Teams of college students from around the world have spent the past year working to design and construct model homes that promote energy-efficient living in California.

Just over a dozen teams will compete as part of the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon, a new event aimed at curbing climate change. 

Spanning eight days in October at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa, the event focuses on education efforts, a job fair, speakers and numerous exhibits. It’s modeled after the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon.

“That’s what this event is about — to get Orange County inspired to this goal of being the sustainability capital of the world,” said Fred Smoller, co-founder of the event and a Chapman University professor who’s been leading this charge for years.

The main event is a competition among the student teams that have been working on their green energy model homes. The structures will be on display for attendees to enter and tour.

“The model homes are a vehicle in which students can get directly engaged in the issue of climate change,” Smoller said. “I see the building of the home as an institutional vehicle … The homes are just one of the major things that have to be targeted in order to reduce our energy consumption.”

Event Schedule & Highlights

Guided Model Home Tours

  • Oct. 5-6, 12-13 — 3 to 9 p.m.
  • Oct. 7-8, 14-15 — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Education Day

  • Oct. 6 — 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

OCSD Job and School Fair

  • Oct. 13 — 3 to 6 p.m.

Smoller — who’s been trying to get the decathlon off the ground for years — said the event is an opportunity not only to highlight work by students but also to inform residents who may be wary when it comes to sustainability potentially changing their lives.

“(We aim to) certainly stimulate students at all grade levels, the private sector and the general public to understand that we have a real problem here with the environment, but if we make certain changes, we can maintain our quality of life,” Smoller said.

The college teams include students from UC Irvine, Orange Coast College, Cal State Fullerton and other schools across the U.S. and the globe. Each team was provided with $100,000 to plan, build and transport their finished model homes to the Costa Mesa fairgrounds, where they will be on display beginning Oct. 5.

“We see the (Orange County Sustainability Decathlon) becoming the World’s Fair of sustainability,” Mike Moodian, co-founder of Orange County Sustainability Decathlon, said in a statement earlier this month. “The decathlon will challenge multidisciplinary teams of college students to design and build replicable housing units to accelerate sustainable development throughout the state and country.”

The model homes will be judged on a variety of elements, including sustainability, architecture, interior design, construction, market potential, energy efficiency and water usage. The teams with the most points across all categories will win the overall contest.

The event came into existence largely with initial support from Democratic State Senator Dave Min, who secured $5 million in seed funding from California’s 2021-22 budget to help get the event started. 

Other sponsors include OC Supervisor Katrina Foley and the cities of Irvine, Costa Mesa, Buena Park and Anaheim.

Registration is free for all attendees online.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.


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