Australia's Team UOW is the very first collegiate group to retrofit an existing building for a solar decathlon competition, and they have already taken a slight lead in China with their solar-powered, net zero energy Illawarra Flame House. Instead of building whole new structures, the team developed a system to transform post-war "Fibro" houses into affordable dwellings with a negligible energy and water footprint. They do this by adding and removing certain elements and using materials that meet Living Building Challenge standards - which are among the most stringent in the industry.
Named after a tree, the Illawarra Flame House comes equipped with a 9.4 kW photovoltaic system with two different kinds of cells, a grey water treatment and a rainwater capture system. It also features a reed bed and vertical green wall for growing herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Unlike most of the solar decathlon homes, it has two bedrooms. The third has been converted into an open plan living and dining area and part of the roof has been replaced with skylights to promote natural light and ventilation.
All of the materials used have a low VOC content and are almost entirely recycled, including a thermal mass wall which is made with crushed terracotta roof tiles taken from the original house, recycled glass and a low-carbon cement mix. This combined with double glazed windows and advanced insulation ensures maximum energy efficiency and low thermal loss. Two prefab PODS have replaced the original bath and laundry area, while clip-on pods to both bedrooms provide wardrobe space and a foldout daybed. The foundation has also been redesigned and replaced with a steel frame most suitable for transportation.
At time of press, this team stood just slightly ahead of the group from Israel, which has already distinguished itself as a leader in good will and team work, with 229 points. Keep in mind however that it’s early days yet and the scores are still really tight, so the tables can turn very quickly!