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The government is discussing plans to make it mandatory for new homes to clear energy-saving standards, to help the nation live up to its international pledge to become carbon neutral by 2050.

The household sector accounts for roughly 15% of carbon dioxide emissions in Japan, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

Since houses, once built, are usually not renovated for many years, the ministry and other government bodies intend to toughen regulations in stages, with requirements for energy-saving features such as high levels of heat insulation starting with newly built homes. A cross-ministry study panel is expected to work out a road map toward the goal shortly.

To meet a target of reducing the average energy consumption of all newly built homes to zero by 2030, the government is promoting “net-zero energy houses,” or ZEHs, which are well-insulated, equipped with highly efficient air conditioning and hot water supply systems and produce as much energy from solar or other renewable energy sources as they consume, leaving the occupants with net zero energy consumption.

Some local governments have adopted more ambitious energy-saving targets for the household sector. In 2020, for example, the government of Tottori Prefecture introduced a three-stage program to certify the heat insulation of homes and that they minimize air leakage, and to provide subsidies promoting more energy-efficient housing than under the central government’s standards and ZEH program. More than 70 applications for certification have so far been submitted, the Tottori Prefectural Government said.

The housing industry is becoming concerned by the moves, because energy-saving homes require costlier materials and so are more expensive.

The ministry estimates that an additional ¥800,000 or more will be needed to make a small house meet the existing energy-saving standards. Although energy bills for such a home are lower than those for conventional houses, recovering the additional building costs takes more than 30 years.

To promote the construction of energy-saving homes, subsidies to ease the perception of higher cost among home buyers will be needed, as will efforts to help them understand future benefits.

The Tottori Prefectural Government stresses that housing certified under its criteria for energy efficiency cuts annual heating and cooling expenses by 70% or so, compared with homes that meet the central government’s standards.

Providing a specific figure for the cost reduction helps consumers better understand the benefits of energy-saving homes, according to the prefectural government, which provides subsidies of up to ¥1.5 million for the promotion of homes it certifies as energy saving.

The government of Nagano Prefecture has also launched a program in the current fiscal year offering subsidies of up to ¥1 million for homes that are more heat-insulated than the national standards.

Energy-saving homes will “appeal to consumers if we keep stressing their long-term benefits,” a Tottori Prefectural Government official said.

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