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Homes built with elevated foundations supported by stilts or pillars are a common sight across the Hawaiian islands. If you’ve ever wondered why so many Hawaiian houses are up on stilts, read on to learn the reasons behind this unique architectural style.

Frequent Flooding

Hawaii is known for its stunning beaches, lush landscapes, and tropical climate. However, the paradise-like state also faces its fair share of challenges, one of which is frequent flooding. Due to its location in the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is susceptible to heavy rainfall and powerful storms, which can lead to flash floods and coastal flooding. This poses a significant risk to homes and infrastructure located in low-lying areas, especially those near rivers, streams, and the ocean.

Hawaii’s susceptibility to flooding

Hawaii’s unique geography plays a significant role in its vulnerability to flooding. The islands are mountainous, with steep slopes that can rapidly channel rainfall into rivers and streams. Additionally, Hawaii’s volcanic soil does not absorb water as well as other types of soil, causing rainwater to flow more quickly over the surface. These factors, combined with the state’s tropical climate and occasional hurricanes, make flooding a recurring issue for many communities.

Stilts raise living spaces above floodwaters

In response to the frequent flooding, many houses in Hawaii are built on stilts. This architectural design allows the living spaces to be elevated above potential floodwaters, providing protection to homeowners and their belongings. By raising the main floor of the house, residents can avoid the damage caused by flooding and reduce the risk of mold growth and structural issues.

Stilts allow water to pass underneath homes

The use of stilts also allows water to pass underneath the homes during flooding events. The open space created between the ground and the elevated house provides a pathway for water to flow without causing significant damage. This design feature helps to minimize the impact of flooding, as it prevents water from accumulating around the house and potentially causing structural damage.

For more information on flood prevention and preparedness in Hawaii, you can visit the Hawaii County website or the Hawaii Floodplain Management Association website.

Lava Flows

Living in Hawaii, one of the most geologically active places on Earth, comes with its fair share of challenges. One of these challenges is the constant threat of volcanic eruptions and lava flows. Lava flows can be devastating, destroying anything in their path and leaving behind a trail of destruction. This is why many houses in Hawaii are built on stilts, providing a level of protection against these natural disasters.

Slow-moving lava can destroy buildings

When a volcano erupts, it can release lava that flows downhill at a slow but relentless pace. This slow-moving lava can easily engulf buildings and infrastructure in its path, causing extensive damage. Traditional homes built directly on the ground are particularly vulnerable to this type of destruction. That’s where elevated homes come in.

Elevated homes are less vulnerable to lava damage

By building houses on stilts, homeowners in Hawaii can reduce the risk of their homes being damaged or destroyed by lava flows. The elevated position keeps the house out of reach of the slow-moving lava, preventing it from engulfing the structure. This can provide a certain level of peace of mind for homeowners, knowing that their homes are better protected against this natural threat.

Stilts make it easier to relocate homes if threatened

Another advantage of building houses on stilts is the ease of relocation. If a lava flow is threatening the area, homeowners can simply lift their homes off the stilts and move them to a safer location. This flexibility is especially valuable in areas prone to volcanic activity, where the risk of lava flows can be unpredictable. Being able to relocate their homes quickly and easily can greatly reduce the potential loss and damage caused by lava flows.

High Winds and Storm Surges

Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches, stunning landscapes, and tropical climate. However, living in paradise comes with its fair share of challenges, including the need for houses to be built on stilts. One of the main reasons for this architectural design is to protect homes from high winds and storm surges.

Hurricanes and tropical storms strike Hawaii

Hawaii is located in the central Pacific Ocean, making it susceptible to hurricanes and tropical storms. These weather systems can bring strong winds, heavy rainfall, and storm surges, which can cause significant damage to homes and infrastructure. The island chain has experienced several major hurricanes in the past, including Hurricane Iniki in 1992, which caused widespread destruction.

Stilts minimize damage from high winds

By elevating houses on stilts, homeowners can minimize the potential damage caused by high winds. Stilts allow wind to flow freely beneath the house, reducing the risk of structural damage. Additionally, elevating the living space can help protect against flying debris that can be picked up by strong winds during a storm.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), raising a house just a few feet off the ground can significantly reduce the risk of wind damage. This is especially important in areas prone to hurricanes and tropical storms like Hawaii.

Elevated homes avoid storm surge flooding

Another reason why houses in Hawaii are built on stilts is to avoid flooding caused by storm surges. Storm surges occur when a hurricane or tropical storm pushes a large amount of water towards the shore, causing coastal flooding. By elevating homes, residents can reduce the risk of flood damage to their properties.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), storm surges are one of the most dangerous aspects of tropical cyclones. They can cause extensive flooding, erosion, and damage to infrastructure. Building homes on stilts helps mitigate these risks and provides a safer living environment for residents.

Ventilation and Temperature Control

One of the primary reasons why houses in Hawaii are built on stilts is to optimize ventilation and temperature control. The unique architectural design of these elevated homes allows for the circulation of cool tradewinds throughout the living spaces, providing natural ventilation and keeping the interior cool and comfortable.

Stilts allow cooling tradewinds to circulate

By raising the houses on stilts, homeowners can take advantage of the cooling tradewinds that are prevalent in Hawaii. These winds blow consistently from the northeast, bringing with them a refreshing breeze that helps to lower the temperature inside the house. The stilts elevate the home, allowing the wind to flow freely underneath, effectively cooling the entire structure.

This natural ventilation system reduces the reliance on air conditioning, making these houses more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. It also creates a pleasant and refreshing indoor environment, as the gentle breeze can be felt throughout the living spaces.

Elevated homes stay cooler than ground-level buildings

Another advantage of building houses on stilts in Hawaii is that they stay cooler than ground-level buildings. The elevated design not only allows for better airflow but also minimizes direct contact with the hot ground. This is particularly beneficial in tropical climates where the ground can absorb and radiate heat, making the temperature inside ground-level structures significantly higher.

By keeping the house above ground level, the stilts create a buffer zone that helps to insulate the interior from the heat of the ground. As a result, the house stays cooler, reducing the need for excessive air conditioning and making it more comfortable for residents.

Furthermore, the elevated design provides added protection against potential flooding and storm surges, which are common in coastal areas. By raising the house above the ground, homeowners can minimize the risk of water damage and safeguard their property.

Construction on Uneven Land

Hawaiian terrain can be rocky and irregular

One of the reasons why houses in Hawaii are often built on stilts is due to the unique geological characteristics of the Hawaiian Islands. The terrain in Hawaii can be quite rocky and irregular, with steep slopes and uneven ground. This can pose challenges for traditional construction methods, as it may be difficult to create a level foundation for a house. Building on stilts allows homeowners to overcome these challenges and construct a stable and secure living space.

Stilts provide level foundation on uneven ground

Stilts provide a solution for building houses on uneven ground in Hawaii. By elevating the house on stilts, builders can create a level foundation that can accommodate the irregular terrain. This is particularly important in areas prone to landslides or near the coast where the land may be prone to erosion. Stilts offer stability and protection from potential natural hazards, ensuring the safety of the homeowners.

Additionally, building houses on stilts allows for better airflow and ventilation. The space underneath the house can provide natural cooling, reducing the need for air conditioning and ultimately saving on energy costs. It also allows for better views and utilization of the surrounding landscape, as the elevated position provides an unobstructed panorama of the beautiful Hawaiian scenery.

It’s important to note that while houses on stilts are common in Hawaii, not all houses are built this way. The decision to build on stilts depends on the specific location and conditions of the land. Architects and engineers carefully assess the terrain and design structures that are not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing.

To learn more about house construction in Hawaii and the specific requirements for building on stilts, you can visit the official website of the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs at They provide valuable information and resources for homeowners and builders in Hawaii.


In summary, stilted homes are a practical solution to the environmental conditions and natural hazards found across the Hawaiian islands. By elevating living spaces on stilts or pillars, Hawaiian homes can avoid flood damage, reduce overheating, and provide protection against lava flows, high winds, and storm surges. The next time you see a house perched high up on stilts in Hawaii, you’ll understand the important reasons behind this architectural adaptation.

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