Saturday, October 29, 2011

Insulation in Japan

It's November in Japan, and it's finally starting to get very, very cold. On average, the weather in my village is somewhere between 10 and 15C (remember, 0C is freezing). I'm going to school wearing heavy coats and underarmor. The heater in my car is always running.

Unfortunately, my schools have neither air conditioning nor central heating, meaning that it's very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Last week, one of my vice-principals brought in a couple of gas -powered stoves to try and warm up the teachers' room. In Japanese the word "stove" does not refer specifically to cooking appliances, but also to heaters. Gas stoves are cheaper than electric stoves. Though I use an electric one, my school uses a gas-powered one.

The biggest problem is my apartment. Most old Japanese homes to not have insulation. As you know, thermal insulation is used to keep the inside of buildings at reasonable temperatures. This type of insulation is meant to increase energy efficiency and save money. However, most Japanese homes are still made without insulation and without double-pane, glazed-glass for windows and patio doors. This means the flow of air between inside and outside is unimpeded. Still, you will find insulation in homes farther north, like Hokkaido, where insulation is mandatory for surviving the sub-zero winters.

Instead of using central heating, Japanese make due with all manner of electric and gas devices. They prefer to heat the rooms they are using instead of the entire house. Perhaps this is because in the feudal era Japanese homes were heated by fires in the middle of the home, using a square in the ceiling to release smoke. In the modern age, it seems impractical to suffer the cold and ignore central heating when it and insulation are such viable and cheap options.

The reason my schools tell me they do not cool in the summer nor heat in the winter is that the cost is too high. Yet another reason to insulate these buildings! My own apartment is only ever about 5 degrees warmer than the outside. I've heard the average lifespan of a house in Tokyo is 30 years. After that, it starts "dying." If this is true, then maybe that's another reason for no insulation.

I guess I'll just keep freezing until I find an answer.

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