Monday, 9 December 2013

NEDO - No Deal

So the discussion of the NEDO grant started early in 2010, dangled in front of us like a piece of bait to lure the client into the contractor's trap.

We got the applications in to the Suppliers of Heat but Not much Light, and they sent them in to NEDO in May. The approval came back in July. 

From May their plan had been pretty much part of our plan, at least as far as I was concerned, and from the arrival of the piece of paper bearing the red government seal, their plan was a fixed in ours. This set the project completion date before January, since that was one of the conditions of the NEDO grant. In fact January 2011 was already a lot later than October 2010, which had been the completion date in earlier plans. I had hoped to be moving out of the old house before the winter of 2010, but January became March, and then seemed more like it would be May 2011. In the end everyone was rushing around like blue-arsed flies because I was holding the site foreman to his promise that we would be in by Christmas 2011. 

In order to meet the deadline of January 2011, we needed the windows to arrive by November 2010, so they had to be ordered pretty quickly to be assembled and delivered from Germany in time. Although we'd basically decided what windows we wanted when they made the semi-fictitious invoice for them for the NEDO application, it took a while to specify the exact details, including which way they opened, the style of the handles and whether they needed mosquito screens. Then we had to send this order to the importer, and at this point we learnt that the hinge of a window is indicated in opposite ways on Japanese and European drawings. So the order went back and forth a couple of times as we checked various things before it could be sent to Germany.

We were then rushed to hold the ground breaking ceremony in September. This is a Shinto ceremony that basically clears the way with the local spirits for building the house. I'm not a particularly religious person, but I am quite superstitious. This is partly because other people are, and they may be upset if you don't follow their superstitions. It's also partly because however unlikely it is, there's a chance of a grain of truth in superstition, and taking Pascal's wager, the stake of following the superstition is relatively small compared to the potential cost of not following it. So it's worth getting a couple of bottles of sake and a pineapple, and putting a bit of cash in an envelope if there's a chance it will stop your house being swallowed up by an earthquake, even if there is no obvious scientific connection. Or who knows, maybe the local shrines are in league with the local mafia. 

From the ground breaking ceremony for another couple of months, nothing seemed to move, except the steady realisation that the January deadline and the NEDO grant were impossible, and that there had been absolutely no hurry at all to hold the ceremony. I'd started taking pictures of the plot everyday, and this period is a little boring. A piece of string appeared in the middle of December, then a digger was there until the end of the month. Then the hole sat there until March. 

In October, we still hadn't signed the contract with the builders, although they had been at the ground breaking ceremony and there was a spoken understanding that they would be building the house. With hindsight I think a few things were happening: The builders wanted precise plans to work out a price. The architect didn't have precise plans and the price he'd promised us was not going to be the same as the price the builders were going to come up with. I wanted a price to be fixed and expected some teamwork between the architects, the builders, the passive house lady and me to work out the exact details to proceed, so we could get on and start pouring the foundation before we decided what colour the bath taps were going to be. Also the architect was probably busy on another project and his next invoice, and not paying full attention to ours. 

This was another point at which we should probably have sacked the architect. The first time was when he said that calculating the energy efficiency of a building was too much like hard work. By this time I think we were suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. In a very real way, the architect was holding us hostage in our own house, except it hadn't been built yet. We'd already ordered the windows and felt we needed him to have a house to put them in. We should probably have told him to give us the pretty pictures and leave us and the builders to work them out. This had not been offered to us as an option, but in life we often don't understand our options until it's too late.