Revision to Building Standards Act could see extra allowances for fireproof buildings

A fire destroys a neighbourhood in Itoigawa City, Niigata in 2016.

The government is in the process of making a potential revision to the Building Standards Act that could provide an extra 10% to the building footprint ratio in quasi-fire prevention districts. The goal of the revision is to encourage the reconstruction of older, non-fireproof buildings.

Under the proposed revision, if an older building in a quasi-fire prevention district is replaced with a fireproof or quasi-fireproof building, an extra 10% may be added to the footprint ratio (called the kenpeiritsu). This would mean that a building built on a 100 sqm block of land in a zone with a 60% footprint ratio could cover up to 70 sqm of the land instead of the original limit of 60 sqm. A ratio of up to 100% is already possible for fireproof buildings built in fire prevention districts in Commercial Zones.

The revision will also obligate factories and warehouses to have maintenance preservation plans to ensure the ongoing safety of these facilities. Such plans would include periodic checks of fire doors.

In February 2017, a fire broke out at the warehouse for a large stationery supplier. The fire took 10 days to extinguish and destroyed 45,000 sqm of the warehouse. The building’s fire shutters could not close because inventory had been stored underneath them.

In December 2016, a fire broke out in a small restaurant in Itoigawa City in Niigata Prefecture. The fire quickly spread and destroyed over 140 homes and buildings. The neighborhood was a very densely packed district of old wooden buildings and narrow streets, which hampered access by firefighters.

[LEFT] A fire destroys 140 buildings in Itoigawa, Niigata. [RIGHT] A stationery warehouse fire in Saitama that took 10 days to extinguish.
The revision will also make it easier to convert empty and unused homes into ryokans and welfare facilities. For houses with a total floor area of less than 200 sqm and up to 3-storeys, they may not be required to provide any additional fire prevention measures. However, fire alarms must be installed. For buildings in urban areas, if the external windows and walls are made from fire-resistant materials, no interior fireproofing may be required.

In January 2018, 11 elderly residents at an unlicensed group home in Sapporo City died in a fire. The two-story wooden building was built over 50 years ago as a ryokan, and was classified as simple lodgings which meant it did not require sprinklers. Had the operator applied for the licensing to run a group home, they would have been required to install several fire safety measures, including sprinklers. Sapporo City had received a tip-off two years prior that this was an illegal group home, but the operator did not respond to any inquiries from the city. A similar incident occurred in an illegal group home in Shibukawa City, Gunma Prefecture in 2009 resulting in the loss of 10 lives.

The Nikkei Shimbun, March 6, 2018.
The Mainichi Shimbun, March 7, 2018.

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