Pro Portfolio: A 1960 house updated for greener times


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On Mondays, we post a new home whose design is presented in the builder’s or designer’s own words. This week:

Builder: Rick Milburn, Solar Knights Construction, Napa, Calif. Architect: Jarrod Denton, Lail Design Group, St. Helena, Calif. Passive house consulting: Graham Irwin, Essential Habitat Consulting. Interior design: Jann Blazona, Sonoma, Calif. Landscape architect: Chandler & Chandler, Napa.


Location: Sonoma

Project description: Constructed in 1960, the residence was originally two structures set on a concrete slab and linked by a covered breezeway. The new design updates the existing structures and converts the breezeway into a kitchen, expanding the floor plan by 400 feet and uniting the two wings while improving comfort, air quality and energy efficiency. The residence is now a 2,400-square-foot modern farmhouse, white-washed with a street-facing front porch, metal standing-seam roof and bright interior courtyard. In July, the project was certified by the Passive House Institute U.S. as the first passive house in California and the first retrofit passive project in the country. A retrofit passive house refers to replacing the existing home’s “active” heating and cooling systems with high levels of insulation, efficient windows, optimized passive solar gain, airtight construction and a ‘fresh-air’ furnace that recaptures energy used in the house that can be reused for heating and cooling. The temperature in the house does not exceed 76 degrees, even during extreme summer heat. The house has been selected for the Department of Energy’s Building America Program as a prototype home. The program highlights new products and innovative construction methods and will monitor and verify the house’s energy savings. Despite our dedication to efficiency, the house doesn’t look like an experiment; in fact, it looks quite normal. Comfort and a pleasing design were not sacrificed.

Keep reading to see more details and photos ...

A soft, neutral palette of creams, blacks and grays was used in the open, airy great room, which has wide-plank reclaimed oak floors and painted millwork. Missing from ceiling are the big return grills used with a forced-air system. The house’s energy recovery ventilator, or fresh-air furnace, uses much smaller ducts and supplies fresh air at much slower speeds. This results in higher indoor air quality and no noise.The highly efficient LED fixtures in the ceiling are used to illuminate artwork.

The ethanol-burning fireplace by EcoSmart is faced with soapstone. It needs no venting.

A sliding barn door can be closed to hide the computer clutter in the office/reading room. All the cabinetry in the house, here used for storage and to hold books, was built with responsibly harvested wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Old-fashioned pendants from Wilmette Lighting illuminate the new kitchen, built in what had been a breezeway connecting two parts of the house. The stainless-steel farmhouse sink is by Blanco America; the counters are soapstone.

Highly insulated, energy efficient Optiwin windows and doors are used throughout the house. Here, a 16-foot-long, triple-glazed sliding door opens the kitchen to the courtyard.


A Kohler farmhouse sink was chosen for the laundry room, which also includes an Asko washer and non-venting dryer (not shown). The heat from the dryer is recycled for use in the house.

The softly hued bedrooms, like the rest of the house, were painted in Benjamin Moore colors.

In the master bathroom, a pendant lamp from the owner’s previous home was used over the freestanding tub from Sunrise Specialty. The counter top and hexagonal floor tiles are honed Carrara marble.

A standard closet holds the house’s water system, which supplies 90% of the hot-water demand. The storage tank, at right, holds the water, which is heated by a Heliodyne solar thermal system. A backup hot-water system by Rinnai is on the wall at left.

A solar panel provides the energy needed to recirculate the water used by the hybrid table-fountain-planter in the courtyard. Solar Knights fabricated it out of concrete and stainless steel.

Two Bushman tanks holding 1,200 gallons of water capture runoff from the roof. That water irrigates the yards. The raised vegetable beds are made with recycled wood.

-- Anne Harnagel

Photos: Ned Bonzi


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