Renovating a 30-year old house into a zero-energy home

If you want a well-insulated house in Japan you usually need to build it yourself. If you are looking at an older house to buy or rent, insulation is usually lacking, unless the original owner decided to go the extra mile to create a home with insulation. For the majority of older homes, however, they tend to be built cheaply and can be cold in winter and hot in summer.

The construction and home building industry in Japan has come a long way in recent years with active efforts to create zero-energy homes. There are a lot of options now for double or triple-glazed glass windows, non-aluminum frames, insulation, and thermal breaks.

These insulation options are not just limited to new construction, it is possible to renovate an existing home to make it a zero-energy home.

One of these projects was recently completed in Daizawa near Shimo-kitazawa Station in Tokyo. The 2-story home was built in 1987. It has a concrete basement, while the above-ground structure is wood-frame. The house was fully renovated by Rebita and YKK AP, resulting in a contemporary home with numerous energy-efficient features, insulation, and earthquake-retrofitting.

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Home builder introduces 9-storey home to their line-up

In an industry first, PanaHome is now offering a 9-storey home for landowners who want to maximize the use of their land.

The suggested layout for the ‘Vieuno9’ high-rise home includes retail space on the ground floor, office and rental apartments on the lower floors, and the owner’s residence on the upper floors. The steel-frame structure allows for ceiling heights of up to 4 meters on the ground floor and 3.14 meters on the top floor, with mid-floors having generous ceiling heights of 2.84 meters.

In 2016, housing starts for multi-storey dwellings (between 3 ~ 9 floors) reached 43,530 units nationwide, an increase of 7.8% from 2015. 82.5% of these homes were located in the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka belt where land prices are typically high while lot sizes are small. The Tokyo metropolitan area accounted for 30.6% of these housing starts.

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Daiwa House unveils high-end custom-built homes

On April 12 Daiwa House announced details on their newest and highest grade of custom-built homes aimed towards wealthy buyers. The ‘PREMIUM Gran Wood’ homes are wood-framed houses with construction costs starting from 300,000 Yen per square meter (255 USD / sq ft), not including land purchase costs. With additional options and finishes, construction costs can exceed 600,000 Yen/sqm. The average house is expected to cost a minimum of 50 million Yen (approx. 460,000 USD) to build.

Daiwa is expecting to build 50 of these houses in their first year of sales.

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CLT could soon be incorporated into Japan’s building code

Miyamura Vet Clinic Japan
The Miyamura Pet Clinic. Constructed in 2015 using Laminated-Veneer Lumber. Image via Daiwa Komuten.

Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) could soon become more popular as a building material in Japan. While it is already possible to construct a building using CLT, current regulations require additional structural consideration and specific approval from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT).

The government has been working on introducing legislation that will provide clear and concise standards under the Building Standards Act, and these changes could be introduced as early as this year. According to a white paper issued by the MLIT and the Forestry Agency in 2014, CLT production is estimated to reach 50,000 cubic meters in 2016. By 2024, it is hoped that annual production will reach 500,000 cubic meters (Europe produces approximately 700,000 cubic meters annually).

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Tadao Ando-designed house in Tokyo for sale


A contemporary residence designed by famed architect Tadao Ando is currently listed for sale. The 4-bedroom home is located in the trendy Daikanyama neighbourhood and is a 15 minute walk from Shibuya Station.

Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando’s designs are notable both in Japan and overseas. Although he has designed a number of houses in the Osaka/Kansai area, there are only a small number of his residences in the Tokyo area. It is very unusual for us to see homes for sale in central Tokyo that have been designed by this caliber of architect, and the opportunity to live in one of Ando’s residences is something afforded to only a small number of people.

The concrete and glass home has a stark and imposing curved exterior finished in Ando’s trademark exposed concrete. The home was designed as part of Ando’s ‘light and shadow’ series of projects carried out in the early 1990s. It was carefully designed and constructed over a three year period between 1991 and 1993.

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Japan’s Zero Energy Houses

Zero Energy House Japan 1

In April 2014, the Japanese Government approved plans to encourage Zero Net Energy Houses (ZEH) with the goal of making them standard for new house construction by 2020. Zero energy houses are designed to use as much energy as they can create using renewable energy on-site.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has also established an investigative commission to create guidelines and standards for construction.

However, there are some potential challenges. Solar power, for example, is not the most efficient option for all houses across Japan due to weather and environmental differences. Also, for houses on very small blocks of land, installing high capacity solar panels to offset energy consumption may not be physically possible due to the limited size of the site.

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Introducing our Unique Spaces

For those interested in an architecturally designed property, or something a little older or unusual, we are launching a special section on our site called Unique Spaces.

This is a carefully curated selection of properties currently listed for sale that, in our eyes, are different from the cookie-cutter apartments or homes that make up the majority of the listings in Japan. Some of these one-of-a-kind listings include pre-war homes, modernist masterpieces, and contemporary designs. Some may have been designed by famous architects or may have historical importance. We hope this section of our website will be a place where these properties are appreciated and exhibited, and may attract new owners who want a special place of their own.

Our current selection includes homes by Shigeru Ban and Yoshimura Junzo, as well as apartments designed by Tadao Ando and SANAA.

Due to the various age of these properties, they are in various conditions and some may require repairs and maintenance in order to restore them to their prime. We can introduce our clients to specialist architects and consultants who can assist in restorations and renovations.

Click below to view the current listings:

Unique Spaces

Japan has some of the top architects in the world, yet, based on our experience, the supply of uniquely designed homes listed for re-sale is extremely limited. Such homes rarely change hands and there are very few opportunities to buy. Awareness and appreciation of the value of architect-designed homes is also lost over time and, to our dismay, little attention may be paid to the history of homes by some realtors.

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Home staging gaining traction in Japan

Apartment staging

Home staging might be an option considered by sellers when trying to list their property for sale in overseas markets, but in Japan it has been a practice limited to showrooms for brand new developments, or for properties that are being flipped by real estate companies. Options for private sellers have been limited until recently.

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