Team UOW Australia
Our Journey
Our Mission
Demonstrating a Retrofit
The Competition

Team UOW Australia

The University of Wollongong teamed up with TAFE Illawarra Institute to form Team UOW Australia. Team UOW was the first team from Australia to gain entrance into a Solar Decathlon! Inspired by the Illawarra Flame Tree’s spring time renewal and transformation, over 50 students and staff designed and built the impressive Illawarra Flame House, to tackle the competition.

Team UOW took a unique approach to the Solar Decathlon China 2013, by being the first team in the history of the competition to demonstrate how to retrofit an existing home. Team UOW took up the challenge set by the U.S. Department of Energy and the China National Energy Administration to "accelerate the development and adoption of advanced building energy technology in new and existing homes".

Team UOW were successful in winning the Solar Decathlon China 2013. With a score of 957.6 out of a possible 1000 points, Team UOW are still the highest scoring team to ever win a Solar Decathlon. The Illawarra Flame House is now located in its permanent home at the University of Wollongong's Innovation Campus, as part of the Sustainable Building Research Centre's longer term project, Sustainability Street. Our final results were:

  • Architecture- First Place
  • Engineering- First Place
  • Solar Application- First Place
  • Hot Water- First Place (Equal)
  • Energy Balance- First Place (Equal)
  • Market Appeal- Second Place (Equal)
  • Communications- Second Place
  • Appliances- Second Place
  • Comfort Zone- Fourth Place
  • Home Entertainment- Fourteenth Place



Since returning to Australia, Team UOW has won numerous awards for our efforts:

  • Sydney Engineering Excellence Awards- Presidents Award
  • API NSW Excellence in Property- Property Industry Award
  • Australasian Association for Engineering Education- Engineering Education Engagement Award
  • Green Gown Awards Australasia- Student Initiatives
  • Green Gown Awards International- Student Initiatives
  • AIRAH Denis Joseph Award for Innovative Use of Solar Energy in HVAC&R
  • AIRAH Student of the Year - Michael Whitehouse
  • Wollongong City Council Australia Day Awards- Lord Mayor's Special Award

Check out this video about the project by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 

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Watch: The Illawarra Flame project on ABC 7.30 NSW. See more videos on our Videos page.


Our Journey


In November 2011 we submitted our detailed technical proposal to enter the Solar Decathlon China competition.

Team UOW wanted to demonstrate a first in Solar Decathlon history - how to retrofit an existing home. Our core philosophy was to inspire the Australian community, as well as the local and national building industry, to embrace sustainable retrofitting technologies. We wanted to demonstrate how Australian properties could be transformed into stylish, affordable and sustainable homes of the future, while eliminating the waste associated with demolition of older homes.

It was important for us to retain the history and context of the existing building and ensure our retrofitted home would sit comfortably in its suburban environment.



In December 2011 we were accepted into the finals of the Solar Decathlon China 2013 competition. Our dream was starting to become reality!

Inspired by the Illawarra Flame Tree’s spring time renewal and transformation, the University of Wollongong, together with TAFE NSW Illawarra Institute, developed the innovative Illawarra Flame House, the first home in any Solar Decathlon competition that addresses the issue of upgrading existing building stock.



The design of the Illawarra Flame makes the most of Australia’s natural environment by emphasising water efficiency, solar energy harvesting, passive design and advanced ventilation systems.

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Watch: The video walkthrough of the Illawarra Flame House. See more videos on our Videos page.



The Illawarra Flame House took over a year to design and was initially constructed at TAFE Illawarra's Wollongong Campus over a 12-week period. Over 40 students from the University of Wollongong and TAFE Illawarra Institute helped to design and build the Illawarra Flame House. After being dismantled it was then reassembled at the University of Wollongong's Innovation Campus and unveiled to the public. 


Public Display

Over 1,500 visitors came through the Illawarra Flame house when it was on display in Wollongong, Australia.

The house was officially unveiled on 22 April 2013 by Minister for the Illawarra, Greg Pierce, and other VIPs and dignitaries.

Even the then Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, sent a video message of support to the team!

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Video: Then Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard sends a message to Team UOW Australia. See more videos on our Videos page.


Ship to China

After being disassembled and packed into 7 shipping containers, travelling over 9000km over sea and another 700km over land the Illawarra Flame House made it to Datong and thankfully cleared customs and quarantine! 

Team UOW continued preparing last minute details for the competition and eagerly awaited their flights to China.


Competition in Datong, China

Team UOW made their way to Datong, China for the competition in July 2013. Once arrived the team settled into the Solar Palace, the accomodation provided onsite and started work. In less than 10 days the Illawarra Flame House was ready for the judges and open to the public. Over 35 000 people toured through the house in 10 days with the longest recorded line starting from the front of our house extending 550 people long and took over 3 hours to move through the line. The English speaking students on our team were assisted by 11 Chinese speaking students that helped guide the Chinese guests that came to our house. These students proved to be crucial to ensuring the tours ran smoothly.

On August 11th 2013 the Closing Ceremony was held where Team UOW were announced as the winners of the Solar Decathlon China 2013. With 957.6 out of a possible 1000 points, Team UOW is still the highest scoring team to ever win a Solar Decathlon. After celebrating with new friends from the other teams and our local Chinese supporters, Team UOW dismantled the Illawarra Flame House and shipped it back to Australia.


Life After the Solar Decathlon

Team UOW returned to Australia and were greeted with cheers and celebration. Team UOW and the Illawarra Flame House went on to win numerous awards for sensational design and outstanding initiative and teamwork. The Illawarra Flame House was constructed for the final time at the University of Wollongong's Innovation Campus. The house is part of the Living Laboratory program at the Sustainable Building's Research Centre and is host to multiple tours and special guests throughout the year. The Illawarra Flame House is now also available for short term stays, with more information available at the Sustainable Building's Research Centre's website. 


Our Mission

Team UOW's core philosophy was to inspire the Australian community to embrace sustainable retrofitting technology, and to remove existing social and financial barriers to the implementation of these solutions.

As an embodiment of this philosophy Team UOW Australia has built a world class sustainable house that is stylish and affordable while still retaining the history and context of the existing building. Many materials in the house and its landscape are reclaimed or recycled, including hardwood and crushed terracotta roof tiles which could be sourced from an original fibro house under renovation.

Team UOW chose to design the retrofitted prototype to appeal to older clients in response to the ageing of Australia’s population. By 2050, 25% of Australians will be aged 65 or older, compared to 13% in 2007. Many people within this demographic are “empty nesters” - parents whose children have moved out, and who no longer require a large family home. The Illawarra Flame is perfect for clients looking to downsize while ensuring a clean energy future for their grandchildren.

Australians have always had a special relationship with the great outdoors. We have a great love of nature, open spaces, and of course, outdoor entertaining. This appreciation of our environment and outdoor living has seen Team UOW incorporate natural elements into our living spaces and bridge the gap between indoor and outdoor areas.


Demonstrating a Retrofit

Team UOW’s goal was to demonstrate the possibility of retrofitting Australia’s ubiquitous fibro homes. However, the requirement to assemble and disassemble the house (twice!) in Australia, ship it to China and rebuild it in less than two weeks for the competition, meant that we could not physically retrofit an existing fibro home.

Team UOW instead constructed the Illawarra Flame House by building a frame which imitates the structure of an existing fibro home, retaining the original layout and infrastructure, in a way that allows it to be modularised for shipping and speedy assembly. This still enabled us to demonstrate to the community how a fibro home can be brought into the net-zero energy age while allowing us to compete on the global stage among some of the world’s brightest students.


The Competition

The Solar Decathlon China 2013 competition was co-hosted by the US Department of Energy and the National Energy Administration China. It challenged university teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive.

This was the first time the competition had been held in Asia and followed on from the highly successful US and European Solar Decathlons that have been held biennially since 2002 and 2010 respectively.

For over 10 years the competition has showcased an amazing array of innovative renewable energy and sustainable technologies and has developed into the preeminent student-led design competition in the world. It seeks to foster creative thinking and applied training and highlights to the public the benefits of sustainable design.


The Contests

The competition is dubbed a decathlon because students compete in and be judged on ten events covering all aspects of housing design, including:

  • Architecture
  • Market appeal
  • Engineering
  • Communications
  • Solar application
  • Thermal comfort
  • Hot water
  • Appliances
  • Home entertainment
  • Energy balance

The event took place between the 2nd and 13th of August 2013 in Datong, a large city located approximately 300km west of Beijing, China.

For more information about the Solar Decathlon China 2013 please visit SD China.

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