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Corvallis couple make long work of sustainability

CORVALLIS — From the outside, Walt and Marielu Eager's house resembles others that dot the hills of northwest Corvallis. But a closer inspection reveals some fascinating differences:

  • The garage contains an electric Leaf and a Toyota pickup that Walt, 81, is converting to electric power. The family also owns a Toyota van that has used just seven gallons of gasoline in the past eight months.
  • The house has galvanized steel siding that was painted at the factory and has not needed repainting since the house was built in 1979-80. It cost 20 percent more than conventional siding, but Walt Eager estimates that it already has paid for itself three times over.

It's an example of what he calls "low life cycle costs."

"We've got to develop an ethic where we go to contractors and ask them to build with low life cycle costs," he said. "We can't sustain this throwaway economy."

The solar panels produce enough electricity to charge the vehicles and take care of other household uses.

There is enough power left over in the late spring, summer and fall to enable the Eagers to forward a surplus to Consumer Power Inc. The utility returns the favor in late fall, winter and early spring, when the solar panels produce less energy.

  • The house has 15-inch-thick concrete walls that absorb solar energy and release it selectively into the interior at night.
  • Most of the family's food is grown in an organic garden Marielu Eager tends. The conifer trees they planted at the rear of the property further help to reduce the carbon footprint of the property and provide firewood for the winter.

The Eagers practice a sophisticated approach to sustainability, one that had its genesis in the oil embargo of 1973-74, when oil prices quadrupled.

Walt Eager, an engineer, looked into the future. "I saw what was coming," he said. "It was pretty clear that this wasn't going to stop."

So they built their house on a hill and kept adding pieces — more solar panels, the electric vehicles, used recycled lumber to repair the deck — that increased their home's sustainability.

Their motto is reuse, modify and reuse or recycle. The household generates little trash, and much of what they do generate is used for composting. The family also takes an annual delivery of leaves from Allied Waste used for mulch.

"We need a new aesthetic," Eager said. "Things don't have to be replaced just because they are old. At 81, I am particularly anxious that society develops a new aesthetic that old is valuable. We need to become sustainable because ultimately it is beneficial to posterity and humanity in general."

The Eagers also are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge by giving tours of the property.

"There is so much waste," Walt Eager said. "We hope that each person who tours here takes away something that they can use."