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Quake could force all Japanese homes to be low energy

The recent earthquake in Japan and the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant could force all new homes to be low energy and become non-reliant on national power networks, according to architects in the country, writes Rufus Thompson

Many buildings which survived the devastating events of 11 March are still without water, electricity and gas as the Japanese government struggles to get the country’s infrastructure back up and running.

Tadashi Ito, founding director of Zero-one Office, said: ‘Low-energy buildings which are not totally dependent on infrastructure may be regarded as essential from now on.

‘Architects may be able to make suggestions involving solar power, hot-water storage tanks and back-up power sources.’

Ito added: ‘It will be easier for the public to accept solar heating and wind generators because they enable households to minimise electrical power requirements in the case of emergencies.’

However Ito said that increasing thermal insulation by reducing window size could be unpopular and ‘contrary to the practice in traditional Japanese housing which emphasises the importance of wind flow’.

Meanwhile Jane Chan, of Jun Mitsui & Associates Architects, believes the catastrophe could speed up changes to the building regulations to improve energy standards, which were in the pipeline before the earthquake.

She said: ‘The Japanese government was already trying to improve the energy efficiency of new homes, and developers are aware that buyers are conscious of such issues. But now there will be more accelerated changes to improve the standards of energy-efficient homes as the public becomes even more aware.’ 

Hundreds of anti-nuclear protesters gathered in Tokyo on 27 March calling for changes in Japan’s nuclear industry, which provides around 30 per cent of the country’s energy.

But Chan is not convinced the country can dispense with nuclear power altogether. She said: ‘This is impossible in the short term and unless we discover new ways to provide easy, clean and large amounts of energy, I don’t see how Japan can manage without nuclear power completely.’

Hiroaki Hoshino, director of Hoshino Architects, added: ‘Renewable energy is important but it will be very difficult to shift from the convenient lifestyle, especially in the city.

‘It may go back to fundamental issues about how we can create safe living environments and communities.’

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