27 December 2010

Preparing for Inspection

      We are soon approaching the date of the Construction Plans Inspection, set for mid-January.  Yakushiji-san is busy preparing tons of documents with all the details about our new home, which will be submitted to an inspector in charge of approving our plans and giving the green light to construction.  We went over a long list of items that needed to be covered prior to the inspection to make sure that everything was in order.  Some of the key issues we discussed were :

Privacy Screens

      Japan’s “Mimpou” (Civil Code) lays out a number of rules regarding residential  constructions. One of them is the use of Privacy Screens (プライバシースクリーン) whenever the distance between your property and the neighbor's is less than 1 meter.  This is what one type of privacy screen looks like - awful-, and we hope we'll never have to use them!

Iin our case, privacy screens may be needed on the South side since we don’t have the required 1m distance between our house and our neighbor. The glass on that side will be opaque (不透明 - ふとうめい) but our next-door neighbour may still  insist on us getting a privacy screen. This is a bit unlikely, however, since he doesn't have privacy screens either; he will have to comply too if he makes this request.  The same applies to the southern windows in the kids' rooms.

      Privacy screens may also be needed in the kitchen, but the neighbor behind us doesn’t have them either so it’s unlikely they’ll push for us to get them. In any case, since we need to have opaque windows there too, we may decide to get rid of the window there altogether and add extra kitchen cabinets instead.  The view is lousy from that window anyway...

24-hour Ventilation

      To avoid the Sick House Syndrome, Japan’s Building Standards Law requires the installation of a 24-hour ventilation system. This is part of governmental measures to limit formaldehyde release from building materials.  This means that Input and Output units must be placed in practically every room, usually high up on the wall.  The input units (自然給気口) are flat and measure about 15x15cm.


       The output units (パイプファン) are about the same size and shape as the input units from the interior, but the fan that is attached to the exterior wall (外壁用ステンレス製換気口) come in various shapes.  The model we're getting is more attractive than  the common globe-shaped unit and less visible.


Smoke Detectors

The installation of smoke detectors ( 住宅用火災警報器 - JuutakuYou Kaisai Keihouki)  throughout the house is a requirement in Japan since April 1, 2010.  Some smoke detector models are nicer-looking than others and more or less discrete, depending also on how they are fitted onto the ceiling.  We were shown two models, the Panasonic Flat Type, and the Fenwel slim type

Models don't differ that much from brand to brand but Panasonic's new wireless model which came out last September 2010 is unique in that if one unit is activated, a signal will be sent to all other units in the house, thereby warning other occupants immediately of a fire in another part of the house.  The alarm will sound at 90db, so loud enough to wake you from deep sleep.  This model is fitted with long-lasting batteries that need only be changed every 10 years.  And no need to mark your calendar; an alarm and message will tell you that your batteries need replacing... Pretty good stuff!

26 December 2010

3D Design

      For the past couple of weeks, Efrain has been busy learning how to use Chief Architect, a Home Design Software that allows you to see your future home in 3D.  He got  into this project after I casually mentioned that we needed to visualize our new home, especially since we were finalizing window position and starting color choice..  It was either that or hand drawing every single room...
     
       He diligently went to work, and applied himself to the study of this new tool after work, everyday for the past couple of weeks.  Chief Architect is a complete and very versatile software, but you need to spend time learning the functions in order to get any kind of results!   While he says he hasn't mastered it inside out yet, he has nevertheless managed to render each floor quite accurately.  That is certainly good enough for me!  

1F - Glass View
      His renditions have helped us make decisions about window size and position, door type, as well as get a feel for the space at our disposal.  They were also helpful in figuring the position of furniture.  We hope to be able to use this software extensively to define color in the various rooms. 

    Now, if we could just change the beautiful view that we get from out the windows (green field, blue skies...) to more realistic surroundings typical of Tokyo suburbs, we would get a real feel of what our house would be like from the inside.

22 December 2010

Roof and Accent Tiles

        As we started to think about the exterior finish of our new home, we inquired about roof type and color as well as accent tiles.  For the roof, our architect suggested we take a look at KMEW's Colorbest Basic Line which includes three series: スペリアル、セイバリー and コロニアル.
 
       Having read a bit about roof color and its impact on energy consumption, we were immediately attracted to the lighter tones, especially the Silver White Roof from the Colonial Series.  According to some of the articles we've read, roofs are responsible for up to 50% of a home's cooling load.  This translates into higher air-conditioning bills... 

Silver White
      A light-colored roof might also help maintain the loft area at a more pleasant temperature.  We've also been able to verify from various sources that a light-colored roof makes sense even during the colder months.   Granted, we will have very good insulation, but that alone will not guarantee a more energy-efficient home as it doesn't really play a role in decreasing the house's exterior temperature.    Anyway, we think it'll be a nice change from the darker roofs that are usually the norm.
  
       To match with this light-colored roof, we've been looking a tile samples from Nagoya Mosaic.  Our architect suggested two patterns to add accent to the our home's exterior.  One is to cover the balcony with tiles, the other is to cover the lower part of the house in tiles as in these images:

      We of course discussed costs, and decided to choose option A where tile coverage is only one fourth that of option B.  Leafing through the Tile Catalog, we were easily able to confirm the soundness of our choice: tiles are not cheap and prices vary tremendously.  The more affordable tiles cost about 3000 yen per square meter, while the costlier ones are priced anywhere between 12,000 to 20,000 per square meter.  



      We found one type of tiles that was priced just right for our budget, and that we immediately loved.  The color is a crispy greyish-beige, which is just perfect because we want to keep the overall feel of the house very light.  We may have to adjust our preliminary choices later on, as we discuss exterior wall paint and finish, but it's good to know we have options we like. And like everything else, the fate of all of these extras will be decided on Budget Review Day!

17 December 2010

Lifesaving Vocabulary

       Let me backtrack here a bit and post about buying property.  Looking back into some of our files, I just found the vocabulary list we had prepared back when we were in the process of buying our land.  We needed to get a few terms straight, especially concerning loan terms and purchase agreement.   I thought I'd share this LIST as it was highly useful to us. 

       Since the loan was granted to my husband, he had to fill in all of the applications in Japanese.  So while he fine tuned his Hiragana and Katakana, I printed out all of the terms and addresses I thought he would need to write in Kanji.  Let me tell you, Mitaka has one mean character in it: 三鷹   Plus, it's one thing to write your kanjis in the comfort of your home, feeling pride in your progress, and quite another to fill out a detailed application in front of scrutinizing eyes....  So we carried this printout of our current and future address and other details  in large characters to all of our official meetings with the bank and our realtor.  Highly recommended!

      Also, we obviously couldn't read all of the terms of our land purchase contract so we asked a good friend to accompany us for the transaction.  She eased our concerns by saying that even she couldn't make sense of all the small print...  In any case, neither the realtor nor the seller of the land really care whether you master your kanjis.  But the bank might...  When we first approached banks about loans, one agent at a Downtown Tokyo SMBC branch of SMBC told my husband that it would be impossible for him to get a loan from their bank since he couldn't read ALL of the loan contract.   Didn't matter if we had Permanent Residency and had been living in Japan for 20 years... 
     Ironically, we got our loan from the same bank, just another branch in our neighborhood! What really helped us was that our realtor made the initial contact with the loan officer and accompanied us to all of the initial meetings with the bank, along with his assistant Miyao-san.  The loan officer was also really helpful as he arranged for us to have an English-speaking agent go over the details of the loan agreement with us.

     Anyway, time to brush up on those kanjis...

16 December 2010

Ampere Capacity

     Ever wonder whether you will have enough electrical power to run all of your appliances at the same time?  We currently use gas in the kitchen but we'll have an IH stove in our new home so we were worried about having sufficient electrical capacity to run various appliances at once. 

     In our current place, we have 40A, and it's impossible to run the microwave oven together with the kids' air conditioner.   Can't use the toaster and the microwave together either...  For our new home, we were advised to get 60A, which is the maximum normal TEPCO breaker capacity.  We found the TEPCO calculator quite useful to figure what appliances can run together within a given ampere allowance.  Also, we need to bear in mind that from 10A to 60A, changing your breaker's capacity can be done free of charge, but the monthly demand charge will increase as follows:


     Now if we you want too go above this, to say 80A or 100A, we'll need to get a different account.  There is a fee of about 20,000-30,000 yen to enable this service and the monthly charge will also increase as follows:  80A: ¥2,184; 100A: ¥2,730.   Note that if you ever want to change back to 60A or lower, a disable fee of about 20,000-30,000 yen  fee will also be charged.  TEPCO's Service Guide can help dispel a few mysteries.

14 December 2010

Terrace and Balcony

      With so many options on the market for decks, it's hard to decide what would be best for us.  Our limited knowledge and extensive Internet investigations have convinced us that nothing can beat the feel and look of Real Wood.  

      We are willing to and actually looking forward to providing the necessary maintenance to keep our wood deck looking beautiful over the years.  Wood decks can apparently last up to 40 years  if maintained properly.  From what we can gather, maintenance involves applying a stain finish to protect against the harmful effects of the elements (rain and sun) and to highlight the natural beauty of the wood every six to eight months.

       We've also considered the idea of getting composite decking for the 2F balcony, but after reading up on these, we've changed our minds.  Composite decking is fairly new, as it was  introduced a couple of decades ago as a miracle solution to replace natural wood. 

     At first, Composite Decking was claimed to be 'maintenance-free' but manufacturers have had to modify their sales pitch over the years following complaints and law suits.  It is mainly composed of recycled materials including plastic and wood chips, and has a short life span of 5 years.  Cleaning composite decking involves splashing harsh chemicals and once you decide to replace the deck it goes straight to landfill.

     Neither our terrace nor our balcony can be done in concrete, as they would otherwise count toward the house's total surface.   So, the options we have for our 2F balcony are FRP Grating (FRP stands for Fiber Reinforced Plastics) or Aluminum.  FRP Grating didn't appeal to us for its large holes, and Aluminum gets real hot in summer so we also crossed that off. 

     Our architect provided a rough estimate for our terrace and balcony.  For real wood on our 18m2 terrace and 11m2, we expect to spend a total of 700,000 yens.  Interestingly, the other options (aluminum, frp grating and composite) are similar price wise.

8 December 2010

Window Quality & Type

      We've learned a lot about windows these past couple of weeks.  We started out by pinpointing the location of each window in the house and defining size, position and type.  We mainly chose up-down French-style windows. 

     There is a lot we don't know about windows, so it is hard to make an informed choice.  To ensure the best insulation possible, we will get double-glazed glass low-E glass, that is glass that contains a special coating that allows sunlight to pass through, but blocks heat from escaping.  Low-E glazing filters out UV rays and reduce condensation on the window by keeping the indoor surface of the glass and frame warmer.
      
We looked at YKKAP windows because they make French-style windows.  Tostem is another window maker we will look into for a cost/quality comparison.  There are several categories of YKK window frames and their performance is summarized in this chart.   Basically, the better the frame the less wasted energy.  Normally, at Two Style, the recommended window frame is the エイピア  which is an aluminum plastic composite multi-layer structure.  Because we were hoping to optimize insulation and lower energy costs, TwoStyle recommended the エピソード , which is an aluminum and resin composite structure, helping to reduce annual heating and cooling costs.

     Now, about the Bay windows we were hoping to get, we've had to scale down our plans because of building regulations.  All the bay windows we had incorporated into the plan on the South Northern wall were converted to standard windows because of the regulations stipulate that there must be a 500mm gap between the house and the border of the land.  Our house is situated at 505mm from the border, so if we really wanted to have bay windows on that side of the house, we'd either have to get special permission from our neighbor, or move the house the required amount of mm.  Neither option was practical, so we simply dropped the bay windows on that side.  This regulation also applies to the 2nd floor and the loft, so we had to eliminate the bay windows in the kids rooms too.  What a shame...

3 December 2010

Stylish Doors

We made another easy choice this week: we decided on the type of doors to the bedrooms, bathroom, toilet and loft.  Altogether we'll need 6 doors, not including cabinet and closet doors which will be made by our carpenter.

Our architect showed us two samples of French-style doors from BLC (Beautiful Living Creation), one full wood type and one hollow wood type.  We love these types of doors!

We chose the molded panel type which is seem quite sturdy even if part of the interior is hollow.  This series was more affordable and we figured we wouldn't notice the difference!  Plus the doors are lightweight and just as lovely as regular doors.   

We went for white, like our windows and kitchen.  The MD Series includes three designs: Colonist, Carmelle, Classique.  And they're available three different colors, dark brown, white and caramel.

We feel we've made real progress here even though we're probably not annywhere near the end of the decision-making process regarding al those little things that can turn a  regular house into one that we will really enjoy living in and keeping pretty.  For instance, we haven't talked about door handles and knobs yet but I've got my eyes set on a few designs...  

1 December 2010

Kitchen Woes

   We recently received some very distressing news about our kitchen... The estimate for our custom kitchen by Takara Standard came in and the numbers were shockingly high, more than twice the planned budget.

   In our estimate for the house, our architect made the following allowances for Equipment and Windows:  1.8 million for equipment, including kitchen, bathroom, powder room and toilet.  We are right on target with all equipment except the kitchen.   As for the Windows, the target budget is 1.5 million and we are currently working to align our choices with that number. 

   After seing Takara's beautiful white carved cabinets in a house designed by TwoStyle, we knew we wanted to get the same feel in our kitchen.  Takara is also known as an affordable custom kitchen maker, so we thought this process would be relatively  smooth. 

  Although we had initially thought of a more closed sort of layout for the kitchen, to hide the "occasional" mess, we then changed our minds and decided to include an island-counter.  This item needs to be custom-made, as it is not available in Japan, at least not the way we envisage it.  We were inspired by an island we saw at Ikea and many other appealing island-counters like the one displayed here.

   Our architect reassured us that he would look into other options, including Kitchen House, another custom kitchen maker, as well as a trusted carpenter. We also requested a more detailed estimate from Takara. So far, we've made just a little progress:

- We received a slighlty more detailed invoice from Takara, but we no breakdown of costs for individual items such as panels, handles, countertop, etc...  Totally unsettling.
- Kitchen House gave us a higher estimate than Takara, so they're obviously out.
- The island and the hutch could be handmade by a carpenter for half the price of Takara.  That's probably the only good news.  But then again, we need to see if the door panels could match the rest of the kitchen...   Hopefully, we can outsource the cabinets from Takara or Ikea, like this beautiful glass cabinet. 

  TwoStyle has apparently never worked with Ikea so this will be a first for them investigating options for our kitchen.  Given that some of Ikea's kitchens really appeals to us, we'd be really happy!

29 November 2010

Sinks and Faucets

       Choosing our toilet and bathroom sinks and faucets was so easy, thanks to our architect's initiative:  he took out a huge catalog marked with little blue post-its and showed us one page displaying two different sinks and two different taps.  Which one do you like best?  Easy enough, we chose the rectangular looking sink.  How about the faucet?  We liked the shape of the first but preferred the overall look and feel of the second.

     Never thought we could decide on these items so fast!  I guess we're pouring so much energy on other areas that we are really in need of some easy choices...  Yakushiji-san then pulled out another catalog with two or three pages marked and this time we had to decide on the bathroom sink and faucet.  That was so easy too, although I was initially hesitant about a sink over the counter, I was convinced after seeing a few photos.

     To lower costs and to give the rooms a more personal style, the cabinets in our toilet and powder room will be custom made by a carpenter hired by TwoStyle.  The finish of the cabinets will either be wood, painted in the tones we select, or melamine.  We will decide on this at a later stage, as we now need to focus on other more pressing details.   A week after making these selections, TwoStyle handed us an estimate from one of their trading firms, Kobayashi, for these units.  The invoice shows a 65% discount on the items, all necessary extras (pipes, etc) and the installation.  We're satisfied with it, and happy that this matter has been settled so efficiently.  Now on to more sticky issues, like the kitchen...



22 November 2010

Windows and Shoe Closets


     We took several hours at our last meeting with TwoStyle to fix the location, size and shape of the windows of the entire house.  We've been dreaming of a bay window for sometime now, and collected a bunch of inspiring photos like this one for instance. Lovely and so inviting! We'd love to be able to recreate that kind of look in our home. Of course, the view from our window will not be as beautiful as on some of those magazine pictures...

     We started with the entrance, and decided to put a bay window there!  The bay will start at 43cm from the floor, so normal chair height, and will protrude for about 35cm, giving us ample space to sit to put on our boots or to place our shopping bags while we change shoes.  By the way,  everyone who's been to Japan knows that custom dictates a change of shoes upon entering the house.  This is not standard custom back home, but we are totally for it, given that we don't want to damage our beautiful wooden floors...
    
     Shoe and coat storage space at the entrance was a problem we had to revisit because we noticed that the new plans included much less space than we had previously anticipated.  That's because we hadn't thought about wall thickness taking up precious space there...   The plans currently show walls of standard thickness (13.5cm) throughout the house, but we learned that walls only had to be that thick at certain key areas.  We will get a plan of those key points next time.  So at the entrance, the wall next to the stairs going to the 2F can be trimmed down to 6.5cm (half-wall), giving us an extra few cm to store our shoes...  Not much more, but still, we'll take it! 

     The cabinets will be 45cm deep, so big enough to store two pairs of shoes sideways.  We wanted to make sure the doors wouldn't take up some of that precious space, so we double-checked usable space or  有効 (ゆうこう = Yuukou), a very practical word we quickly added to our long home building-related vocabulary list...  So, various calculations and discussions later, we ended up agreeing on two 60cm wide closets and one 35cm wide closet.   All of our shoes, coats, hats, gloves and umbrellas will have to fit in there no matter what, 'cause we don't want to see anything hanging from the walls or sitting on the floor in the entrance....

So back to our windows, we opted for several French-style up-down windows, but it just occurred to us that we could perhaps have arched windows to add light and appeal.  These photos are ideas we hope to be able to incorporate.  One displays a complete arch and the other has a more peculiar sort of square arch shape; both are lovely.  But, we need to check prices, of course.   We know next to nothing about windows, but we want something pretty that allows us to enjoy as much light as possible, so we definitely want Yakushiji-san to give us his expert advice on the choices we've made so far. 

          Hubby was adamant about having a bay window seat in the dining room, a choice I totally agreed with.  Again, what is great is that this bay window will provide ample sitting space without counting toward our total square meter coverage.  Just for comfort, we decided not to start the window right at the level of the seat, but to have it continue for about 40cm, providing a back, just like in this image.  This way, we get a good view of the outside without too much exposure...  We now need to find a nice cushion to soften the touch and this bay window will be an ideal place to read or just gaze out. 


     We had to restrain ourselves not to place bay windows everywhere!  We did place one in the kitchen and another one in our bedroom, but smaller and higher up from the floor, to serve as shelves.  As I leafed through my Ikea catalog yesterday, I noticed an image of beautiful bay windows in the living room, serving as book shelves...  So sorry, Yakushiji-san, but some changes might still be in order with the windows in the living room-study area!  Let's discuss that and a million other things when we meet next week!

20 November 2010

Sinks


       As we struggle with each and every choice we have to make about this new house, we wonder if it wouldn't have been easier to just buy ready-made...  There's just so much to decide and so much to check and compare; we're not always sure we're making the right selections!  And we're no architects or interior decorators, plus we've got this little problem: everything in Japan is in Japanese!  Yes, of course, it's to be expected, but getting by in everyday life in Japanese and understanding the fine print on bank loans and bathroom unit options is not the same thing! 

     Let's just say that it's been really challenging to go over every detail of estimates and plans; we've had to rely on our architects a lot for things that are usually a given for Japanese readers. 

     Then, there are also differences between what we'd like to get (usually things we enjoy back home) and what we can actually get our hands on here in Japan.  Take the kitchen sink for instance.  For the past 10 years, we've dreaded that day of the week when we had to change the little bag that hangs from the sink basket (large  basket, by the way).  The sink we have has a huge hole just like this one, where a basket is fitted to catch detritus.

     But back home, we're used to this type of sink, which I've seen at Ikea, and which is so much easier to clean.  You might have noticed a general theme in this blog:  we prefer low maintenance items that require minimum cleaning.  It's not that we don't enjoy cleaning, but moderation is the operative word here...  Anyway, let's hope we can have this type of sink instead of the usual Japanese-style sink.  If that doesn't work, I guess we'll have to do with a slightly upgraded model we've been shown that has a smaller basket that doesn't require the nylon bags... 

16 November 2010

The Bath Unit

     At first, we thought we could get a custom bathroom we had seen on display at Toto, Yamaha and Inax showrooms, rather than those ready-made bath units. That's until we figured out the costs associated with custom made...  Dropped the idea altogether!

     Our architect then scheduled a vitit to Spiritual Mode, a Kyoto-based bath design firm, to select our bath unit options.  We initially chose Spiritual Mode because it was the only company out of four that could accomodate an inclined ceiling.  We met at their beautiful and highly sophisticated Aoyama Showroom where we were able to see sample bath units and discuss color options.

     However, we were extremely disappointed that Spiritual's Stella RX line had a counter, which we adamantly didn't want, and so did the NX Line.  Why so picky about the counter?  From experience with our current unit, we know that counters make cleaning difficult due to mold buildup in hard-to-reach corners.  Plus the counter went from one end of the unit right to the other, making the bathroom look smaller.  We did not like that at all.  We insisted on getting rid of the counter, but that proved impossible; the bath unit comes as a set, and most of the gadgets are compulsory, whether you want them or not.  So we left Spiritual an hour later rather discouraged that we could not make this work.

     Our architect then came up with a great idea.  He suggested we lower the floor of the bathroom by 20cm, which corresponds to my studio on the 1F, to ensure a flart ceiling, and we could then chose from other companies like Inax, Toto or Panasonic.  Since we were headed for Inax to pick our toilet, we decided to check out their bath units too.  Counterless units were not available in the popular LaBath Line, but there was one unit in the upgrade line LaBath Taste.  Great!  We started looking at options and realised once again that the boundaries were clearly defined.  The panels would have to be white, except for one with an accent.  But we decided to make it work because the price was reasonable and we could still get most of what we wished for.  Here's a picture Inax sent us after our preliminary selection.

     The turquoise bath was a hit with us, especially with the kids.  Color coordination was easy once we had picked the color of the tub.  We did away with the mirror, but selected dowlights and a nice slick-looking straight shower head.  Needless to say, we tried all of the shower head in the showroom, to get a feel for them.  Altogether, we met with our Inax assistant Senga-san three times and exchanged several e-mails just to get our bath unit options in order. 

     We definitely did not want to be stuck with items we didn't care for just because they were part of the package.  For instance, we realised that all units come with a bath cover.  Ours has been on the balcony for the past 12 years...  So out with the cover, and this translated into a 5,400 yen discount.  Note that some of the options cost extra, like the shower head we selected,  but some others entitle you to a discount.  Same thing if you decide not to take a particular item, like the bath cover, the towel rack or the mirror (minus 32,000 yen).  So it is wise analyse every detail if you mind the little things. 

15 November 2010

Kamachi Dental Clinic

      In the very unlikely event that I would ever move to the other end of Tokyo, I would still come to Dr. Kamachi for my regular checkups and dental work.  And so would my whole family.  After visiting so many dentists offices, I can say that this dentist is by far the best for us and I cannot recommend him enough!  Over the years, I've traveled far into the city for an appointment with a 'good'  dentist.  I've also tried several clinics in and around Musashino-shi, where we live. 

      Dr. Kamachi is not fluent in English, but he certainly tries.  He will explain in simple terms what the problem is and how to fix it and he will pull out his pad and pencil to draw an illustration to ensure that we've understood fully.  He never rushes and never places a tool near your mouth without explaining what he's about to do.  His approach is gentle and considerate and my kids love him too.  They actually look forward to their next appointment!  Might be because they get some sugarless gum after visits though...

      His assistants are just as kind and welcoming, in person as well as over the phone.  The office is conveniently located 5 minutes away from Kichijoji's central exit, right behind Parco, near Coffee Farm.  It's on a second floor and you can see the clinic from the street due to large glass windows, just above a specialized shoe store.

      Here's a review of the clinic with all the details about treatment options, directions, an d opening hours:  http://www.kanja.jp/clinic/007567.html

14 November 2010

Fancy Toilet!


     Deciding on a toilet was without a doubt our easiest choice.  Our architect recommended SATIS by Inax and so we went to the Shinjuku Showroom to view it.  A sophisticated toilet indeed, and intelligent too!  It can sense who's walking up to it and magically lift either the lid or both the lid and the top part!  Well, that's one option we didn't pick!

     I have to say, we were initially pretty indifferent about toilet type, as long as the thing was easy to clean.  Our Inax representative, Senga-san, explained some of the features of the SATIS such as the seat warmer and the shower for the behind. Not sure I'd want my toilet to clean my butt, but I'm willing to try.  Plus it's standard feature, so there's no way out of that one.  The other option we skipped on is the dryer.  We thought a nice toilet paper would suffice for that job. 

     Senga-san then had us pick a remote control.  Yes! a remote control for the toilet!  We picked the one with an English menu of course, hoping to minimize operating errors... Anyhow, we'd better read the user's manual.  We were also asked to chose between two types of finish for the seat, the standard shiny one and the upgrade, a more porous sort of material that is kinder to the touch, not as sticky.  We went for standard, thinking the fancier seat would require more maintenance, something our assistant even confirmed. 
  
     Senga-san then prepared a 3D image of our toilet, which sadly doesn't really show the blue-grey tone for a nice change from regular white.  Satis is an Eco5 toilet, with a low and high flush option, a big water saver. 

     By the way, in case anyone is wondering, Inax doesn't manufacture any toilets for export.  We asked just to make sure, because we know that there's a big interest for this type of toilet from foreign visitors to Japan.

     When I first came to Japan, my one-room apartment had an old-fashioned Japanese-style toilet I will always remember fondly...  The type that sits on a step and where you need to squat down to do your business.  My daughter, who enjoys long toilet -reading sessions, would not have appreciated it...  For the past 10 years, we've had to do with a regular style toilet with a faulty flush.  So Satis will be a wonderful long-awaited change.

11 November 2010

Layout Considerations

    We are now completely happy with the overall layout of our house.  We now only need to work on the roof to make sure that we get a usable loft.  To begin with, we were very pleased with the first layout drawn by our architect Yakushiji-san.  Over the weeks, we simply made minor modifications, as we changed our mind about the music room and the study.  The biggest concerns in terms of layout were the kitchen and the bathroom.

    Happily we were able to solve the kitchen issue, after a lengthy visit to Takara Standard.  What we realised after a few recognizance visits to Toto and Inax, was that our tastes did not fall within the most popular options on the market.  Shiny melamine cabinets might look great in a modern kitchen, but we were longing for a more traditional, colonial-style wooden finish...  I guess we had leafed through too many stylish Martha Stewart magazines to be impressed with ultra-modern lines.  According to our architect, Takara Standard specializes in affordable custom made kitchens so we trusted their advice and planed our kitchen with them.  We will get the detailed plans two weeks from now as well as the estimate.

     The bathroom was a huge dilemma.  The issues were: bath size, bath pump connection to washing machine, closet space, windows.  The constraints were limited space and an inclined ceiling.  After an exhaustive analysis of the bathroom layout options, using our grid and model baths ands, sinks and cabinets, we decided to go for a small bath (1200cm) rather than a standard-size bath.

     The advantages of choosing a compact bathtub are numerous for us: for one thing, we are saving space, and maximizing remaining space usage. Dead space is a big no-no for us.   Also, we've been favoring showers over the years because it seemed such a waste to fill a big bathtub and let all this water go to waste. With a smaller bathtub, we'll be more inclined to enjoy long leisurely hot baths without feeling guilty...  Here are the numbers: 260L of water is needed to fill a 1200 tub, whereas over 360L are needed for the larger 1600 tub...  Plus, a smaller tub will fit right behind the washing machine that will be hidden away in a closet that opens from the corridor.  This way we will be able to fit a bath pump to use the bath water for the wash cycle, a big eco move on our part! 

9 November 2010

Energy: Gas


Eco Jozu - Tokyo Gas Showroom
      Over to Tokyo Gas, we were able to get answers to a lot of our questions.  An assistant took us through the various energy saving/ reuse options, EneFarm, EcoWill and EcoJozu.  We had already ruled out the first two systems, due to their prohibitive cost, but we were interested in EcoJozu to help us save on energy in the long run.  The initial cost of installing EcoJozu instead of the regular water heating system, will be recovered within a few years, and our annual savings will be higher. 

 Radiant Heated Floor Types

     To get a feel for the warmth emanating from radiant floor heating, Tokyo Gas set up 3 sample rooms: the first room we walked in was maintained at 5 degrees, the second was heated with air conditioners, and the 3rd with radiant floor-heating.  We immediately noticed how comfortable that 3rd room was as compared to the one heated with forced air.  The heat with this type of heating moves upwards instead of stagnating on the floor.  We then and there decided to install radiant floor heating (yuka danbo) on the 1F, in the dining room area, the studio and the living room study areas. 

   Of course, just in case, we'll install air conditioners, but we are hoping to use them only in the summer time.  Another healthy way to heat rooms is to use gas stoves, but we decided against them because we would need to use up precious ans scarce storage space to store them in summer plus we'd need some air conditioners anyway! 

    So our needs for gas will now be restricted to water heating, as we will use electricity in the kitchen.  In order to cover our hot water needs in the bathroom and the floors, we will have to get a more powerful EcoJozu unit.  The price for that kind of unit is quite a bit more expensive, but we think that in the long run it will be worth it and we will be more comfortable.
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