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Summer in Japan

Making Comfortable, Ecological Living a No-Brainer

'Zero-Energy' Houses: The Next Generation of Energy-Saving Residences


Warmth in winter and comfort in summer have been vital issues for homebuilders in Japan since ancient times. Thanks to recent advances in techniques and construction methods, the effective use of insulation materials and of solar and other natural energy resources is becoming prevalent as the challenge of constructing eco-friendly housing that offers winter warmth and relief in the summer is being taken up all over the nation.

Homebuilder and community developer Sekisui House became the first company to propose an 'ecology house' using insulation to reduce CO2 emissions. Now the company is pushing to make 'zero-energy' (energy-neutral) housing a standard.
As a result of the nuclear power problem that occurred after the Great East Japan Earthquake, interest in energy has intensified, and the need for not only CO2 reduction but also sustainable energy has increased significantly. This scenario led to the realization of a 'zero-energy' house that recycles energy. The government has set 2020 as a goal for making such zero-energy housing the standard for newly constructed homes.

A zero-energy house does not mean a house that uses no energy at all. The zero-sum idea here is to make up for energy consumed at home with energy generated at home. This requires using energy-saving materials, roof-tile-style solar batteries and other methods. "It is also important that the zero-energy house becomes the widely accepted norm as an 'ordinary' house," adds Ken-ichi Ishida, director of Sekisui House's Global Warming Prevention R&D Institute.

Ishida was a doctoral student engaged in research on housing in Japan when the company invited him to work with them. Although he continued research into energy-saving housing there, his ideas did not find much traction at first. Ishida became a constant advocate of "making the world a better place by achieving energy savings with ordinary housing, which is easy for consumers to accept." His efforts led to the widespread use of energy-saving homes.

Sekisui House also insists on making their solar power generation panels in 'roof-tile style.' By using traditional Japanese roof tiles as a motif to blend in with the neighborhood, they came up with a design that would easily work in various plans to match the lifestyles of residents. According to the company, this has resulted in 60 percent of the residences they currently market being zero-energy houses.

"The important thing is that people don't feel forced to put up with these changes," emphasizes Ishida. "Our houses must enable them to stay in harmony with nature and save energy in an uncompromisingly agreeable setting." The company is moving this forward under the brand vision 'SLOW & SMART' to achieve comfortable living through advanced technology.

Sekisui House is now expanding the scope of its zero-energy housing to other countries. House construction based on Japanese ideas is spreading through the world. "Japan is the world leader in getting solar panels onto houses," says Ishida. "I think it would be great if people in other countries learn about Japan's approach for saving and producing energy."

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