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The tropical charm of Hawaii has made the island chain a paradise for tourists and transplants alike. One unique architectural feature you’ll notice in many Hawaiian homes is the lanai. If you’re wondering what exactly a lanai in Hawaii is, you’ve come to the right place.

A lanai is an outdoor living space, similar to a patio, deck, or porch, that is either fully or partially enclosed. Lanais are extremely popular in Hawaii because they allow residents to enjoy the islands’ idyllic weather and spectacular views while still having shelter and privacy.

The History and Evolution of the Lanai

Traditional Uses in Ancient Hawaii

The lanai has long been an integral part of traditional Hawaiian architecture. In ancient times, Hawaiians used these open-air spaces for relaxing, eating meals, entertaining guests, and sleeping on warm nights.

Lanais provided a nice transitional area between the indoors and outdoors where Hawaiians could find shelter from the hot sun or sudden rains while still enjoying the open flow of fresh air.

In pre-contact Hawaii, the houses of Chiefs often had large covered lanai spaces outfitted with woven lauhala mats, wooden posts, and thatched or grass-covered roofs. The common people also had small covered lanai areas attached to their grass huts and shelters.

They were essential to provide shade and promote air circulation in the warm tropical climate.

Adoption in Modern Residential Architecture

When Western influences made their way to the Hawaiian islands in the late 18th century, the use of the lanai evolved. Missionaries and settlers adopted the lanai as a central feature of residential design to suit their lifestyle.

Sprawling lanai spaces became signature for plantation-style architecture seen across Hawaii.

Over time, the lanai became modernized with strong wood framing or masonry construction to withstand storms. Glass windows and screen enclosures also prevent rain and debris from coming in. While the materials have changed with technology advancements, the lanai remains a gathering place to soak up Hawaii’s enviable climate and culture.

Common Types of Lanais

Wraparound Lanais

Wraparound lanais, as the name suggests, wrap around the entire perimeter of a home or condo unit. This style of lanai is popular because it provides stunning 270-degree views and seamless indoor-outdoor living.

Wraparound lanais are usually quite spacious, allowing enough room for outdoor seating areas, dining sets, and even small plunge pools or hot tubs.

According to the Hawaii Aloha Travel Company, over 60% of new homes built in Hawaii opt for a wraparound lanai design to maximize outdoor living space. Wraparound lanais do come at a premium cost, but many homeowners consider the price well worth it.

Standard Lanais

The most common type of lanai in Hawaii is the standard lanai. Unlike wraparound versions, standard lanais are situated on one side of the home, usually overlooking the backyard or a scenic view. The size can range from intimate to expansive depending on the home’s square footage.

Standard lanais are a versatile outdoor living space in Hawaii. They can be used for casual dining, sunset watching, yoga sessions, or just enjoying the tropical breeze. Many homeowners choose to outfit their standard lanai with comfy patio seating, ceiling fans, and outdoor accent lighting for ambiance after dark.

Sunroom Lanais

For homeowners seeking shelter from Hawaii’s intense midday sun or frequent passing showers, a sunroom lanai offers the perfect solution. Sunroom lanais have a solid roof and screened-in walls, providing shade, airflow, and protection from the elements.

According to industry surveys, over 70% of new sunroom lanais installed in Hawaii are used as outdoor living rooms. The other 30% serve as open-air home offices, craft rooms, or children’s play areas. Sunroom lanais allow homeowners to enjoy Hawaii’s beautiful climate without battling heat, humidity, or mosquitoes.

Unique Benefits and Advantages

Outdoor Living Space

One of the best perks of a lanai in Hawaii is that it provides an ample outdoor living space right outside your home (1). Unlike a small porch or patio, lanais are often quite spacious, with some extending across an entire side of a house.

This makes them ideal for placing patio furniture, hosting gatherings, enjoying meals al fresco, and taking in views of surrounding landscapes.

With Hawaii’s consistently pleasant weather, residents can utilize their lanais year-round. Spending time outdoors is known to lift people’s moods and promote relaxation – an effect amplified by Hawaii’s lush natural scenery (2).

Widely opening the indoor spaces of your home onto a lanai seamlessly brings the outdoors in.

Temperature Regulation

Strategically situated lanais help to naturally regulate temperatures inside the home. Extended roof overhangs on lanais provide shade and prevent harsh midday sun from overheating interior rooms (3). This passive cooling effect helps lower air conditioning costs.

Large screened windows opening onto lanais also facilitate cross breezes which naturally ventilate the home.

Conversely, closing off the interior spaces from the lanai during cooler weather or rain storms provides insulation. Retractable screens and shutters are commonly used to easily seal off a lanai when needed.

Aesthetic Appeal

In addition to their functionality, lanais are highly valued for their contribution to a home’s curb appeal and Hawaiian sense of place. The seamless flow between indoor rooms and outdoor lanai spaces infuses homes with an aesthetic that embraces Hawaii’s informal, peaceful lifestyle (4).

It resonates with both locals and visitors.

Architecturally, lanais visually create an impressive feeling of expanded square footage and openness. They provide a perfect spot from which to highlight the best vistas of your property with a window seat, for example.

Flower boxes, plants, bamboo fencing, and Torii gates are often used to enhance the beauty of the space.

The informality and unity with nature make homes with lanais quintessentially Hawaiian. There’s no better place to soak up the islands’ warmth and slow pace of living. Utilize your lanai frequently to enjoy true indoor-outdoor living in Hawaii!





Costs and Considerations

Construction Expenses

Building a lanai in Hawaii can be a pricey endeavor. According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost to construct a 200-square-foot lanai is between $6,000 and $25,000 depending on the materials used. More lavish lanais with top-of-the-line materials like Ipe wood or Travertine tile can easily cost over $50,000.

Key factors determining lanai construction costs include:

  • Size – Larger lanais cost more due to needing more materials and labor
  • Foundation – Building on a slope or installing pillars for an elevated foundation increases expenses
  • Materials – Using luxury materials like mahogany wood rather than pressure-treated pine significantly raises costs
  • Labor – Hiring specialized contractors is generally more expensive than doing it yourself

When budgeting for a lanai, it’s important to get multiple quotes and understand that location in Hawaii also impacts pricing. According to, construction costs in Honolulu tend to be 50% higher than the national average.

Maintenance Requirements

To maximize longevity, lanais in Hawaii’s tropical climate require proper maintenance. The salty sea air and high humidity can deteriorate certain building materials over time if not properly cared for. Here are some key maintenance tips:

  • Inspect regularly – Check for rot, cracks, or insect damage. Catching issues early makes repairs less costly.
  • Clean routinely – Sweep and use soap and water to prevent dirt buildup and mildew growth.
  • Reseal surfaces – Reapply protective sealants every 1-2 years to waterproof the wood or concrete.
  • Check connections – Ensure deck boards, railings, and steps remain securely fastened over time.

Being diligent about maintenance prevents safety hazards and more substantial repairs down the road. Expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars per year keeping your lanai well-maintained.

Weatherproofing Concerns

Since lanais are exposed outdoor living spaces, proper weatherproofing is paramount in Hawaii. Key weather challenges to address include:


Frequent tropical rainstorms dump immense volumes of water. To prevent flooding, lanais need excellent drainage and should have a slight slope or pitch to redirect water. Using porous decking materials or installing drainage tracks underneath also improves drainage.

A waterproof lanai cover provides essential protection during downpours.


The powerful Hawaiian sun can fade and deteriorate building materials over time. Using sun-resistant woods like Ipe or applying protective stains prevents damage from UV rays. Also install shade elements like overhangs, screens, or retractable awnings to provide respite from the intense sunlight during peak hours.


Being an island state, Hawaii experiences occasional tropical storms with powerful gusts. Proper structural bracing and reinforcements like hurricane ties prevent wind damage. Using wind-resistant materials like aluminum framing or laminated glass for any enclosing walls/windows also helps a lanai withstand heavy winds.

Addressing these weatherproofing concerns takes careful planning and strategic material selection when constructing your lanai. But the extra effort is well worth it for a structure that can withstand Hawaii’s formidable elements!


With their tropical charm and unique functionality, lanais have become an integral part of residential architecture across the Hawaiian Islands. By providing sheltered outdoor living space to enjoy the mild island climate, these patio-like structures perfectly complement the Hawaiian lifestyle.

Whether you’re visiting Hawaii or making the islands your permanent home, make sure to spend some time relaxing on a lanai to fully experience the Hawaiian way of life.

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