Newer homes incorporating materials that conserve energy, benefit health

by Shinichi Tokuda

Global warming affects everyone on the planet and many people are becoming more interested in saving energy to help slow down environmental deterioration.

But they hesitate to give up their energy-consuming lifestyles, intent on maintaining comfortable temperatures and humidity levels in their homes.

In response, some companies have developed high-performance building materials that keep the living environment comfortable while curbing energy consumption, and these materials are becoming more widely used in new houses in Japan.

“INAX Corp. started up with sintering clay tiles and has persistently tried to take advantage of natural materials to achieve comfortable living environments,” said Masatomo Yoshikawa, a senior official at INAX’s environmental promotion office.

In 1998, the ceramics maker introduced the Ecocarat clay-based building material for “breathing walls” that can keep indoor humidity at a comfortable 40 percent to 70 percent with ventilation through microscopic holes.

The Ecocarat wall can help prevent the propagation of ticks and mold and absorb bad smells. The material has been selling well for use in bedrooms and living rooms, Yoshikawa said.

INAX put on sale Thermofloor bathroom flooring material in April 2004 that uses an insulation mechanism to remain warm even without a floor heating system that consumes energy.

A study indicated Thermofloor can help prevent elderly people’s blood pressure from rising upon entry into the bathroom.

“INAX will focus on products that are comfortable, economical and environmentally friendly,” Yoshikawa said.

“The enhancement of insulation in doors and windows can help save energy consumption while keeping the indoor environment comfortable,” said Tadashi Sakamura, a spokesman for Tostem Corp., the largest window-frame maker in Japan.

A combination of insulation frames and double-glazed windows can halve annual air conditioning costs, he said.

“The product had initially sold only in northern Japan but has been selling well throughout the nation, as people have grown more conscious of environmental conservation,” Sakamura said.

The construction industry has also seen the growing popularity of passive technologies that use solar and other natural energy sources to make the living environment comfortable.

OM Solar Association has pioneered the “passive solar system” to tap solar energy without costly photovoltaic cells.

The system takes outdoor air through eaves into the attic, heats the air through sunshine on the roof and sends the warmed air through ducts to under-floor concrete, which releases heat at night to provide natural floor heating.

In summer, the system sends hot air out of the attic to help lower the indoor temperature.

Teaming up with more than 300 construction firms throughout Japan, OM Solar Association has sold the passive solar system for more than 20,000 new houses.