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Portage House That Won Energy Award Doesn't Have To Be Exceptional, Builders Say

A close-up picture of a thermostat with a digital display
Kevin P. Casey
AP Photo

A Portage house with very low net-energy use doesn’t have to be the exception to the rule, say the builders who worked on it. The house recently won the Michigan Energy Efficiency Contractors Association’s Residential Project of the Year award.

The home is a roughly 2,000-square-foot walkout ranch built in the 1950s. Owner Bart Litjens had it retrofitted with solar panels and a device called a heat pump that replaced the furnace. Contractors also insulated the house and made the walls nearly airtight.

Litjens said his home now gets filtered air from outside.

“It feels like spring also in the winter,” he said. “The air is crisp and clean if that makes sense. And that’s comfort, I mean that’s nice, but it’s also a health improvement, I would say,” he said, adding that the air inside a house is sometimes more polluted than outside.

Litjens said the heat pump helps to maintain a steady temperature, unlike a furnace which kicks on and off.

“I see less sweaters in my house,” he added.

Credit Courtesy photo / Michigan Energy Efficiency Contractors Association
Michigan Energy Efficiency Contractors Association
Bart Litjens' house in Portage.

Green builders in Kalamazoo say good financing is available for net-zero energy upgrades through the nonprofit Michigan Saves. It connects people with credit unions that are willing to lend for the projects.

“A lot of people think to take your house to a zero-net-energy house, you have to be uber-rich with money to spare,” said Mark Lee of Better World Builders in Kalamazoo, one of several firms that worked on Litjens’ house.

But Lee said that financing puts these upgrades in reach for many homeowners. He said the improvements to Litjens’ home also netted close to $2,000 in rebates from Consumers Energy.

Lee said he’s working on two more net-zero energy retrofits in Southwest Michigan, including one on an 1830s farmhouse in Gobles.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. She covered those topics and more in eight years of reporting for the Station, before becoming news director in 2022.
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