Passive House Retrofit in California


It’s official, construction is complete on the first Passive House project in California and the first Passive House retrofit in the nation.  Designed by Lail Design Group and built by Solar Knights Construction, the O’Neill Passive House is an example how to greenly renovate an older home to superior energy efficiency standards.


This Passive House uses the same amount of energy as is required to run an ordinary hair dryer.  That’s possible with superior insulation, triple-glazed windows, airtight construction, passive solar gain, and an efficient energy recovery ventilation system.  Otherwise, there’s no heating or cooling unit.

Owner Cathy O’Neill said the home is “beautiful, inviting, and comfortable,” according to a statement.  The interiors — decorated with a neutral array of colors — features open spaces, reclaimed oak floors, and curated antiques.

Outside, there is no lawn.  The yard includes native grasses and plants maintained by a water-efficient drip irrigation system.

The 1960s home connects two structures with a kitchen breeze way and has 2,400 square feet of space with 2 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, and a garage.  Public tours will be available October 23-24, when the builder, designer, and architect will be on hand to field questions.





Credits: Solar Knights Construction.

  • MrSteve007

    According to an article on this house @ USA Today, the *renovation* cost was 1.2 million dollars . . . 0_o

    • Ibilisii

      Well, the owner is a retired hedge-fund partner…

      Regardless, your point is well made. The cost of renovation/remodel vs. new building is huge and often makes energy efficient remodeling on a reasonable budget impossible.

      Throw in that most appraisers don’t include the values of these upgrades when determining valuation and comps…

      Before people will attempt deep energy retrofits or even more basic retrofits, their value has to be accounted for and I would argue that some sort of more significant tax rebate has to be instituted which will bring overall costs down.

  • Sea Wolf

    Nicely done. But the cost of the retrofit does raise a few questions, not about the homeowners and their choice (which is theirs, and an admirable one, especially weighed against what they could have done with $1.2 million and no thought to energy use or sustainability) but about the value of this project as a paradigm. It should be said, too, that Sonoma has the same heating degree days as Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, with less of a cooling problem. So it’s considerably easier to reach near-net-zero energy use in Sonoma than in much of the rest of the country.

    • Graham Irwin

      As you suggest, the client could have built an energy-guzzling large house on a greenfield site outside of town. Instead, she opted to transform a run down property into a legacy building and prove the point that Passive House and its associated high performance allows a building to look “normal” and perform in an extraordinary way. As for costs, much of that is fit and finish and it will come down as we replicate. In Europe, where there’s a 20 year Passive House industry (and a far colder climate), single family Passive House are an up front extra cost of ~8% and multi-family no additional up front cost, and nothing is cheaper over the life cycle. Speaking as one who was instrumental in this project, I think it’s a fine aspirational paradigm and a great start!!!!

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