California's First Passive House Named 'Green House of the Week' by USA Today

First Passive Retrofit in the Country Open for Public Tours October 23 - 24

Oct 04, 2010, 15:50 ET from Solar Knights Construction

SONOMA, Calif., Oct. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- The newly complete O'Neill Passive House, California's first certified passive house and the first retrofit passive house in the United States, was just named "This Week's Green House" by USA Today, and will be open to tour October 23 and 24.

Passive design reduces energy usage by up to 90 percent of a traditional home by combining high levels of insulation, efficient windows, optimized passive solar gain, airtight construction, heat recovery ventilation and energy modeling. In fact, a passive house uses no more energy than it takes to run an ordinary hair dryer.

Public tours of the O'Neill Passive House will be available Saturday, October 23 and Sunday, October 24, from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are $25, and proceeds will benefit Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County.

In July 2010, the O'Neill project was certified as the first passive house in California and the first retrofit passive project in the country. A retrofit passive house refers to replacing an existing home's "active" heating and cooling systems with voluntary, ultra-low energy standards even lower than the LEED standards.

"I am thrilled with the house and I am so happy to have worked with a team of professionals who are so passionate and knowledgeable about passive house design," said Cathy O'Neill, owner of the Sonoma home.  "This house is not only highly energy efficient; it's also beautiful, inviting and comfortable. It really is an heirloom that I will be proud to pass down to the next generation."

The O'Neill home was designed by Jarrod Denton, AIA, of LDG Architecture of St. Helena, and retrofitted by Napa-based construction company Solar Knights Construction, Inc. Solar Knights owner and builder Rick Milburn is the first builder in California to earn certification by the Passive House Institute in the U.S. (PHIUS).  Denton, who has been practicing architecture in Northern California for 15 years, is also a certified Passive House consultant.

"There is really nothing passive about a passive house," said Milburn. "These kinds of homes and buildings are the future of energy efficiency. Building and remodeling with the passive house near-zero standard is the most practical and ultimately cost-effective way for all of us to reduce our daily energy consumption and live in a more sustainable, conservation-minded way."

Energy Efficient with Beautiful Interiors

Despite the O'Neill home's dedication to extreme energy efficiency, O'Neill, Milburn, Denton and interior designer Jann Blazona did not sacrifice design aesthetic or comfort. The group remodeled the homeowner's existing structure to create a modern farmhouse architectural style.

"The passive house approach to architecture takes us back to the fundamental principles of shelter:  orientation, seamless enclosure, insulation," says Denton.  "Our forbearers utilized these principles instinctively.  As technology has advanced we have used it to replace smart thinking instead of enhance it. Passive house does just the opposite.  Plus, the technology is not only unobtrusive but it promotes a simple, timeless beauty."

The interiors have a soft, neutral palette of creams, blacks, grays and aged green-blues, and open, airy spaces with wide-plank reclaimed oak floors and painted millwork. Furnishings include curated antiques, cozy linens and sophisticated yet rustic accents.

For more information about the home or to learn more about the tours, please visit

About Solar Knights Construction

Solar Knights Construction Inc. is a family of quality-oriented craftspeople dedicated to sustainable construction and renovation of buildings and homes. Founded in 1996, it is based in Napa, California. For more information, go to

About Lail Design Group

LDG Architecture was founded more than two decades ago by building designer and vintner Jon Lail. The firm specializes in custom architecture which does not promote a signature style but rather expresses the unique intersection of the client's vision, the nature of the site and the architect's expertise. Sustainable design principles work behind the scenes in all projects. For more information go to

SOURCE Solar Knights Construction