Monday, December 13, 2010

Chapter 33 – Peace and Harmony (Day 128)

So our builders got a call from one of our neighbors to the north of us and requested we install a privacy screen on the exterior of our family room window. For our own privacy reasons the window is already frosted glass but I guess they want something more permanent and want avoid us peering into their backyard. So what are our rights? A bit of research on the Japan Civil code and Article 235 states fairly clearly that a windows installed within 1 meter of property lines must have a privacy screen.

So for the sake of peace and harmony we’ll eventually put one up but we don’t want them to think that we’ll entertain their every desires. They had already asked the builders to not work on National holidays but since the project was a already running 2 weeks behind at the time….so for now we’ve told the architect to call them back and tell them “we’ll think about it and get back to them in January.”

Below are the latest photos of the kitchen-dining-living.


Below is the study with the built-in sofa bed. They still have to install the wall shelves.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chapter 32 – Walls, Stairs, Paint (Day 126)

We’re still on schedule for a mid-February move-in date but things seems to be moving a little slower these days, or at least uneventfully, which is good news by the way. So the posts have been a little spaced out since I figure people don’t want weekly posts of “we got the doors”, “the closet is built”, etc. But here’s a quick recap of the past 3 weeks:

November 23rd: Walls.
They’ve started putting the dry-wall in and our master bedroom is the first one to be completed as they wanted to get the recessed lighting nook built first. The dry-wall comes in boards which are screwed to the studs and I can’t imagine how much time this must have taken in the past to build without handy power tools.


While the interior is being worked on, a different contractor finished painting the exterior stucco walls which is a sandy color.


November 30th: Stairs
Now that the walls are done, the carpenters move to crafting the stairs which are made of white ash which is extremely sturdy.

The photo on the left are the stairs leading to the 2nd floor. One aspect I did not anticipate was how much light we’d get from above which is a nice surprise. Another surprise is how much space we’d have under them. You can almost fit a sofa under there but we figure it will be a great place for the cat’s scratching post and beds, as well as a nice small tree. The right photo are the stairs to the loft which I had concerns about being too steep. We created the platform to reduce the angle and you can comfortably go up and down without needing a ramp though we will install one for safety. Note that both stairs are skeleton stairs which allow for more natural light.
IMG_0354 IMG_0397

December 11th: Paint Verification
So I think we’ve discovered the Japanese propensity to have white walls in most of their homes….because it’s a major pain in the neck to figure the coordination between flooring, furniture, drapes, etc. We spend about 6 weeks going back and forth on shades, accent colors that it felt like a major milestone once we finally decided a few weeks back, but we still needed to check the samples on larger pieces than just strips of color. So we requested larger boards from the paint maker and tested our selections in different light. Left are the colors of the family room (White ceiling with Blue-Grey, with a light neutral sandy) and right are the colors of the study (white ceiling with red-orange).

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There’s also the flooring and the beams to decide on and we will go with light pine finish for the floor and a clear finish for the beams which will became darker with age.IMG_0357

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chapter 31: Tax Breaks (Day 105)


Besides the fact the land prices were coming down this year, another great incentive was the “special tax deduction on purchase of a new dwelling or house”. Essentially, if you bought a new house from 2009 to 2010 and lived in it for more than 6 months you are eligible up to a maximum of 500,000 in tax credits FOR TEN YEARS. That’s up to 5 Million yen! Now this is an awfully simplistic explanation as there are conditions but they are not unreasonable. Go to the link if you A) don’t believe me and B) want all the gritty details (use Google Translate if you can’t read the Japanese):

The link below is a tax credit simulator which takes inputs such as your yearly income, Loan amount, term and interest and deduces how much you’ll save from the Tax man.

In our situation since we won’t be living in the actual house until 2011, the maximum credit drops to 400,000 for 10 Years, which is a bit of bummer. But I’ll take it :)

Not much information in English about this but if you want to research more and are adept at reading broken Google Translate English use the following search terms:
住宅ローン控除 (じゅうたく ろーん こうじょ)
住宅ローン減税 (じゅうたく ろーん げんぜい)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chapter 30 – Bath, Electrical, and real wood floors. (Day 92)

Lately Sakamoto-san and us have been exchanging emails almost daily on all sorts of details. Exterior colors, AC piping, etc. When we signed the building contract we had a general idea on colors and the estimate was based on the grade or quality of the materials. This allowed us to start construction without having to wait and decide every fine point. This is a major money saver considering how much one spends on rent in Tokyo. I’ve heard couples taking 1 year to plan everything, but we can’t afford to wait that long and so far it’s working out.

Below is one of the sketches which Sakamoto-san suggested in terms of color coordination and which we agreed with.


Below was the other option which we passed on. Unless you are an artist or are great at visualizing materials and color coordination then I would make sure your architect is willing to sketch out their ideas and suggestions. It’s really helps to make a decision quickly. HUGE TIME SAVER!


On terms of building progress, the bathroom is being installed this week. A last minute add-on was the Jacuzzi function. One of those things little touches…:)


The exterior of the house has been wrapped in felt and wire. This is the preparation for the stucco siding.


Our second floor patio has been water sealed using a fiberglass compound. This crucial or else our bedroom just below will have water leaking through. This is really the under deck as it will get covered with a wood deck. There are 2 main drainage area and 3 extra overflow holes just in case for those sudden heavy down pours.


Most of the electrical wiring has been run throughout the house along with Gigabit Network wiring. It will all terminate in the Utility Room and there will be a special shelf for all the networking equipment.


And finally REAL WOOD floors, not plywood with something pasted on top of it. This is real oak. Price wise it’s a little more expensive but mainly because you have to add coats of paint and/or varnish. The kids can’t wait to be able to roam around a little. We’ve been asked to keep them away from site visits until the big power saws are taken away. A very sensible recommendation by our builders.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chapter 29 – Building Update (Day 88)

Here’s a quick update on the home building.

New move-in date has been pushed back about 10 days due to interior cabinetry production delays. So we are now scheduled for Mid-February.

A bit of a surprise here. We live within 10 minutes from a busy train station which means stricter fire regulations, hence more fire-proof windows. All this makes sense until we got the unfortunate surprise that all our windows need to have wire meshing which is not ideal from an aesthetic perspective. We are exploring options for the windows with views of the garden and deck areas. Stay tuned.


More Insulation:
Wall insulation has been installed. It’s fiberglass wool but we doubled the standard thickness to 10cm thick. Not only is this better for insulation but also for sound proofing. We considered polyurethane foam but we were left unconvinced by the higher price tag and the fact that there is not much data out there about effects of exposure. The guys spraying the stuff wear masks and gloves…maybe we’re just ignorant but we stuck with the tried and tested.


Once they fill the cavity they cover it with plastic sheet before the dry wall is installed.


Below is our ventilation system with air heat exchange unit from Daikin. This is only on the first floor where there are more walls and airflow is lesser than on the second floor. Fresh air while minimizing energy loss! While I’m on this topic, I got my estimate on the AC units we will need for the home. Though Sanryo builders had offered 25% discount on the MSRP, I’ve managed to get an additional 20% with free shipping from a online vendor. Less convenient but the extra coordination effort on my part will pay for my dishwasher.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chapter 28 – Color me blind (Day 75)

Although we mostly agreed on the grade of the materials, one thing to note is that if you want a better selection of built-in furniture colors then you will need to add 15~20% to the original estimated cost.

Call me us picky but we felt we wanted an upgrade on the entrance cabinets and the master bedroom. Below are some of the sample boards provided to us by Sakamoto-san. The one on the far left was constructed by Sakamoto to show us the various coordinated color patterns for the house interior. We will of course have much more color in the house overall once we move on to paint selection but it will be heavily influenced by our choices at this stage of the process.


Our selections:


Slender(5色)Oscar zebra(Q色)

Master Bedroom:

Maestro plum(M色)

Kid’s room, most windows frames and doors,Utility Laundry room:

P色 ペール色

Study Area, :

P色 ペール色K色 ココア色

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chapter 27 – Plug and Play (Day 72)

So we’ve got walls now. Well at least plywood, so we have a better sense of the amount of natural light we are going to get. Below is a shot at around 4pm which is when it begins to get darker in the autumn. As the sun sets there is a gorgeous warm orange glow that fills the room. Near where my daughter is standing are the windows. Unfortunately, TOSTEM (home materials manufacturer) sent the wrong frame color. But schedule is still on target.


But about them electrical plugs. As I inspected (for the 100th time) the plans of the house, I came to the conclusion that 2 electrical outlets per room was just not going to cut it. There’s nothing like an extension cord to ruin the look of a room in my opinion. So we added 3 outlets on the first floor.

10-13-2010 10-10-42 PM

And 8 outlets on the 2nd Floor.

10-13-2010 10-20-57 PM

But if you think that’s where it ends, as the Cat in the Hat would say “But that is not all. Oh no that is not all.”….we had to consider the type of outlets such as these floor outlets for the open living room. We are also looking at pop-up outlets in the dining area.


Yes, probably extra spend. But you only want to do this once.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chapter 26 – Trust, Verify, Be inspired (Day 65)

This is probably annoying to the site workers, but we’re basically on site checking things out every other day. This is not so much to supervise but to get a sense of the space as we will need to get newer furniture and so it’s good to just stay in a space and see how light enters a room. Then there’s the factor that it’s just fun to see your creation built before your eyes.

Anyhow, in our latest visit, we noticed that the loft window was about 40cm lower than on the plans. As the picture below shows, it would essentially be blocked by our future LED TV. A good thing we noticed as it was just the frame for the window that had been set and we still have time and flexibility to rectify the matter.


But it occurred to us that a window above a TV does make that much more sense. How many have you looked out of a window behind the TV set? So we measured the area just to the right and figured it would fit nicely there with a nice plant.


Below are some of our notes and ideas we sent to Sakamoto-san.


So sometimes mishaps are good opportunities to re-think old ideas, so it’s important to go with the flow.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chapter 25 – Let there be light (Day 58)

They say that lighting is one of the most cost effective ways to create ambience in a room. When doing the major design work we had generally agreed on the location and type of lighting to about a 90% degree of confidence. We figured we would be fine spending 500~1000$ if needed.

So here were are below with our saintly Sakamoto-san who had pre-booked a lightning consultant at the Odelic showroom. Just want to note here that these consultants are products experts not necessarily design experts. Although very knowledgeable she was really there to listen to us, answer questions and provide options. The nice thing here is that she’s not trying to push a product on you.


There are thousands of options, from tube lights, LED, incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, pendants, standing lamps, down lights, directional down lights, sensors, warm light, cool light, neutral/broad/narrow ranges. and we have not even started talking about style. Below is one change we wanted for our bedroom as we can’t stand bedrooms with the bright round fluorescent lamp in the middle of the room. We’ve opted for more indirect lighting which will also be adjustable.


In terms of other changes:

  • Added more Exterior lights with sensor near entrance and windows for safety.
  • Added LED lights in hallways nooks so they can be kept on almost all the time but consuming only 5% of energy. Added Down light in Hallway as well to highlight wall decorations.
  • Added 3 pendants over Kitchen Dining Counter. Added 3 pendants over Dining table.
  • Added lighting directed at ceiling in Living Room.

The damage has been an increase of about 1500$ in suggested retail price. I’m expecting a 50% discount, so it will come to about 750$ extra.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Chapter 24 – Insulation (Day 55)

I have not forgotten about this blog, dear readers. As my favorite saying goes, Life just takes over. But it’s not like we’ve been sitting on our behinds and have grown complacent, and delegated everything to the site manager and architect. Trust but verify is my advice. You’ll understand a little why later.

Day 55 : Insulation: (Oct. 2)
Typical home in Japan is insulation in the roof is about 50mm thick. But since we are applying for Eco-points (which should make us eligible for up to 3500$ in refunds) we’ve tripled the thickness to 150mm. The material is a thick but light material like styro-foam but sturdier. It’s cut slightly larger than the shape of the space between the studs in order to create a tight seal. We’ve thought about the foamy spray, and cellulose fiber but it’s twice the cost. This should do fine and I believe has a low VOC factor.


With roof covered the skylights are more prominent and I’m very happy we added them or else this north side would have been darker than desired. These windows should be right above the dining area.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chapter 23 – Sketch versus Photos

One of the intangibles in home building is being able to get a real sense of space. Sketches help in my opinion, especially when you add walls, cabinets and furniture. But it’s interesting to compare and contrast.

Below are 2 sketches of the view from the family room looking at dining, kitchen, living, study and patio.



Here’s a photo which sort of makes things feel slightly smaller but I’ve been told it will feel very different when you actually have stuff in it.


Below is is the view from the kitchen.


Similar view from kitchen island looking to the living room and patio. Don’t mind the 2X4 in the middle of the photo. It’s not a pillar. it’s just resting there at the moment.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chapter 22 – Raising of the Barn (Day 48)

Or in Japanese its called “Mune-Age” which means raising of the highest beam.
The Japanese custom is to hold a little party and hand out gifts to the workers who built the foundation and to the carpenters who work on the frame and will complete the house finishes including built-in furniture. As explained by the site manager, with the depressed economy here, many are opting-out of this custom and it would not mean that work quality would diminish. However, lots of changes can happen during the project which are unplanned and unbudgeted. This is where good will comes in.As this seemed more relevant than paying a priest for blessing the land, thus agreed to the ceremony for which we had to organize food and drinks for 17 people. We also decided on cash gifts. The suggested gift was 1~2 man for the team leads and half for the team members. Damage was about 8man for food, drinks and gifts for 8 builders.


Cleansing Ceremony:
Our site manager helped us with formalities. Not sure what this is called but essentially you go to the four corners of the home. On the corner post, I threw a handful of salt to the left of the post, then the right, then the middle, step back and bow. Sakamoto-san did the same but with rice. Then the Master Carpenter did the same with Sake. Then we all bow. Repeat 3 times.

P1050744 P1050743

The First Dinner: Curry from our favorite Nepalese Restaurant, who the owners happen to be our future neighbors. Some drinks and customary speeches and self-introductions. And finally, time to play Santa Claus.

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The family got a chance to walk around the rooms and we took some snapshots including the second floor. I’ll post some side-by-side comparisons with Sakamoto-san sketches.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chapter 21 – Water Cure (Day 35~47)

It’s a been a little over 2 weeks since the concrete was poured for the foundation. During that time it’s been hardening (curing) in a fairly moist environment helped by the rainy weather. From what I’ve read this is a good thing as it can make the concrete 50% stronger. LINK.

Day 41: Water Curing, Drain Pipes.


In the meantime, the world doesn’t stop. The plumber comes in trenches, sets up the water supply and drain pipes.


Day 46: Still Curing, Setup for Framing the House.


Day 47: Lots of wood.

Below are the first pallets of wood which will be anchored to the foundation. Interestingly, there are hard plastic spacers so that the beams don’t touch the concrete directly. From what I can understand this is to prevent the wood rotting from moisture. They will add a moisture prevention barrier at a later stage too.


So all of the wood is pre-cut and coded so that the workers can assemble them like a well-orchestrated puzzle. Every piece has a code and my NAME on it. Pretty cool. Below are some closeups of the joints which I thought were interesting.