Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Little More Insulation Please

Last night as per usual, I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom
(sorry if that's TMI), and as I was in the bathroom freezing (and silently cursing myself for forgetting to turn the toilet seat heater on before bed), I wondered: why are Japanese homes so poorly insulated? The question was timely, since the bathroom in Japanese homes is generally much colder than the rest of the house, and generally doesn't have any type of heating unit (although some people I know take their kerosene heater in there to warm it up before/during use).  Our bathroom has an overhead body dryer which we use as a heater, but it really only heats the area directly under it. Anyway, as I returned to my warm bed and went back to sleep, I sort of forgot about my question but I was reminded of it today due to the fact that it's essentially 30 degrees and snowing outside and I am a virtual prisoner in my living room (the only place in the house where it's nice and warm). 

It is fairly well known that home insulation in Japanese homes is poor (in older homes it is almost non-existent). Central air/heat is a foreign concept here, and you will rarely, if ever, find double-paned windows in homes.  I can understand the lack of insulation in older homes, but the lack of insulation in newer homes is a mystery, and not just to me - it is the subject of many articles and blog posts, but there is no consensus as to why this is the case.  For me, the lack of double-paned windows is especially problematic. In my bedroom, the headboard is in front of a large window, and at night, even with the heat on, the door closed and the curtains drawn, I can still feel the cold air blowing onto my face. From the brief internet research I've done to help me with this post,  I've learned of several inexpensive and common ways to minimize the problem - i.e., bubble wrap, japanese tape around the metal frames, and clear insulation sheets, all of which I plan to try out next year.  Winter 2012-2013, you're going down!

So, how are Japanese homes heated?  Our home has an A/C/Heater wall unit in every room (except the hallways and bathrooms).  These units use electricity (and a lot of it) and do an ok job of heating the room.  Our landlord also provided us with gas heaters for every room (there is a special gas outlet in each room), which we prefer because they heat an area faster than the wall unit.  Some people also use kerosene heaters which I've heard are the best in terms of heat and also price. We don't use kerosene heaters because it's kind of a pain to get the kerosene (and transport it home) and also we don't really have anywhere to store it.  Although sometimes, for the reason I describe below, I'm tempted to start using our kerosene heater in the hallway. None of these heating methods is perfect and they all have their advantages/disadvantages so I guess it's basically just a personal choice.

The reason I say I'm being kept a virtual prisoner in my living room is because it's the warmest spot in the house at the moment.  In order to cut down on our utility bills, we keep all the heaters in the house off except for the one in the living room/dining room/kitchen area (otherwise known in Japan as "LDK").  To keep that area warm, we also shut the sliding glass door.  The effect of keeping the door closed + no heating in the hallways mean that once you step outside the LDK area, it's almost as if you're standing outside the house, that's how cold it is.  When either of us has to do something outside the LDK area (like laundry or go upstairs or even use the bathroom), there's always a verbal "brrrr" that comes out of our mouth followed by the sound of running to quickly do whatever it was that needed to be done so we can get back to the warmth of the LDK.  This occurs in spite of the fact that I'm usually always bundled up clothing wise (on an average day I'll be wearing one, maybe two long sleeve shirts, athletic pants, furry socks and my house slippers).  Sounds silly, but it's the reality of Japanese living in the winter. And for a girl from Hawaii where it's almost always "80 degrees and partly sunny," these winters can be mighty brutal.


Bihum said...
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Bea Litterer said...

I think one reason why Japanese house doesn’t have much insulation is because they still prefer to build their houses from the traditional design. And also, they love to use their kotatsu! Anyway, it’s good to hear that you have a heater in your house. It can really be cold, especially in the winter season.