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Custom homes offer building, cost flexibility

When California home builder Ian Cronshaw decided to put a house on his empty lot in Kekaha more than a decade ago, his first thought was, “I don’t have time to see this through on Kaua‘i.”

So he got to work in Santa Barbara, building everything for the house — flooring, deck, handrails, countertops, tile, everything down to the toilet roll holder, he said — on a friend’s land during his spare time. When the shell was as good as built, he put the labeled materials into a container and shipped it to Kaua‘i.

Thanks to his experience as a builder and help from family, Cronshaw raised the simple plantation-style cottage in 35 days.

“It was a lot of work and we killed ourselves doing it,” said Cronshaw, vice president and sales director of Santa Barbara-based Allen Associates.

But people liked the look of it, and Conshaw’s business partner thought there was a market for the concept in Hawai‘i.

Seven years later, the company’s Built-to-Ship Division has completed homes using the same process on Maui, Big Island, Moloka‘i and close to 10 on Kaua‘i.

Two cottages are currently under construction at a Kilauea lot overlooking Secret Beach, and Allen Associates recently opened an office in Kapa‘a to solidify its presence on Kaua‘i.

Cronshaw says Built-to-Ship homes are cheaper and faster than building from the ground up because the materials are pre-cut. On average, the build time is six months.

And these aren’t modular trailers, they’re actual homes with a number of style options and floorplans of up to 1,700 square feet. In fact, the Secret Beach cottages were custom-designed for the owner, who opted for some high-end finishes.

Allen Associates guides the process from design to construction, assisting with the permitting process and serving as the general contractor. However, it’s not an all or nothing deal.

The customer can take over the building at any point — or even request just the shell and handle all construction. Most opt for assistance. “You wouldn’t want to take it on your first time building a house,” Jon Heffner, production coordinator, said.

However, once the roof is up and watertight, “Then you can take your time,” Heffner said. Friends and family can drywall, finish the electrical work, paint — saving the customer money.

Prices range from $60- to $80-per-square-foot for the shell; $220- $250-per-square-foot for a turn-key home, start to finish.

It’s that flexibility that makes Built-to-Ship homes a viable option in a daunting housing market, Cronshaw says.

But beyond price point, Allen Associates says the most important element of a home is its health factor. Unlike pre-fabricated units ladled with toxins — the Centers for Disease Control found that post-Hurricane Katrina FEMA trailers contain unhealthy levels of formaldehyde gas — Cronshaw says “health in the home” is a top priority.

Low- or non-VOC (volatile organic compound) stains and paints are used, along with eco-friendly materials such as composite decking.

The goal is “affordable, attractive, functional and healthy” residences, Cronshaw says.

Almost all Built-to-Ship customers already owned the land on which the homes sit, and to date most Hawai‘i projects have been vacation or guest cottages.

But with Kaua‘i’s median home price hovering in the $600,000 range, Allen Associates is hoping to offer its product to a wider demographic: local families who have the land and want to start simple — and perhaps save on the cost by completing some of the work.

“It’s sort of the old Polynesian way, where everybody gets together and helps build a house,” he said.

For more information, visit www.builttoship.com or visit the Kapa‘a office at 4504 Kukui St., Suite 7.

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