted on Facebook when sharing an announcement by Mayor Harry Kim late Tuesday. “Can we change the county code on this or do electricians really need the work?”

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The county took down the announcement and was working on clarifying it Wednesday, but Public Works Director David Yamamoto told West Hawaii Today the requirement must stay in place unless the County Council changes the law. The requirement was added to the energy code in a bill approved by the council earlier this year.

Yamamoto said a permit is important because those air conditioning their homes also need to pay attention to factors such as insulation and sealing windows and doors to prevent energy waste. But community input has the administration taking another look.

“We’re actually looking at seeing how maybe these window units have a less stringent requirement,” Yamamoto said. “We can go revisit that and take a look at it.”

Yamamoto said Hawaii County, although late to the game, did add amendments to the state energy code to make it more applicable to the county. He said the county looked at amendments the state’s other counties included in their adoption of the state code, but he doesn’t recall one related specifically to window AC units.

The newspaper contacted building officials or county spokesmen in each of the other three counties and was told the AC units are looked at as an appliance, so a building permit isn’t required.

The county announcement, also sent to media as a press release Tuesday evening, stated: “Air conditioners fall under Hawaii County Code Section 5-19(a) of the recently updated Energy Code and existing residential construction falls under Section R503.2 as amended. Obtaining a permit for your air conditioning system enables you to have peace of mind knowing that the system is compatible with your home’s electrical system.”

It went on to note in a Q&A section, “What if I buy an air conditioner that fits in a window opening? That type of air conditioner also requires a building permit.”

Permits would range from a minimum of $10 up to $200 and should be granted within a week, the press release states. Fines for not getting a permit could range up to $1,000 per day, and those who installed a unit or system without a permit should get an “as-built” permit, the press release said.

“Generally, an air conditioning system installed without a permit, or ‘as-built’ would be treated as though it were a new installation and must meet current codes and now may not comply with the new Energy Code,” the press release said.

Yamamoto said it makes sense for homeowners to meet the code even for window units.

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“In the long run they’re going to spend more in energy than the cost of installing (insulation),” he said.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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