Some elderly people and retired baby boomers whose offspring have moved away are hard at work reducing the size of their homes to a more manageable level.
If a house is downsized, cleaning it is easier, and if a two-story house is rebuilt as a one-story, its earthquake-resistance is usually greater.
“We removed the second-story section above the living room and attached a ceiling light. Because the ceiling was raised, the living room, which used to be dark, has become much brighter,” said Sachiko Onobori, of Matsuda, Kanagawa Prefecture.
Because their children have left home and her parents have passed away, Onobori and her husband decided to renovate their house to enable them to live a more simple life by reducing its total floor space by 13 percent.
The renovation cost the couple about ¥10 million, more than their budget, but Onobori said, “We are satisfied, as the Japanese-style room that my father took such pains to create remains.”
Rebuilding used to mean expanding a house, but middle-aged and elderly people nowadays believe large houses are more likely to be money pits that do not necessarily enrich their lives.
Downsizing a house can also result in improved ventilation and natural light, better quake-resistance, lower air conditioning and heating costs and less area to keep clean.
According to a survey in 2003 by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the average number of rooms in the household of a single person aged over 65 was 4.36, while the household of a couple aged over 65 averaged 5.47 rooms.
But more and more couples and elderly people have to face the fact that they use more space for storage as they get older.
Kyoko Nishida, head of Mitsui Home Remodeling Co.’s Mitsui Life Style Labo, said, “Many people use the opportunity to scale down the size of their houses and review their life by sorting out what should be left for posterity and what should be thrown away.”
She quoted one person who did so as saying, “I didn’t think that a life in which everything is within arm’s reach would be so comfortable.”
Such reductions of scale in rebuilding have been made possible due partly to the development of new technologies such as braces to better absorb earthquakes even for old houses.
But some experts warn that even if the second floor of a house is removed with the aim of strengthening the structure’s quake resistance, such work can sometimes weaken the balance of the house and make it more susceptible.
“You should ask more than two rebuilding contractors to make structural calculations to come up with a carefully considered conclusion,” one expert said.
In the old, huge Hibarigaoka housing complexes of western Tokyo, the Urban Renaissance Agency has begun a full-scale experiment to find out whether there will be structural problems if the number of floors in the buildings is reduced.
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