Sunday, 29 May 2011

Are windows being framed?

While many Japanese manufactured products are among the best in the
world, it became clear very early that Japanese windows are not.
Within Japan there seems to be a stark difference between domestic
production and exports. Companies that do export usually have
completely different product line ups, and different marketing
strategies. International competition is tough and competitive, while
the domestic market is characterised by franchises and conglomerates,
so that choice to the consumer is limited.

Looking from an anthropological perspective, this may have something
to do with low context and high context societies. In the west,
generally the best solutions must be found for problems. In Japan,
relationships, and especially long-term relationships are most
important. If you're buying vegetables, then the relationship between
you and the green grocer is important. While building a house, I can't
help feeling that the most important long-term relationships are those
among the architect, the builder, the suppliers and the
sub-contractors. It seems like the poor sods who have to pay for it
all and usually live in the building for the rest of their lives are a
bit of a nuisance and an interruption to this cosy clique. After the
house is built, it's pretty unlikely the customer is going to be going
back to get another one, and if they do, there's a fair chance it
would be with someone else.

So, generally the building industry seems to be resistant to imports
and happy with what it gets. I'm quite sure this is not unique to
Japan, and the building industry the world over is conservative. In
fact people in general will usually choose the status quo rather than
leap into the unknown.

The situation with windows is that the performance of imported
windows, in terms of insulation and airtightness, is much higher than
Japanese manufactured windows, and in fact when we were trying to
compare the performance, it was quite difficult to find any quantified
figures for the Japanense windows, although this may have changed with
the new ratings. The Japanese windows are cheaper, but in order to
make a comparison, you need to know how much heat they are going to
let out over their lifetime.
As I wrote before
, the windows we are using from Pazen
and the fact that they are mostly on the South of the building, will
bring in over twice as much heat as they lose. Lower spec windows are
effectively leaking heat throughout the winter and will cost more the
longer they are used. If you knock the house down and smash them after
17 years (which I think is the average life expectancy of a building
in Japan) it's not such a big problem, and the economics change, but
the windows will last 50 years, and the calculations I'm making for
energy savings are also based on that. Without high spec windows, the
only way to get high energy performance from a building is to make the
windows very small.

It has not been completely smooth getting the windows, partly
exacerbated by the fact that we've dealt directly with the window
supplier, Albero rather than ordering them
through the builders. At first the architect wanted us to use some
Japanese windows, perhaps where they were not so critical, but the
reality is that we're looking at a building envelope with a
more-or-less uniform temperature, so everywhere is critical. We
ordered the windows last summer, as part of an application for a 2.7
million yen NEDO grant, which was dependent on the building being
finished by the end of January. Working back from this deadline, the
windows needed to arrive in November, ready to be delivered onto the
building site. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that anybody was working
forward to this deadline, and when we eventually got a building
schedule, the date for the windows to go in was 23rd May, over six
months later. They have since been delayed another month due mainly to
the weather, and partly due to a shortage of building supplies caused
directly by the recent earthquake, and indirectly because of the
demand in rebuilding. Also, I can't help feeling that the delay has
its roots in the same place as the last delay, but it's probably best
to write about that after we've safely moved in.

I don't think there is a systematic attempt to keep imported windows
out of Japan, but there are several mitigating circumstances.
* Japanese builders have long-term relationships with Japanese window
* There is little knowledge or understanding of insulation and what
the numbers actually mean.
* Higher performance windows are more expensive, and the budget for
windows is usually very small.
* Customers are unlikely to ask for high performance windows, and if
they do, they are likely to be told it is impossible, unncessary and
or expensive.

Windows make a massive difference to a house. When people are asked what they did wrong, windows is the most common answer.