Who says Rome cannot be built in one day? This idiom – often used to emphasise that important tasks take a long time to accomplish – may one day cease to be true, thanks to recent advancements in technology. With prefabricated materials, it is now possible to construct a sturdy, beautifully-designed bungalow, if not yet an entire city, in just one working day.
What does it take to build a detached house using prefabricated materials? It takes a team of seven engineers, for a start. But once the right people are on hand to oversee the process, it’s pretty smooth sailing. In one instance, construction began at 9.00am, and by 3.08pm, the job was completed and a new home was ready to be handed over for the purchaser’s inspection. All that was left to install were interior elements such as doors, partitions, ceilings, floor finishing and plumbing installation.
In Japan, where an entire eco-city has been developed in less than six months (time frames vary depending on the size of the city), the concept of PanaHomes, which is now making headlines in two other Asian countries, is set to revolutionise the construction industry. If priced competitively, this model can be expected to attract increasing numbers of builders and purchasers in Taiwan and Malaysia.
1) Photocatalytic glass reduces maintenance needs 2) Advanced photocatalytic technology allows Kiratech exterior tile walls to self-clean when exposed to the sun, reducing total long-term costs of maintenance and home ownership 3) Photocatalytic tiles also break down hazardous atmospheric pollutants, including nitrogen oxide (NOx), and purify the surrounding air (photo credit: PanaHome)
The company behind these instant dwellings is a Japanese construction company, PanaHome, which was established in Japan in 1963 with a capital of 26.276 billion yen. Owned by two major shareholders, Panasonic Corporation and Panasonic Electric Works Co Ltd, PanaHome recorded a turnover of 260.4 billion yen (US$2.8 billion) in 2009.
Earthquake laboratory tests show that PanaHome’s steel-frame structure is capable of withstanding earthquakes of up to 9.0 on the Richter scale (photo credit: PanaHome)
PanaHomes are said to withstand earthquakes of up to 9.0 on the Richter scale, a highly desirable feature suitable for countries like Taiwan. In countries like Malaysia that have no history of earthquakes, this means homes that are durable and viable as long-term investments.
Yoshiyuki Tanabe, project & strategic planning advisor and general manager of Panasonic Malaysia (photo credit: GPA photo)
“The building structure can outlast traditional houses,” says Yoshiyuki Tanabe, project & strategic planning advisor and general manager of Panasonic Malaysia, based in Kuala Lumpur. “The proprietary steel-framed structure is able to withstand sizeable earthquakes and recurring tremors, helping to keep families safe and protect the asset value of homes.”
This durability is how Tanabe plans to market the concept of the homes as his company seeks partners in the construction industry to tap the Malaysian market.
The other selling point about PanaHomes is its environment-friendly design. Tanabe reveals: “We are also placing very strong emphasis on our green initiatives. PanaHome bagged the excellence award in the category of ‘House of the Year’ in Electric 2009 for its achievement in reducing CO² emissions by 3.1 tonnes per house in one year.”
Compared to a detached house built in 1990, for example, a house built by PanaHome in 2010 can save up to 2.1 tonnes of CO² emissions a year. New PanaHomes developed in 2011 have achieved an even lower CO² emission level of 1.57 tonnes a year by adopting Panasonic eco-energy solutions (see below).
“To be green, the entire home has to be green from within,” explains Tanabe. “Together with Panasonic, we can provide total eco-energy solutions, which include solar power generating systems using solar PV panels, saving energy using Panasonic’s EcoNavi products such as energy-saving air-conditioners and LED lighting, which further contribute to energy efficiency.”
Designing PanaHomes also means using available resources to help conserve energy. Capitalising on cooler underground temperatures, PanaHomes use ducts to draw cold air from the earth and pushes it through the hybrid-ventilated houses. This system, which utilises both natural and mechanical ventilation to enhance air quality and flow, helps to cool the air inside the house, thus reducing the need for air-conditioning. In the case of a township, underground cooling tubes are also used to help ventilate the entire community.
1) The Eco-Life hybrid ventilation system combines natural and mechanical ventilation to enhance air quality and flow, and regulate humidity 2) Moisture-regulating building materials 3) The system supplies cool fresh air under the floorboards in summer and warm fresh air in winter, maximising comfort and helping to conserve energy 4) Low-emissivity glass and insulated windows (photo credit: PanaHome)
Tanabe adds: “Each house has a rainwater storage tank, where collected rainwater is then sprinkled over the roads using an automated sprinkler system to mitigate the heat island effect and help maintain ambient temperatures at a comfortable level.”
Instead of having to look for eco-friendly paints, the PanaHome uses a self-cleaning coating on its exterior walls that requires no exterior wall painting. “The advanced photocatalytic technology allows Kiratech exterior tile walls to self-clean when exposed to the sun,” Tanabe says. “This helps to keep the walls clean and reduces the total costs of home ownership.”
Green from the cradle
With PanaHomes, zero emission is achieved at the factory and construction site. In Japan, the wastes generated are also recycled or re-used. Tanabe adds: “For example, wood wastes are compressed into wood pellets for heating purposes or are used to decorate home gardens and footpaths. Polystyrene and plaster are recycled and sold back to manufacturers as feedstock for their own production. Besides that, we use only materials that are friendly to the environment, qualifying PanaHomes as eco-friendly homes.”
Ultimately, what is most interesting about PanaHomes is, of course, the time taken to construct a double-storey bungalow. “Once the foundation is laid, the job may take less than eight hours. Hence, there is less noise and dust pollution for the community where the construction is taking place,” says Tanabe.
“Less energy is used to complete the house, and materials used have gone through stringent quality controls. Most Malaysians tend to assume that prefabricated houses are cheap and of low quality, but PanaHome provides excellent houses whose quality is much higher than existing ones here. Maybe it’s time to drastically change our mindsets.”
In Japan, a number of PanaHome projects have been successfully completed.
Eco-friendly township of Seishin in Kobe City (photo credit: PanaHome)
Covering 415 ha, the PanaHome City Seishin Minami (Seishin Minami New Town) in Kobe, Japan, features 400 detached houses that were constructed in five phases. The entire township (picture at lower right) caters to a population of 35,000.
Another 308 houses were constructed in Nishi-ku, another residential development in Kobe. Here, the homes are built facing the centre of the township, which provides a high degree of privacy and shuts out noise from a highway to the north of the township.
In Chofu, Tokyo, PanaHome completed 20 detached houses and 16 apartments in 2006. “Here, PanaHome sought to create a green community that co-exists with the natural environment surrounding the Nogowa river,” says Tanabe. “Sales of the property were encouraging.”
PanaHomes in Chofu, Tokyo (photo credit: PanaHome)
There are also 109 PanaHomes in the historical Nara prefecture, and another 124 in the residential development at Komaki, Aichi in 1995.
In Taiwan, 123 PanaHomes are set to be constructed in a gated community. Here, the western slopes of the development site, which is unsuitable for buildings, have been transformed into an orchard where trees serve as a carbon sink and fruits harvested will be shared among residents.
In Malaysia, PanaHome’s second overseas market, negotiations are ongoing with local partners to develop an entire eco-township with PanaHomes. Tanabe says: “The potential of building PanaHomes in this country is bright. Initially, the prefabricated materials will be imported from Japan but eventually, we hope to produce them locally to reduce the carbon footprint and cut down logistics for the prefabricated construction materials. We are also looking for developers who are keen to work with us.”