Shrink-wrapping to solve Japan’s vacant home issue

A demolition company based in Tokushima Prefecture has come up with a novel, short-term way to deal with Japan’s derelict, vacant homes.

By covering the homes with special plastic sheeting, the homes can be essentially preserved as-is for up to five years. House-Packing was developed by Fukubull in 2020. The 25mm plastic can cover the entire building or just sections, such as the roof. The sheeting prevents roof tiles and exterior walls from becoming projectiles in strong typhoons and provides some protection from rain. Durability is said to be better than standard blue tarpaulin sheeting.

Wrapping an ordinary-sized house can be done in a day and is estimated to cost somewhere around 300,000 ~ 400,000 Yen (US$2,600 ~ $3,500) – cheaper than demolition.

This application may be practical for dilapidated homes that pose various risks to neighbors. It may also be useful following a natural disaster when demolition crews are often extremely busy and damaged homes cannot be torn down immediately.

Abandoned homes pose numerous issues, including collapsing onto streets or paths, attracting rodents and other animals, and sometimes being the target of arsonists. Demolishing them costs money and is not as simple as it seems. It’s illegal to arbitrarily demolish someone’s building. The first step is to ask the property owners (if they can be easily found) to demolish it, but few are willing to pay the demolition costs. Cities and towns have to go through a long and paperwork-heavy process in order to receive court approval to demolish a house considered to be hazardous, with the bill for demolition sent to the owners afterward. There are cases where the city office is unable to identify the owner/s due to outdated property titles.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, there were 3.5 million homes across Japan in 2018 that had been vacant for an extended period and expected to be demolished at some future point.

Source: The Nikkei Shimbun, January 25, 2021.

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