Fight climate change closer to home by promoting energy-saving houses

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to make energy-saving efforts to lower energy consumption.

One way would be to enhance the energy efficiency of home heating and cooling. The government and related industries should take action swiftly.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and the Environment Ministry have jointly set up an expert panel to study how to achieve thorough energy-saving measures for housing.

The ministries plan to oblige new single-family houses and condominiums to meet national energy-saving standards in terms of thickness and performance for roofs, walls, floors, sash and other elements.

The government has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by fiscal 2030 compared to fiscal 2013. The housing sector accounted for about 15% of the carbon dioxide emitted in Japan in fiscal 2019, and the sector is considered to be slow in reducing emissions, making it urgent to take action.

Newly constructed midsize and large office buildings and commercial facilities have been obliged by law to comply with the standards since April, but for new homes, manufacturers and home builders are only required to make efforts and provide explanations on their energy-saving standards.

The use of insulation and double-pane windows that only allow a small amount of heat to penetrate, based on the standards, would lead to savings on heating oil and electricity bills for warming and cooling, and residents will benefit from the savings.

However, the use of high-performance materials and equipment will cause an increase in the initial investment cost of construction.

If compliance with energy-saving standards is to be made compulsory, it is important for the government and the housing industry to provide easy-to-understand explanations so that users can understand the significance and benefits of such measures.

At the same time, material manufacturers must make efforts to lower costs so that housing prices do not become too expensive.

Although major and other housing manufacturers are making progress on global warming countermeasures for new homes, many small and midsize home builders are lagging behind. In addition to a lack of widespread understanding of energy-saving standards, there are also said to be concerns that customers will be turned off because it will effectively lead to price hikes.

About 40% of single-family houses are said to be built by local home builders and carpenters. The central government, in cooperation with local governments, must promote the design and construction of houses with high-performing insulation, as well as enhanced training in energy-saving standards to promote the development of human resources.

Energy-saving is also a major issue for existing houses. Of the about 50 million houses in Japan, only around 10% meet the current standards.

To make it easier to introduce materials and equipment with high energy-saving performance when renovating houses, the government should consider enhancing its support through such measures as expanding subsidies.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 2, 2021.