Friday, February 24, 2012

Winter Thoughts on Energy

Kerosene Heaters do have their merits and satisfy a primordial need to cook on fire
When something doesn't work the obvious solution is to try something else. As I freeze my tootsies off in yet another winter in my very expensive rental house with its outrageous electricity bills, I wonder at the lack of insulation and the single panes of glass that allow in drafts despite doors shut and windows in lock-down. The house breathes but it also lets every yen of heat escape.

Conversation turned to energy conservation at cooking class yesterday. I felt the months of winter's cold, the difficulties of staying warm, and extra work involved in lugging kerosene and filling heaters, boil over. Yes, energy conservation is necessary in terms of how we live in the way that energy is used, but a couple of solar panels on the house do not make up for a house that allows the wind to blow out every bit of warmth. A house has to be designed to take advantage of its location and then to hold onto the the heat or in summer the cool air. My outrage is because these things are possible though not in wide useage here in Japan. Perhaps we fail at these things in the States as well, but it is here that I have lived and suffered winter's whims these past five years.

I drive my car more than my Japanese friends and with that I get a few pangs of guilt that I should be walking and biking more than I do. I am always pressed for time so the car is the solution at the ready for me. There is a flicker of thought that bridging two cultures is part of the problem as well that I am doing too much. So there, I am not so much better myself in addressing obvious solutions to change. I do bridge two cultures as I have feet planted in both worlds- American and Japanese- and these worlds are forty-five minutes apart. I do "do" too much. Here is the inroad I should seek to address but I love all of the things I do so I can't see my way to give them up, well, I'd be happy to give up laundry, cleaning, and organizing, but that seems unlikely.

My powers of concentration intensify with my interest. My husband's constant refrain is that when I am focused on something I am oblivious to all else like a child playing with Lego sets in an imaginary world. So it is. Truly we've both learned that if we turn from what we are doing, it will be a long time before we get back to it. My son will disregard bodily signals to go to the bathroom when he is engaged in play to the point that he almost or does have an accident. When I worked in the hospital, I would stay on my tasks ignoring my own hunger pains and some calls for my attention to complete long complex tasks because it was too hard to get back to them. A nurse in the hospital has numerous interruptions. Those interruptions takeaway from the quality and detail of work and I suppose for a child, the joy and interest of play. I love uninterrupted time but it seems as though that gift is only given to us in childhood summer days to appreciate later.

Having had frostbite on my toes from living in a too cold house combined with having Raynaud's Phenomena in a temperate climate, I can appreciate and see the need for serious change in the way houses are built in Japan and elsewhere. A heater with a digital eye that blows the heat or cool air to where you are is an insufficient answer. Crumbs do not make the pie. Small steps are better than no steps, but if Japan and the world are to give up nuclear energy we must make many and more grand turns toward change. For that solar panel to be effective, our needs much match it's output.


  1. I've often wondered what it costs to heat and cool those McMansions with their two-story or higher entrance foyers. My energy conservation peeve this month is Navy offices plastered with energy conservation signs that I have to squint to read because they've turned off half the lights but left all the flat-screen televisions turned on.

  2. TVs tuned to sports or FOX news- neither of which do anything for me. Meanwhile the main audience appears to me at least when I am there to be women and children so I'm guessing I'm not alone in wishing there was something else on the boob tube. Seriously why is a ball game on in the Peds clinic? Or worse some day time drama. I've seen both there.

  3. Kim - make sure you do your comparisons not in terms of the cost but the energy consumption. Electricity is several times more expensive here in Japan than in the US.

    While I agree with you that the housing industry lost in the grip of the yakuza is an appalling tragedy of concrete ugliness and waste, there are also some positive sides to the Japanese way. We get to be more in touch with the seasons instead of being always insulated in an artificial world. I quite like this - it makes me more appreciative of the hardships our ancestors had to face and to appreciate a little of how absolutely lucky we are. I'm not sure I deserve to be so insulated from the world! Why should I be so presumptuous? There is also a lot less asthma in Japan than in places like the UK, where it seems that the rate has basically risen along with the increase in warm, hermetically sealed houses. And thirdly, while it is awful that the heat just escapes through the pathetically thin windows, it is not as bad as you say in terms of energy consumed, because, as I said above, electricity is very expensive here, and as we only heat one small room at a time, rather than the American way of heating the whole house, huge air spaces included, we are not necessarily using so much.

    From perusing the housing market, I think that over the last decade the number of houses with double glazing has been increasing. Japan would be a prime place for solar power which could make a real difference, if only the government could get its act together.

  4. Hermetically sealed vs. the elements makes it sound like such an easy choice. Even in the "Little House on the Prairie" series they piled hay and stones around the house to winterize. I doubt it is the mold ridden damp house that never warms and never cools that is the source of the lower asthma incidences in Japan. Mold is a big trigger for asthma and allergies. The first Passive House built in Japan (European Standard for eco house since one doesn't exists in Japan) happens to be in Kamakura. One aspect of this type of house is that the whole house is warm, it uses less energy than a house heating one room at a time with the usual windblowers, and particularly the family that resides in it noted that their children's allergy systems all but disappeared after moving into the house likely because of the air filtration system which is used to hold onto the warm air in winter and the cool air in summer. There is also a rehabbed passive house in Kamakura. You should visit and judge for yourself the value of an entire house being warm and more energy efficient. This idea of the wonderful connection to nature is BS. The best use of solar energy is as a water heater on your roof. Electrical wiring and energy exchange loose most of the benefit- this is a big expensive change for the entire network. I think a better start for the individual homeowner is the solar water heater, insulation, at least double paned windows, and some consideration of keeping the need for gloves, boots, scarves, and hats for the outside.


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