Several months ago we had most of the windows in our home replaced, even though the house is less than 2 years old. When we had it built we ordered standard double-glazed windows with aluminum frames and sashes, thinking it would be enough, but after the first winter we realized is wasn’t, so we decided to buy windows that keep more heat inside during colder weather, while also reflecting more of the sun’s rays when it’s hot.
It was expensive, but the purchase and installation qualified for “eco points,” the government system that rewards the purchase of so-called environmentally friendly housing fixtures and features with coupons that can be used to buy other things. In our case, we spent ¥380,000 on the new windows and received 108,000 eco points, which translates as ¥108,000 worth of coupons that we can spend almost anywhere, and for almost anything. You can even donate your points to a charity, if you want.
There’s a joke that “eco” in this case doesn’t mean “ecology,” but rather “economy.” It’s no secret that the central government has implemented the system as yet another baramaki (scattering seeds) program to stimulate consumer activity. In fact, the current eco-point plan is the third one they’ve enacted. The first, in 2010, was described as an “emergency economic countermeasure,” while the second was in force for only six months in 2012 to help people in the disaster-stricken areas of the Tohoku region rebuild.
The current plan, which went into effect in February and ends Jan. 1, 2016, as part of a supplementary budget, seems to have been approved to counteract the negative influence of last year’s consumption tax rise and is effective nationwide.
In that regard, this third plan is actually more generous. With previous plans, only new houses ordered by their owners were eligible for eco points. That meant houses built by developers and sold afterward did not qualify. Under the current system, houses with eco features that are bought after they’ve been built also qualify if the contract is signed within a year of completion. The purpose is to get rid of existing inventory. Likewise, condominium units with eco features that remain unsold after the entire building is completed also qualify. The maximum amount of points the buyer can receive is 300,000.
Another new qualifying condition is that recently bought used houses or condos can be eligible if they have renovations that incorporate eco features, though the renovations must be ordered when the house purchase takes place or, more precisely, the work must begin no more than three months after the contract for the house is signed. It should be noted that businesses can also receive points if they carry out eco renovations for resale purposes. However, the business ordering the work and the business carrying it out must be different.
Probably the most useful change to the system is for people who already own a home and want to renovate it. Previously, the only renovation work that qualified for eco points on already existing homes were upgrading to better windows (as in our case) and improving the insulation for outer walls, ceilings, roofs and floors. These tasks qualified because they were considered “major construction” and are very expensive. However, the current plan adds the installation of certain fixtures that may be less labor intensive: solar room-heating systems, water-conserving toilets, heat-conserving bathtubs and “highly efficient” water heaters. In order for these new fixtures to qualify for eco points, though, the installation of at least three of them must be carried out at the same time. They also qualify if they are installed in conjunction with the afore-mentioned insulation or window replacement work.
The tricky part of the eco-point system is figuring out how many points are awarded for each type of renovation or feature. We were pleasantly surprised to receive 108,000 points for work that cost ¥380,000 for merchandise and labor, since it represents a point-to-cost ratio of almost 1:3 — extremely generous considering that the maximum number of points you can receive for building an entire eco house is 300,000. The government wants to spread the points around as much as possible since there are a limited number — 90.5 billion — in accordance with a limited budget. Once all the points are claimed the plan ends, even if it hasn’t reached the end of the allocated time period on Jan. 1.
In addition, this time the eco-point system incorporates renovations that specifically benefit the elderly. The installation of railings in rooms and corridors as well as work that eliminates level gaps and other “barriers” between rooms will earn the buyer 6,000 points, and widening hallways for wheelchairs gets you 30,000 points. And while quake-proofing wasn’t eligible for previous plans, it is this time if the work is done in conjunction with large-scale renovation worth at least ¥3 million.
Philip Brasor and Masako Tsubuku blog about Japanese housing at www.catforehead.wordpress.com.