An Australian suburban fibro home transformed to achieve net-zero energy consumption has won the 2013 Solar Decathlon China, one of the most important energy competitions in the world.

The Illawarra Flame fibro house can produce more energy than it uses. It features solar panels on the roof, a combined solar panel and air heating system, and greywater recycling that uses an artificial wetland built into the garden to filter the water.

Illawarra Flame House

Illawarra Flame House, winner of the Solar Decathlon China 2013.

The winning project scored 957.6 of a possible 1000 points. It was created and built by a team of 30 students in the disciplines of engineering, architecture, design and construction from the University of Wollongong and TAFE Illawarra, supported by a network from industry and academia.

“We see the need; we are trying to make a difference. We are not sitting around waiting for politicians to do something – we are making a change ourselves,” project manager Lloyd Niccol said.

TAFE Illawarra director Dianne Murray said the project was “a huge opportunity to show the world how far advanced the Illawarra is when it comes to clever, sustainable construction and design and to establish our region as a global leader in this field.”

The Illawarra Flame fibro house was the only entry in the competition to take an existing home and convert it into an energy efficient one. It was first assembled on a site in Wollongong for testing before being disassembled and shipped to China for the competition.

UAW australia solar decathlon

All the materials used were low in VOC content and came primarily from recycled sources.

While designing the house took two years, it was rebuilt on site in only 12 days. The main changes to the original house included making it more airtight, enlarging its windows and installing vertical gardens, a photovoltaic thermal air system and a rainwater harvester. A third bedroom was converted into an open plan living and dinning area to increase natural lighting and ventilation. All materials used were low in VOC content and came primarily from recycled sources.

The project beat out submissions made by teams from the South China University of Technology and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, among others.

Professor Paul Cooper, UOW Faculty adviser and director of the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre at the University of Wollongong, was very proud of the huge effort the students put into the project.

“From the initial planning, through detailed design, and then finally the construction of our house in both Wollongong and China, I cannot describe how much it means for the team to be awarded first place in the Solar Decathlon China 2013,” he said.

Australia Illawarra Flame House

The interior incorporates up-cycled furniture and recycled materials.

The Illawarra Flame fibro house could represent a huge step toward a sustainable future for Australian residential housing sector as it demonstrated existing houses can be made energy efficient while remaining comfortable.

“We have around eight million homes existing in Australia. The problem is our residential housing sector contributes 13 per cent of our carbon emissions and we want to try and retrofit our existing homes, which are probably using far more energy than they need to,” Niccol said.

The Illawarra Flame house will be permanently exhibited in the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus. Open to the public, it will be part of the SBRC Living Laboratory program, providing a place to test new sustainable building technologies and helping to accelerate the adoption of sustainable retrofit technologies for homes in Australia and overseas.