Expert pushes for sustainable makeover of iconic Aussie fibro

Expert pushes for sustainable makeover of iconic Aussie fibro

A UOW project has been used an example of sustainable building methods at a national industry conference.

Australia’s ageing and plentiful post-war housing stock could be converted into energy efficient, affordable and comfortable homes, according to UOW sustainable building expert Professor Paul Cooper.

Professor Cooper, Director of the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) at UOW, spoke at the ‘Happy, healthy homes’ stream of the Green Cities conference in Melbourne on 19 March.

He explained how Team UOW, a collaboration between UOW and TAFE Illawarra students and staff, demonstrated how to transform a typical 1960s fibro house into an international, award-winning model of sustainability.

Called the Illawarra Flame, the student-led house was entered in to the Solar Decathlon China 2013 competition to demonstrate how to retrofit an older home to accelerate the development and adoption of advanced building energy technology in both new and existing homes.

Team UOW were the first Australian team to win entry to a Solar Decathlon competition. 

The home went on to win the international event held in China ahead of 19 other university teams from around the world, gaining the highest number of points ever achieved by any Solar Decathlon team.

Professor Cooper said less than two per cent of housing stock was replaced or added to annually so retrofitting or renovation of existing building stock was the best option for fast environmental outcomes.

“Our students chose a grand challenge of transforming the ubiquitous fibro house, perhaps one of the most unsustainable buildings you can imagine, into a ‘happy, healthy’, net-zero energy, attractive and cost-effective home suitable for the 21st century,” Professor Cooper said.

“The home was a modular design to suit the challenging competition transport requirements, but it was also a realistic demonstration of how to retrofit a typical Australian home.

“We took a tiered approach that any builder could adapt for home renovation.

“We started with the simple, quick-payback retrofits of LED lighting, roof insulation then moved on to medium-level components such as thermal-mass wall, re-cladding the exterior and fitted innovative windows.

“At the top level, we showed that research-led innovations such as a photo-voltaic thermal system provides not only solar electricity but captures the thermal energy from under the panels and diverts that into heating and cooling.

“Ultimately, we also showed that anyone renovating or building a home can embrace sustainable materials and technology while maintaining the home’s comfort and affordability.”

The Green Cities conference was a built environment sustainability event co-hosted by the Green Building Council of Australia and the Property Council of Australia. 

More information: Read all about the Illawarra Flame’s concept and design here and watch and animated walkthrough of the house.

Media contact:Professor Paul Cooper is available for interview, to arrange call Grant Reynolds, Media & PR Officer on +61 2 4221 4743 or