How would you like the introduction of new regulations that give you more freedom to live the way you want as home buyer? For example by striking regulations that dictate what you can(not) do in your own home? For more freedom we need homes that you can adapt yourself to your specific demands. But also in terms of the responsibility for quality and implementation.
In Japan it is already legally established that adaptability of homes is the standard and not the exception. When you want to buy a house with a first-buyers’ grant for example, you need a specific residence certificate This new reality in Japan leads to all sorts of innovations from the construction industry. Please, have a look at the blog articles about my visit to this extraordinary country; be curious about what I found.
During my trip, led by Stephen Kendall a just retired American professor of Architecture, we saw the plant and the research laboratory of a major home builder. On site, we found complete homes in residential buildings as customers can order them. As a buyer you can walk through your potential new home to check if everything is as you wanted and ordered it and works the way you intended it. Only after this check you decide whether you really want to buy it. If so, the fit-out will be delivered within six weeks and built in a week’s time. If you have ordered a completely new house it takes more than a month longer (after license granting). This is to have the foundation, base building and façades in place before delivery. That is still months faster than is customary in the Netherlands.
In the test house, in renovated homes and hotels I saw a typical modern Japanese toilet. Take a look at this film that I made on how it works. It clearly shows the attention paid to and the importance of hygiene in Japanese society and how they translate that to desirable behavior when visiting the toilet. Mainly the use of the special toilet slippers is sometimes forgotten by foreigners; big mistake! The simple way they save on space and water in the smallest room when washing hands afterwards, I think is really very smart for small Dutch homes too.
What encourages Japanese home builders to innovate in construction? I am convinced that the Japanese Long Life Housing Act has a major influence. According to this law you as home buyer only access government funds for a house purchase when the base building you are having built is made to last for at least two hundred years. Another condition is that the fit-out can be replaced without damage to the base building and without disturbing the neighbours. And the third provision is that the vertical piping of all utilities is directly assessable from semi-public space like a corridor or staircase. This division of responsibilities for base building and fit-out is the basis for successful Open Building and has been successfully applied in more than half a million Japanese homes since its implementation in 2009.
The law aims to extend the lifespan of housing. Did the average Japanese house first only last thirty years on average, they are now being built for a period of over a hundred years. And if the home buyer wants to get a government allowance, for over two hundred years. There are clear, new, technical specifications, for example for (re-)use of materials and the construction of pipes and wiring, to be able to prove these long durability claims or an easy replacement. There must be room for that in ceilings and floors. And this space must be easily accessible for maintenance so they can keep the building in good condition for a long time. Furthermore the layout of the house must be easily adaptable to changing needs and wishes, also when people age or become disabled. Thanks to these measures, recent Japanese houses and buildings have become usable for a very long time, despite the unpredictable future of tenants and society.
We also had a good look at the research and development laboratory of this big Japanese builder Haseko. Across the country this particular builder now has half a million new homes to his name. Nothing is left to chance because a minimal ten years’ guarantee for the home buyer on a well-functioning property is quite common. And quality performance is key to staying in market for new clients, they have a name to uphold! Because of the new building code for buying with home funds, a long horizontal distance from bathroom to vertical shaft can become difficult when adapting to specific living needs. Gravity now determines whether the water drains. So how do you do that working with the traditional slope length of sewage or more importantly how high above the flooring are you getting with long distances to cover?
We looked specifically at the test installation of a horizontal drainage. The water from shower, bath, sink and washing machine is discharged through a flexible tube of only 25 mm (one inch!) thick. This tube may be up to ten meters long in zero slope (!) before it runs downwards into a standard vertical pipe. In the Netherlands, a 40mm thick, hard, inflexible tube is now the standard with a constant slope towards the vertical pipe. This test drainage is developed after ten years of research and appears to be low maintenance. The system can be applied in new and in existing homes in which only the fit out is changed. With such a system it is no longer necessary to place bathroom over bathroom and kitchen over kitchen in apartment buildings. Can you imagine how much freedom that will give you to decide on the layout of your home, even if you buy an existing home decades later?
In the 80’s already such techniques were applied in Dutch homes. There was plenty of interest from abroad in this knowledge and experience, also from Japan. The strange thing is that the Netherlands hardly applied their own knowledge, while Japan has big time. Some Dutch companies back then went back to their original businesses, others couldn’t change back in time and went bankrupt. A very strange situation and a missed opportunity, if you ask me. So while now lagging behind, the experience still exists in the Netherlands too, even more so the patents protecting Dutch companies still give them some international advantage the upcoming decade or so.
Basic principle of split base building and fit-out
The basic principle for Open Building is in fact quite simple: as an individual user you play an active and decisive role in the building process, but only for the part in which you have a direct qualitative interest. Then we are mainly talking about the home layout, bathrooms and kitchens. In Japan, this has already been regulated well. And experiments like NEXT 21 still lead to new insights about how a home can best contribute to your enjoyment and health. And that at no extra costs? And how will that change affect you? How will it improve your life? In the Netherlands we still have work to do and your knowledge partner BRIQS enjoys playing an active role in your interest.
Take the next step and share your experiences
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Join the conversation
Do you know how to build that new way and what you need? What would you change as home buyer about your current living situation if you had the freedom to do so? Share it in the comments below.
To your health and wellbeing,