Old, Cold Japanese Houses, Insulation, and Imports 2006-02-06
Yesterday I typed a long comment, and I decided to post the text here as well. Someone asked why old Japanese houses are so cold, and if the insulations is missing. Here's what I wrote:
Old Japanese houses are not insulated. The opposite, in fact. In the old days, they were heated by small fires inside the house (with a vent in the ceiling above). They transitioned to kerosene decades ago, which is still widely in use today. Both of these heating methods produce poisonous gases, so naturally the houses had to air out. The houses also had to air out because of the humidity. If humidity gets trapped inside the walls in a climate like this, you get mold. The houses are actually made to vent air from underneath the house and up through the walls (the walls are left hollow on the old houses for this reason).
The way to stay warm in such a house is to blast heat from a kerosene or natural gas heater. When you've got one of those turned way up, it's like sitting next a camp fire (very pleasant actually, though the smell takes getting used to). There's no way to efficiently heat a house that is so thoroughly ventilated, so you keep the houses small (with sliding partitions to make rooms even smaller) and just heat one small space. That's the small room where the family hangs out from morning until night.
You can even take it a step further. Japanese houses typically have a small table with a heater underneath (originally they used burning coals). You drape a thick blanket over the table and sit with your legs underneath. Your legs soak up the heat and warm up your whole body. It's a very pleasant experience.
Back to the point. In the morning, you wake up to a cold house. The first person who gets up goes and starts the kerosene heater (unless they've got a heater that's on a timer), and wait for the room to heat up. If you like to take a shower in the morning, well, you're going to experience some character development doing that.
As for me, personally, it's not that I DISLIKE old Japanese houses. But I wouldn't want to live in one. I think most Japanese people would agree. The market for old Japanese houses isn't exactly "hot." In fact, if you buy a piece of land with an old Japanese house sitting on it, they basically give you the house for free. That's not necessarily a good deal, because it's quite expensive to tear a house down...
Also, the average life span of a house in Tokyo is 30 years. Even the new houses are not...that great. What can I say. If I were building a house, I would be looking into an import from the USA, Canada, or Sweden. Import houses are very popular. I imagine they last a lot longer than 30 years, and they ARE insulated.
Speaking of imported houses, a log cabin has just been constructed about 400 meters away from where I'm sitting. (They pre-build those in Canada, take them apart, ship them over here, and reconstruct them.)