Tag Archive: URBAN

Feb 19

Exterior – Day 13

As we slept in this morning, the workmen came and removed the scaffolding.  While I thought this was a little weird, since we hadn’t been asked if we’d approved it yet, but at least it means that most  of the work is done.


The workers will have to come back at least once more since they left brooms, brushes, and a ladder.

Exterior Renovations - Day 13

Exterior Renovations - Day 13




And a BEFORE/AFTER shot:

Exterior Renovations - Day 1  Exterior Renovations - Day 13

Feb 18

Exterior – Day 12

I popped upstairs to check a hunch when I got home today, and low and be-friggin’ hold, the roof was done!



Exterior Renovations - Day 10




 Exterior Renovations - Day 12


Ooo!  Shiny!

Feb 16

Exterior – Day Ten

Massive snow on the evening of Day Eight, so no one came yesterday.  Today, however, they were back.  Mostly, it seemed, putting finishing touches on the paintwork:


Exterior Renovations - Day 10


Exterior Renovations - Day 10

Hard to see, but they’ve painted the drainpipe and eaves pipes running down the side of the house with the same brown as the metal deck/fence.



You can see below that they’ve painted over the fresh wood that was put in by the carpenters on Sunday.  It’s white!

Exterior Renovations - Day 10


Not sure if they’re done yet.  If they are, I suppose the next step is the roof.

Feb 14

Exterior – Day 8

I get home later on Mondays, so by the time I snapped these, it was raining and the light wasn’t so good.


Exterior Renovations - Day 8

They’ve restained our front door so that the outside doesn’t look faded anymore.  For reference, this is how it looked until today:


Kamiooka Tea House



Exterior Renovations - Day 8 Exterior Renovations - Day 8


You can see in this final photo that they’ve added the blue stripe above the window frame, under the mini window cover.  I really hope they do another coat on the red, though; it’s looking pretty thin.

Feb 13

Exterior – Day Seven

Day five and day six were no-gos.  The weather was rainy and snowy, so no work got done.  But on the morning of the the seventh day, I answered the door in my red bathrobe and walked around the building consulting with Tsukide-san about the work.


A few hours later, the carpenters arrived to begin their work.


Exterior Renovations - Day 7

As you can see, there was more painting done on Friday after I left.  The blue over the window and the metal shutter box have been done.


Exterior Renovations - Day 7 

This is a shot looking straight up from right beside the front door.  The carpenters put in that metal cover (and the hole underneath) today.  It’s so our second floor crawlspace can vent properly and prevent rotting from humid air building up there.  Until now, URBAN had suggested to us to open the second floor windows as much as possible in order to accomplish the same thing.


Exterior Renovations - Day 7 

The white areas just above the window frames will be redone in blue (although the areas under the window covers will remain white).  Also, you can’t see it very well in any of these photos, but the carpenters replaced several areas of wood that had started to rot really badly.


Exterior Renovations - Day 7

Feb 11

Exterior – Day Four

Painting started yesterday in earnest.


Exterior Renovations - Day 4 


Yay!  Blue!


Exterior Renovations - Day 4


And red!


Exterior Renovations - Day 4



They did more work after I took these, but by the time I got back home last night it was dark, and today it is snow.  I expect them to be back at work tomorrow, weather permitting.

Feb 09

Exterior – Day Three

Well, the men are hard at work.  Today I came home to a fume-filled house, since they’ve started doing the primer coats on the wall and the wood.


 Exterior Renovations - Day 3

You can see that the coating is making the wall panels look really yellow.  They seem to be leaving the metal alone for the time being.


Exterior Renovations - Day 3

Feb 08

Exterior – Day Two

Today, the tarpaulins went on the scaffolding, and they started pressure washing the exterior of the house.  It was weird being inside while they did that.


Exterior Renovations - Day 2


I like this photo; it looks like something from a different planet.



Exterior Renovations - Day 2 Exterior Renovations - Day 2

Feb 07

Exterior – Day One

The scaffolding went up today.


Exterior Renovations - Day 1 Exterior Renovations - Day 1 Exterior Renovations - Day 1

Feb 04

The Next Phase

I haven’t written about the Kamiooka Tea House in a while.


We finished unpacking most of the boxes by mid-October, after which I got buried in the rehearsals for Tartuffe.  Despite being crazy busy, and the house remaining messy for several months as we slowly started getting ride of things we didn’t need any more (an ongoing process), we settled in almost immediately, and we love the place.


The interior renovations were not a waste of money.  I’m sure we could have endured and lived in the house as it was (minus a few hundred thousand to change the disgusting first floor Tatami mats), the changes we’ve made were relatively inexpensive, and have made the house feel much more like it’s tailored just to us.  Oh yeah, and it’s safer, too.


We saved money by deciding to do the exterior work ourselves (myself).  My friend Dave was going to do the lion’s share himself while I was on tour in Canada over the summer, but he ended up getting too busy with other projects, so none of the the outside work got done.  I tried a couple of times to make a start on it before realizing that I was in way over my head.


So, in December, we called URBAN back in and got a few quotations for the exterior.


This is about way more than making the house look good.  Frankly, the way it looks now, it’s far less of an eyesore than a lot of Japanese houses that are half its age.  But we need this building to last at least another decade (preferably two) so that we can save up again to either rebuild or to sell and move.


We did the metal bit at the front right away.  You remember… the rusting metal monstrosity holding up about 30% of our yard?



Kamiooka Tea House

Yeah, that one.


Well, it needed the rust scraped off and some holes filled in and a fresh coat of paint to continue to resist the elements.  So we got that done right away.


Next, we spent a couple of weeks negotiating the cost of the rest of renovations.  They key elements being:


  • All exterior wooden hardware to be stripped and repainted to prevent rotting and wicking moisture into the walls and posts.
  • All metal exterior hardware to have rust sanded off and then be repainted to prevent rusting
  • Eastern balcony struts to be properly bolted to the metal deck (they aren’t right now!)
  • Roof de-moulded and repainted to avoid leaking through to the tin roof underneath
  • Cracks in the wall and hardware mounting sealed to prevent leaks and rotting wood on the windowsills inside the house.

The problem is that in Japan, you can’t have any work done to the second floor of a house without erecting scaffolding.  That’s right.  An extra 120,000 Yen or more tacked on to any job.  Why?  Ostensibly safety.


According to those in the know, these regulations are not National.  They are municipal.  And the scaffolding companies lobby hard for them.


Which is why we’d resisted doing the exterior renovations when we did the interior over the summer.


So, getting back to December: we asked URBAN for a quotation.  It included some additional things, one of which was painting the exterior walls.




Our wall aren’t currently painted.  They are some kind of pressboard nailed on to the house exterior.  To wit:




Why paint?


Well, since we’re dropping that money on bringing in the scaffold, and paint will help protect the building exterior (and might be a necessity later on in the house’s lifetime), it would make sense to do that now as well.


Also, we were told, if we went for the whole shebang, it would give the workers leeway as part of the painting prep, to fix little problems that might crop up without charging it back to us.  Not sure how true that is, and I guess only time will tell.


This did bring up the issue of colour.  After two days of agonizing deliberations over a very limited palette (since we were going as cheap as possible), we chose a light blue/grey for the walls, bright Chinese red for the hardware, and a reflective silver for the roof.


We had to choose from tiny swatches that were in a book (so we couldn’t even put them beside each other), so hopefully we didn’t cock that up.  If all goes well, we’ll have to live with these colours until the early 2030s.


Since I’m around this time, I will try to post photos and updates as the build progresses.

Sep 26

The Move

On September 19, we moved house.  We still haven’t said goodbye completely to the Kamiooka Rental House; we do that today when we go back to find out how much of our 180,000 yen deposit we get back.  But more on that in a later entry.


In the days before we moved, we told Tsukide-san from URBAN about the problems I wrote about earlier.  We got some of them fixed (the painting, more or less; the cut marks around the kitchen outlets, the holes in the side of the house), and some of them excused with a “sho ga nai” (a lot of the non-level issues has to do with the walls and floors not being quite level).


We were up all night on the 18th, finishing our packing.  We slept for about two hours, and then woke up an hour before the movers were due to arrive.  When they did, I hopped on my bike and cycled over to the Kamiooka Tea House to await the first load.


We were told that the house could be done in three loads and that they would be finished by 12:00.  In actuality, it took four loads (they called in an extra crew to help), and they weren’t finished until 16;15.  They didn’t charge us extra.


So, the house was filled with boxes, and we have spent the last week unpacking them.  I’ve done the bulk of it, and I’ve managed to whittle down the boxes to about ten or fifteen remaining, spread through the Tatami room upstairs and about seven still downstairs (a couple of those are empty: we’re using them to block off the part of the living room window that the curtain is too short to cover.


I cleaned out my office first: I desperately needed that set up so I could attend to the myriad of tasks I had fallen behind on (and couldn’t do comfortably on my tablet PC while sitting on a bunch of boxes).


The unpacking method has been this: pick a room, and take everything out of the boxes, putting everything in a temporary location at least.  Anything that doesn’t belong in that room then must get shifted to another room.  I used this method on my office, the kitchen, and I’ve almost finished the living room (the biggest problem there being the sheer amount of papers my wife has).

Sep 18

Builders are worse than Actors

Holy crap, the renovators are really superstitious.


I think I wrote earlier about how they chose the day to make the contract and start work based on good luck days of the religious calendar (I think it’s the Buddhist calendar that chooses them, but I could be wrong).  Well, apparently the conclusion of the contract was also important… as was the day we were going to move.  Which is weird, because it doesn’t really affect the renovators at all.


Tsukide-san told us that our selected moving date (this coming Monday) was okay, but that Friday would be a much better date.  Because of that, we’d thought about sleeping at the house last night.  But we didn’t.  In that case, he suggested, we should bring an item to the house that we use every day (he gave the example of a kettle) so that the house would think we had moved in.  So I carried over our big frying pan yesterday.


Oh, and then on Wednesday, we also did the house blessing thing: salt and sake at each corner of the house (careful! don’t go clockwise!).


Why did we play along?  I considered doing my eye rolling no-fucking-way bit, but the part of me that has learned to ‘preserve harmony’ ruled that out.  Also, I had this vision of Tsukide-san and the builders being kept up at night with remorse after my wife and I were crushed in an earthquake because they hadn’t made sure the gods were on our side.


A good reason to go along with superstition?  I don’t know.  But there it is.

Jul 22

Another Week Slips By

Another week slips by, and with it another chance to sign our renovation contract.  I’m pulling some real yuppie shit here right now and I’m writing this in a Starbucks in central Tokyo where I’ve taken refuge from a stinking hot day.


I haven’t kept up with this blog at all, but here are the significant details of the past 7 – 10 days:


  1. My friend Dave Waddington came by to look at the house last Wednesday and give me advice on how best to do the items of maintenance that need to be done.  The first priority is the metal holding up the ‘front yard’.  With Dave’s help, I will scrape off the rust, treat it with rust proofing, and repaint it.
  2. Other items that need to be done, some of which will require Dave’s help to choose the right supplies: re-painting the ageing wood on the window shades, re-caulking a good chunk of the siding, and scraping the green mould off the roof tiles
  3. The price on the tile bathroom is nearly 400,000 more than the unit bath, and that’s without the water heater.  So no go on that.
  4. We visited show rooms with URBAN, and decided on a more expensive unit bath from Noritz anyway (sigh).  Despite the bath being 20 litres smaller than the TOTO, it has cut-outs on the side that make it possible for me to sit much more comfortably without having to necessarily keep my knees together and up.  We’re still waiting for the quotation, but the comfort level is so different, we’re considering that a difference of between 100,000 and 200,000 Yen from the TOTO price would be acceptable.  Gulp!
  5. We’re waffling on the washstand (powder room sink) as well.  The one in the quotation is cheap and tiny and short.  Also, ugly.  So my wife has proposed a different one and we’re waiting on that quotation as well.
  6. We were supposed to sign the contract for the renovations last week, but the bathroom stuff held us up (Kitchen is decided and quoted).  The plan now is to sign the contract this weekend.  This means the move-in date is now pushed to late September, meaning that we’re paying for two residences until then.  Sigh.

Jul 16

Kitchens & Bathrooms 2

Last weekend we went to the TOTO showroom to look at their bathrooms and kitchens.


More of the same.


Our renovator explained to us that while he was happy to let us buy Ikea and then have him install it, the Ikea 25 year warranty applied to precious few pieces of the kitchen under Japanese law.  In Japan, foreign companies are not allowed to sell plumbing, so all of Ikea’s pieces are TOTO and carry the same 1-year warranty.  Also, if a claim is made, Ikea will inspect and determine whether the problem was caused by improper installation.


With the Japanese pieces, the manufacturer does the installation, which means that it’s warranteed, no questions.


I was not that impressed with the unit bathrooms in the range we were looking.  I was expecting to be blown away, and I wasn’t.


Our bathroom is not square, which means that putting a unit bath in means that we end up losing space.  So I asked the URBAN guy to give us a quotation on installing a regular (tiled) bathroom.  Unfortunately, because of the reinforcement of the walls for the earthquake modifications, we would have to retile the entire room.  He will cost it out for us tomorrow, but he thought it would be 30% more than a unit bath.  However, if we do the tile method, we may not have to replace the current water heater, which will save us at least 150,000 Yen, so it might work out.






ADVANTAGES More space, bigger bathtub Cleaner, less maintenance, options (e.g. shelves, mirrors) included without us having to think about them
DISADVANTAGES Cold floor in winter, hard to keep grout clean, we need to come up with all the options we want. Cheap-looking, smaller tub


I wasn’t very impressed with their “powder room” sinks either, but I’m not sure what our options are.

Jul 04

The Decision

So, I’m back from the first leg of my tour to Canada, and my wife has been busy while I’ve been gone. She’s hired SANWA to build the window grille to keep any kids from dropping out of our second floor window.  She’s hired a landscaping company to turn the garden at the Kamiooka Tea House into something manageable.  And she’s pretty much narrowed down the choices for renovators to two.


We dropped SANWA (except for that window thing) because we didn’t feel they understood our design ethic.  We dropped Sumitomo because their it-will-never-change-from-the-estimate fee was not negotiable (there were no details in the estimate that were changeable—not the type of doors, not the bath unit, etc.).


So we had a meeting today with the two remaining.


We met with CONCEPT at 13:30.  We’d actually tried to cancel them, but they were very keen on showing us what they had planned for us.  However, their price was steep, and while they managed to drop it by about 800,000 Yen, it was going to increase again with the structural changes they were suggesting.

Despite all we’d heard from Yokohama city and Sumitomo about balance being important, CONCEPT didn’t change their idea of reinforcing walls, seemingly willy-nilly.  The new plan was to tie the second floor and first floor together more strongly.  This wasn’t included in the quotation they gave us.


The thing about CONCEPT is this: if we didn’t have such an old crap house, we would totally go for them.  They understand us, plus they have a vision for each room, plus they think of stuff the other companies don’t (i.e. running conduit between the office and the second floor).  After he left, I’d pretty much decided that if URBAN didn’t have any significant improvements to their initial offering, that CONCEPT would be the way to go.


Unfortunately for CONCEPT, URBAN did.  While I’d been gone, they’d submitted a lowball quotation to my wife.  URBAN have expertise in Earthquake-related structural improvements, but the changes they’d suggested would not have significantly increased our survival chances, even by their own reckoning.


So they came in today with a quotation 1.2 million yen higher, but with changes that might actually save our asses in the event of a large Earthquake.

Earthquake_Fix_ZoomThe image on the left shows our unmodified house in a computer simulation of a quake.  The right hand side of the house basically folds up.  The new version, taking into account the improvements URBAN pitched us, is on the right.  As you can see, only the right-hand side of the second floor collapses in this version, BUT it doesn’t collapse completely and leaves some void space.  These changes have to do as much with balance as they do with strengthening walls.


Of course, these are computer simulations and can’t really do more than guess at what would happen during a real quake, since actual damage all depends on intensity, direction of shaking, and duration, but this is the closest anyone has come to giving us something concrete we can do to increase survivability.  All bets are off if the earth under the house gives way as well, but, as I say, we’ll take what steps we can to prevent things we can actually control.


So we’ve essentially made the decision to go with URBAN.  It’s a shame, because I’m not sure we’ll be able to get the extra little touches that CONCEPT had pitched:


– Conduit for LAN cable

– Little bedside lights build into the wall of the cubby we created for the head of the bed

– Custom bookshelf for the library room

– Ranma between the library and genkan


I’m still holding out hope that maybe we can convince them to do these little jobs.  But I’m not holding my breath.  There’s not a lot of money in it for them.