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'Insular' Attitudes ...


So here we are in the depths of 'daikan', the coldest time of the year. As I sit here at the keyboard of my computer, I am wearing a heavy sweater, drinking hot cocoa, and blowing on my fingers to try and keep them warm enough to type properly. What's wrong? Am I working outdoors? No, of course not - I'm indoors, in a modern Japanese home ... and it's freezing in here!

When I meet people for the first time, and they learn that I am from Canada, they invariably say the same thing, "Kanada wa samui desu ne!" My reply, which is quite true, is "Not as cold as Tokyo!" I have been far colder since moving to Tokyo then I ever was in Canada. Canadians long ago learned to construct warm houses for themselves. They had to, living in such a severe climate. But it is a never-ending source of amazement to Canadians who visit this country, that Japanese houses, even quite new ones, can be so cold and uncomfortable.

If I ask Japanese friends about this puzzle, they sometimes answer that houses here are designed to be cool in summer, rather than warm in winter. But actually ... a well-insulated house is both! Then they might answer that the energy cost of heating a house to a comfortable level is just too high. But actually ... a well-insulated house has very low energy costs!

Can you believe these figures? A Canadian-style house recently built in Nagoya (which is certainly a place with cold winters), and which has a huge floor space of 271 square meters, is being fully heated to 'shirt-sleeve' temperatures for a cost of less than 5,000 yen per month, even during the coldest part of the year.

The key of course, is the insulation. That home is very well insulated and sealed, and the windows are all double-glazed. Unlike many new Japanese houses, which have only a few centimeters of 'glass wool' stuffed carelessly here and there in the walls, that home has 15cm of insulation in the walls and under the floor, and 22cm in the ceiling. In case you are worried that a completely sealed house would soon become musty and damp, you should know that the house also has a device known as a heat-exchanger, which continually brings fresh air in from the outside, warming it up as it comes into the building. The result is a very livable environment, with extremely low energy costs.

I hope that one day I'll be able to build a home like that here in Japan, and when I do, I'd like to invite you all to come for a visit - at the coldest time of the year. You won't need to wear a sweater!

But unfortunately, that's for the future ... For now it's ... achoo!