Nice Guys Finish First
Kiha Pimental and Rod Saragoza build steel-frame homes with golden hearts.
Kiha Pimental and Rod Saragoza’s unrivaled service and top-notch product have made Steelframe Home Builders the leading design and construction firm of its kind in Hawaii. What’s not so well-known is their rags-to-riches story, and their unrivaled commitment to give back. “Uncle Roger Melrose, who founded Seabury Hall, told me, ‘Charge what you’re worth, but give to those who can’t afford your services,’” says Pimental.
That mantra took the duo all the way to Nepal and even landed them on ABC-TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. RSVPstyle sat down with Pimental, a Kaneohe native and Stanford-trained engineer, to talk about building with steel and lending a helping hand.
RSVPstyle: Most homebuilders use wood frames. Why did you opt for steel?
Pimental: Uncle Abe Lee, who was a real estate broker and development guru, saw the potential of steel a decade before anyone else. He told me, “Steel is the future of building because of the shortage of old-growth trees. It’s termite-resistant, and it’s affordable.”
I found that homes here suffer $100 million in termite damage annually. Thanks to Abe, Hawaii leads the nation in steel frame home construction.
The average wooden home will last 42 years. Our steel frame houses will easily last 100 years. We tell people they’ll be able to pass them on to their grandkids.
RSVPstyle: Every minute, forests the size of 60 football fields are leveled. What’s the environmental upside to steel?
Pimental: Steel is the most recycled material on the planet. We recycle more steel than all other materials together. In an average steel frame home, 60 percent of the steel comes from recycled materials, mostly cars. Moreover, one steel frame home will save 400 to 500 trees. And because I can order pieces to length, there is less waste in landfills.
RSVPstyle: How do you compete with other steel frame home builders when the competition, especially these days, is so fierce?
Pimental: There is lots of work for the steel frame homebuilder. A number of those so-called competitors are brothers we trained. They grew up in our company and/or we helped them get licenses. It’s a compliment when others use our construction standards.
Any wood contractor who wants to learn to build in steel is welcome on our project sites. In addition to building in steel, we’ll teach you estimating, using and buying tools and materials—for free. Andy Saragosa of Metal Home Builders and Neal Tsutsui of Steel Frames Hawaii are great examples of guys who came to us with teachable spirits and are doing well for their families.
RSVPstyle: Building your dream home can potentially be a nightmare. How can homeowners avoid common pitfalls?
Pimental: First we tell people, your family or your marriage is more important than your home. Second, create a priority list. That’s key to helping you realize and communicate what you need, versus what is a “nice-to-have.” Next, finalize your budget before starting, and stick to it. Last, the competitive bid process is so old-school. Partner with a trusted contractor.
We’ve set up a very comprehensive, but totally fun system—we call it the Steelframe recipe—where we’ll sit down with you and help you finalize your priority list along with your budget. When this is done, together with our team of architects, engineers, subcontractors and material suppliers, we partner with you to design your home using your priority list and budget as the compass.
It really is fun. Every customer is completely satisfied, because in the recipe you get the most value for your money without all the heartache.
RSVPstyle: What’s important to remember when choosing a contractor?
Pimental: Once you verify the contractor you’re considering is licensed, insured and qualified, choose someone you feel you can trust so that when challenges arise, so you can work together and get through them. I’ve seen so many people disappointed because they opted for the cheapest contractor and felt cheated with change orders or poor workmanship.
RSVPstyle: You and Rod donate an incredible amount of money and time to charity, from repairing dwellings for Hanalei farmers after Hurricane Iniki to building medical and dental clinics in Nepal. Why?
Pimental: Rod is a second-generation contractor and was sheathing entire houses by himself by the time he was 15. With his smarts and work ethic, Rod would have breezed through college, but because of finances, he went straight from high school to working in the family business.
As for me, I’m the oldest of six. My dad worked two jobs to put us through St. Ann’s and my mom babysat other kids. I remember having 13 kids at our house on top of five of us. Mom never had new clothes, and I remember digging in the car seats to buy a loaf of bread.
Rod and I have been there, and we remember the people who helped us, and gave us chances. It’s hard to explain the joy we feel when we can help.
RSVPstyle: What was it like working on the set of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition?
Pimental: Organized chaos. There were 300 onlookers on top of the hundreds of us working at the same time. There were so many electrical cords that you could walk from room to room without touching the floor.
We’d get to the site at about midnight, start work at 1 a.m. and work until sunrise. We let the team off, but Rod and I went to the office from there. It was exciting and crazy, on the verge of being totally dangerous, completely exhausting but really rewarding.
RSVPstyle: What’s the best part of your job?
Pimental: The best part is being a part of a championship team. Rod and I love our guys and their families.
The next best part is helping clients build or remodel their homes in an atmosphere of real aloha. Our greatest compliment comes when a local family asks us to build for them again. For one family, we’re starting the fourth project on the third house we’re remodeling for them. Simple trust, quality, integrity, respect wins every time.