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Big Island Lava Zones Explained

Big Island, Hawaii

Lava Zones Explained

How it affects Real Estate

Photo by Cedric Letsch – Unsplash

The Big Island of Hawaii is home to 5 different volcanoes (Kohala, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and Kilauea). These volcanoes have molded and shaped Hawaii island into a unique tropical landscape of undeniable beauty. Before buying property in this Hawaiian paradise, you must take into account that you are potentially purchasing real estate on an island with an active volcano. The threat of lava is relatively low for most home owners, but it is still considered a potential hazard to land and property.

In the 1970s, the USGS (United States Geological Survey) mapped out hazards zones based on location of eruptive vents, past lava coverage, and topography; this data was updated in the 80s and 90s. These hazard zone boundaries are approximate and gradational. They are based on probable eruption sites and likely paths and frequency of lava over several thousand years. These zones do not mark the day to day lava activity that could occur, instead they mark long-term behaviors of geologic processes and eruption activity.

With that being said, there are multiple things to consider when choosing to buy property in the Big Island Lava Zones. It is a unique aspect of Hawaiian Real Estate and a very important metric in regards to property price, mortgage and insurance options.

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What are the Lava Zones in Hawaii?

Lava zones are land categories based on the potential hazard that lava will flow in a given area. The Big Island has nine lava zones.

The lower the zone number, the higher the hazard, so Lava Zone 1 has the highest probability of event occurrence, which includes areas of the most recent lava eruptions. Lava Zone 9 has the lowest probability, which consists of the land around the dormant volcano Kohala.

Lava Zone 1 and Zone 2

Lava Hazard Zone 1 and Zone 2 are considered the highest hazard but offer some of the most affordable real estate in Hawaii. Property prices are usually tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than comparable ones in the lower hazard zones. Note: The USGS map is meant to convey relative volcanic hazard (destructive events that can occur and probability of event’s occurrence) and not risk, which involves hazard, vulnerability and value (a metric used by insurance companies).

Some neighborhoods are split between different hazard zones even though seemingly close together and visually “safe.” Unfortunately, many volcanic features that indicate active rift zones are concealed by lush vegetation, leading to a false sense of security. No one whose homes were affected by the 2018 eruptions expected the destruction that occurred, even when their homes were directly in lava hazard Zone 1. The USGS’s concern was always “when” not “if” the next eruption would occur in this particular zone.

Because of the additional hazard and extra involvement for properties in Zone 1 or 2, please contact one of our agents if you are considering purchasing in these areas. You may need to weigh out the cost/risk factors with a professional real estate agent, lender, and insurance agent.

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Lava Zone 3

Lava Hazard Zone 3 property seems to be the most ideal and popular because it is still relatively cheaper real estate (because of the hazard) but usually does not involve extra insurance or mortgage rules. According to the USGS 1% to 5% of Zone 3 has been covered in the last 200 years. The towns of Hilo, Keeau, Waikoloa, and some South Kona areas are all in Zone 3. Properties in this zone seem to be the most sought after because price vs risk seems more tolerable to most homeowners.

We have created a easy-to-use Map of Properties in Lava Hazard Zone 3. Search Homes, Condos, and Land in Lava Zone 3.

Lava Zone 4

Lava Hazard Zone 4 property is also highly sought after because of location and relatively low risk of lava hazard. There are no additional rules from lenders or insurance companies regarding property in this zone and higher. The zone encompasses the volcano Hualalai and the surrounding areas. The towns of Kailua-Kona, North Kona, and the surrounding subdivisions are all in Zone 4.

This is another popular area in a relatively lower lava hazard zone. Search Homes, Condos, and Land in Lava Zone 4.

The 9 Lava Hazard Zones on the Big Island of Hawaii – Map

Zone 1

Includes summits and rift zones of Kilauea and Mauna Loa, where vents have been repeatedly active in historical time

Zone 2

Areas adjacent to and downslope of zone 1. Fifteen to twenty-five percent of zone 2 has been covered by lava since 1800, and 25 to 75 percent has been covered within the past 750 years. Relative hazard within zone 2 decreases gradually as one moves away from zone 1.

Zone 3

Areas less hazardous than zone 2 because of greater distance from recently active vents and (or) because of topography. One to five percent of zone 3 has been covered since 1800, and 15 to 75 percent has been covered within the past 750 years.

Zone 4

Includes all of Hualalai, where the frequency of eruptions is lower than that for Kilauea or Mauna Loa. Lava coverage is proportionally smaller, about 5 percent since 1800, and less than 15 percent within the past 750 years.

Zone 5

Area on Kilauea currently protected by topography.

Zone 6

Areas on Mauna Loa protected by topography.

Zone 7

Younger part of dormant Mauna Kea. 20% of area was covered by lava in the past 10,000 years.

Zone 8

Remaining parts of Mauna Kea. Only a few percent of area has been covered by lava in the past 10,000 years.

Zone 9

Kohala volcano, last erupted over 60,000 years ago.

Map of Lava Zones on the Big Island of Hawaii
USGS.GOV Lava-Flow Hazard Zone Map – Wright et al., 1992.

Photo by Sarah Humer – Unsplash

What about mortgage and insurance for Lava Hazard Zones 1 and 2?

If you can accept the risk and hazard of buying property in Lava Hazard Zones 1 and 2, you might run into difficulty getting financing for your purchase. The USGS stresses that the lava zone map was intended for general planning purposes only, but insurance and mortgage companies still use it as a metric of concern.

Many insurance companies may not allow coverage at all, charge a significant premium, or have strict stipulations so it’s best to work with your real estate agent and a insurance agent to find the best course of action for properties in these 2 zones.

A Lender will also have more information regarding buying real estate in lava zones 1 and 2. Make sure to check with your mortgage lender before you start the loan process to see what options you may have available to you.

Our internal mortgage company Mana Mortgage has many options to finance properties in lava zone one and two. That would include many government loans such as VA loans. The biggest hurdle in getting financing approved is actually to find an insurance company that will cover property in such zones with a premium that doesn’t throw debt to income off too much as typically property insurance in lava zone one and two can be prohibitive.

Get in touch with our top advisors at Mana Mortgage and Find out all options to finance your dream home on the island of Hawaii.

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Contact an Agent

The Big Island of Hawaii has some of the most beautiful locations to purchase land and property. However, you must take into account the Lava Hazard Zones and how it can affect your future property.

If you have any questions about Lava Hazard Zones in Hawaii or are interested in searching for real estate in a particular zone, please contact us and we’ll be happy to assist you.