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Mark and Steve talk about homes; the way they are built and designed in North America compared to elsewhere in the world.
Mark: Hello and welcome back for another episode of the EnglishLingQ podcast.
Mark here with Steve.
Steve: Hi there. Hello everyone.
Mark: Today, we thought we would talk a little bit.
We had a request on the forum from Hiroko, asking us to talk a bit about housing or houses or different rooms in houses.
So we thought we’d spend some time right now talking a little bit about houses.
Steve: Well and that’s, perhaps, a good opportunity to say that today you and family are leaving.
You are going skiing in the interior over the long weekend, the Easter weekend.
So, Hiroko — I spoke to her in our chat when I tutored her – said that she really enjoys our EnglishLingQ podcasts and when is the next episode?
And I said, well, you know, we get no fan mail.
We get no response.
It’s just like talking into the emptiness, so to speak, of the blogosphere or whatever.
Steve: But if she is going to encourage us then we will, in fact, do them more often.
And then Hiroko specifically asked for something about houses, so I am now at Mark’s house.
He’s busy packing, getting ready to leave and we’re sitting in your study.
Mark: Yeah and just before we get into the discussion one thing you said, you mentioned the Easter weekend which, of course, is this weekend, coming up.
I just thought I would mention that a lot of non-native speakers that I’ve run into refer to this weekend as “Eastern” weekend.
Mark: So I just wanted to make that clear that it’s Easter with no “n” on the end.
Not to be confused with the geographic…
Steve: …direction or location.
So there’s no Western weekend, Northern or Southern weekend.
Steve: There’s only Easter.
Mark: Easter — which has nothing to do with Eastern.
Anyway, so, yeah, that’s right, we’re going away for the long weekend.
We’re going skiing, it should be great.
I think they’ve had a lot of new snow and we’re packing up.
There’s not much in the way of restaurants or shopping where we’re going, so we bring all our food with us.
It’s a condo.
It’s a great family holiday, actually.
We go skiing during the day and then hunker down in the evenings and play games or do various thing to wile away the time.
Steve: I should add, by the way, for those of you who followed the lead up to the Olympics and the problems we had here with snow, even the local mountains — like 20 minutes from where we live — have now been getting snow.
So all the snow we didn’t get for the Olympics and we were trucking snow in, the Green Olympics, spending God knows how much money for trucking, if the Olympics had been two weeks later…
Mark: Yeah, that’s the amazing thing.
I mean I can’t remember a stretch of warm weather like that in a long time.
Mark: Just checking on that blender noise in the background which, in fact, was a blender.
I though maybe they were doing some carpentry here in the house.
So, anyway, we got the snow that we didn’t have.
Now talking about a house, I guess, you know, we’ve lived in a number of countries.
Typically in North America, people like to live in a single-family house, but not everyone can afford it.
And, of course, people who are single or couples who are just starting out and older people who are retired — sometimes called “empty nesters”, because their nest has become empty as their kids have gone out to set up their own sort of homes — they’ll live in apartments, but overwhelmingly people like to live in single-family homes.
I mean, at least North America wide, wood-frame construction is the norm, which is a cheaper way of building than in a lot of other countries.
I know in Europe if the home isn’t built out of concrete they don’t feel safe; I’ve heard that issue raised.
I know that Igor is always not comfortable – one of our programmers – living in a wood-frame house.
He kind of felt that it just wasn’t as strong as a concrete house or apartment building, which is, I guess, what he’s been used to living in his whole life.
I mean it’s interesting the impressions that people get, because my understanding is that the wood-frame construction is very strong if not better, in some applications.
Steve: Well, certainly, any form of construction you can reinforce it, I presume, to some extent to achieve whatever you want, but, certainly, if brick is the structural element that, by itself, is very vulnerable to earthquakes; also, it’s more difficult to insulate a brick building, but you can add insulation.
You can add reinforcing steel or other members and stuff, so you can, more or less, achieve what you want, but the wooden construction, which we have here, works fine.
Some of the issues like fire they have dealt with.
There are very few fires.
I remember once playing golf with a retired fireman and he was saying that they really very rarely get called out on a fire, mostly it’s somebody who has a heart attack or something and then the fire engines have to go out and administer first aide.
So the wooden homes that we have here work just fine.
In those areas where people like brick, they’ll just put on what we call a brick veneer, like a brick exterior.
So you will often see an exterior of a building which is brick, but, in fact, structurally, it’s all wooden construction.
So in terms of the size of homes, I think a typical house probably in Canada is around 2,000 square feet, would you say?
Mark: Oh, I would guess, yeah.
Getting larger 2,500 – which in terms of square meters is just divided by 10, roughly, so it’s 200 square meters, 250 square meters — but a lot of people build larger homes, 300-400 square meters and so forth.
I mean in Japan people like single-family homes.
Steve: People are very surprised to hear that over 40% of the houses being built today in Japan are single-family wooden homes, not high-rise.
Whereas, you go to a country like Russia, which is the largest country in the world, unlimited space and they build concrete high-rise.
Mark: And lots of wood they have there.
Steve: And they have lots of wood.
Steve: That is a mystery to us – why they don’t build with wood.
But, I guess, I mean that’s what they’ve been accustomed to for so long.
That’s kind of what they think of as a home is a concrete apartment building and maybe, obviously, it’s a function of wealth, too, and resources.
Steve: True enough.
Mark: To buy land a build a house has got to be a bigger cost.
Steve: Well, I think they’re not used to the idea, too, of having sort of privately-owned land, perhaps, because of the previous system.
We’re partial to wood, because I’m in the wood business, of course.
The country with the highest per capita consumption of wood is Finland.
And I would think that there are many areas in northern Russia which are very similar to Finland in terms of the nature and the availability of the wood.
So, anyway, hopefully one day they’ll use more wood.
Mark: That’s the idea.
Steve: Good for my business, yeah.
One thing that’s perhaps different here, talking about culture, in your house you have your kitchen and then there is a counter and very often you’ll eat at the counter.
Steve: And so the people…I mean your kids and you and Kindrey…or Kindrey might be in the kitchen preparing the food and gradually putting things out onto the counter.
The kids are often in a hurry to start eating, they’ll just start eating.
If you have guests then the dining area is just beyond the counter.
Steve: I remember in Japan, some years ago, when we were comparing house designs in different countries and we explained that in North America it’s quite common to have a kitchen counter and that way things can be passed over to either eat on the counter or eat at the table and the Japanese couldn’t understand that because, from their point of view, the wife should bring the food out from the kitchen.
Mark: And the kitchen is kind of tucked away and hidden.
Steve: Tucked away somewhere, but I think all of these things change.
Mark: Oh, for sure.
I mean I think it used to be the case here where the kitchen was more of a separate room.
But the one thing that you do find is that if you have a party, whether your kitchen opens out on a…our kitchen is quite open, but even if it isn’t, people tend to gravitate toward the kitchen.
Mark: People always end up in the kitchen.
Mark: Which is, I think, how this type of living came about or this type of design came about.
Because people want to be in the kitchen, so why not make the kitchen part of the living area.
Mark: And that’s, in a sense, what we have and what you have, which is very common here now.
Steve: I mean absolutely.
When we have guests, people have their drink of whatever — a beer, a glass of wine, a glass of water — and they gravitate around the kitchen because, first of all, the lady of the house is still cooking.
Mark: Not always the lady.
It doesn’t have to be.
Steve: No, I’m sorry.
Excuse me, whoever is preparing the meal.
Mark: That’s right.
Steve: Yes, we mustn’t have these stereotyped gender roles.
Mark: That’s right.
Like my son out there right now, he’s watching the Cooking Network, maybe it will be him.
Steve: But that would be one thing that might be somewhat unique.
What other things are there?
I think, generally speaking, one thing that has happened all over the world is the increased insulation value of walls and windows.
People are much more conscious of not only conserving energy, but also the fact that you can live more comfortably in a better insulated house.
The standards here in Canada have become much, much tighter with regard to insulation.
In Japan we’ve noticed the same trends.
I think the Scandinavians were probably the leaders for a long time and possibly Germany.
But that’s a general trend and I think that’s going to continue.
Mark: I mean I do know from when I was in Japan — and it could have just been the houses that I was in — there was not a lot of insulation.
Mark: It’s interesting the way…like in Japan they don’t have central heating, they space heat.
Mark: I know things may be changing there now.
But, at least where I was living, the house had no insulation and then you sort of heat up the room that you’re in.
Mark: And if you have more than two or three heaters going the circuit breaker would go.
So you can’t heat the whole house, you can only heat where you are.
But then the rest of the house isn’t insulated, so that heat just dissipates very quickly.
And I know that some Japanese people felt that it’s a bit wasteful or feel that it’s wasteful to heat the whole house if you’re not using the whole house, but I’ve got to believe that the way we do it here is more efficient — where we insulate the whole house, heat the whole house, but you don’t lose nearly the same amount of heat, so you’re more comfortable and more efficient.
Steve: I mean if you have a very well-insulated house you use very little energy to keep that house warm.
Steve: Also, if you have a poorly-insulated house and you are heating only one room, you have the possibility of creating serious problems with condensation, which (A) is uncomfortable, (B) could lead to mold, which is unhealthy and which can also cause structural damage to any of the building components.
And, of course, you were in Nikko.
Nikko is near Tokyo, but it’s a higher elevation, it’s colder.
It’s cold there in the winter.
Mark: Oh, for sure.
Steve: And, yet, somehow in Japan — and this may have changed — the coldest part of Japan, which is Hokkaido that’s where you’re the most comfortable in the winter, because that’s where people build for the cold.
Steve: They know it’s cold, so they have to build to stay warm.
It’s in those places where it’s kind of not arctic cold, but it’s still cold that they don’t spend the money on insulation, they don’t spend the money on proper windows, they don’t put in central heating and they’re uncomfortable.
So you’re more comfortable in the winter in Hokkaido than you are in Tokyo.
Steve: But, anyway.
No, I think that people just have to understand what’s out there.
And, I think, partly it’s the builders in Japan.
Steve: It’s the builders.
Mark: They don’t provide the option.
So people don’t know any better, that’s what you get.
But I think it’s one of those things; over time it will change.
Steve: I think all of these things are a function of an increasing demand, the increasing awareness.
I remember when I lived in Japan there were a few builders that were starting to offer a very high-quality, well-insulated home, so that then provides some choice.
Then people start demanding this of the other builders, but none of this happens overnight.
In any market there’s a gradual changeover, just the way the American car or, at least, the Japanese car industry forced the American car industry to provide better-quality, better-engineered cars.
So competition is a good thing.
Mark: I mean it was no different when I was Italy in Asiago; we were pretty cold in those little concrete buildings.
Steve: Oh yeah.
Mark: And that’s up in the mountains, I mean that’s a cold place too.
Steve: Oh, I know, it’s cold.
Well, even when we visited you in Klagenfurt.
Steve: There if you have a shower or if you cook there was water running off the walls in the whole apartment.
Anyway, so we think that our wooden homes are pretty comfortable, but the people who come here from other countries think they’re just shacks.
So there’s no arguing with culture.
Mark: Well, I mean I think when they’re inside they don’t realize, necessarily, how they’re built.
Mark: It’s only when you see a house being built where they think, oh boy, that doesn’t look very sturdy.
Mark: I mean once it’s built and completed and the siding is on and the interior finish is on I mean to people it looks solid, feels solid.
Steve: One of the things that really used to get to Japanese visitors was, here, most houses have a basement and so you use forming — plywood, typically, sometimes boards, but mostly plywood as the form for the concrete.
Steve: Once you’ve finished with forms, that plywood is then used on the walls to provide structural, basically, lateral strength to the building because you have rigidity.
You have your posts and beams, if you want, and the posts are sometimes called studs because they’re small, little posts spaced every, you know, 16 inches or 18 inches, whatever it may be.
So the lateral strength comes from the plywood, but of course the plywood now looks dirty because it was used for the concrete forming.
Steve: And the Japanese visitors say ah, we couldn’t do that in Japan.
I mean the customer would complain.
But why would they possibly complain?
The fact that the structural plywood has a little bit of leftover, you know, grayish-looking bits of concrete has no affect on anything.
Mark: No, exactly.
Steve: But, there again, it’s a cultural difference.
The Japanese home buyer that’s ordered this home wants every piece of wood to be absolutely clean and so they have these expectations, which people here don’t have.
So these are some of the cultural differences.
Mark: Otherwise, I mean…I’m trying to think in different countries what the differences here would be.
Steve: I think one of the interesting things is this whole issue of earthquakes.
A lot of countries that have earthquakes suffer a lot because they build with concrete and brick.
That was the case in Italy.
Italy is a very earthquake-prone country…
Steve: …and in certain areas in China as well.
First of all, the walls themselves, unless they’re properly reinforced, are weak and if you then have a heavy super structure, like the floors and the roof system are all made of concrete, it’s pretty heavy when that comes falling down on you.
Mark: Well, yeah.
Steve: Whereas, you can design wooden homes to be very, very earthquake resistant with a lot of extra lateral support and cross bracing.
Plus, then the roof structure can be a lot lighter, you can use trusses rather than heavy beams.
That’s another thing, a heavy beam, a wooden, heavy, beam falling down on you is not too nice, but if you build with trusses, which are these sort of web construction of smaller pieces engineered to specific loads.
Whether they be snow loads or, you know, the kinds of stresses that would happen in an earthquake, I mean that’s much better.
I would love to see Italy and China start using more wood.
Steve: So we’re using this podcast here to promote wood around the world.
Wood is renewable.
Wood is healthy.
Wood is good.
It’s CO2 neutral.
Come on there.
Get out there and start using wood.
Mark: I think that’s probably a good place to finish off.
Mark: Thanks very much for the suggestion Hiroko and we’ll talk to you again soon.
Steve: Thank you, bye-bye.