The White House is an iconic building, one that is recognized by people all over the world. In general, the White House serves many roles. It is the official residence of the President of the United States and their family. The term “White House” is typically used to refer to the current administration and it is also the primary workplace of the President.

With President’s Day right around the corner, we thought we would investigate the President’s home and office from a different angle — one that focuses more on electricity and its impact and influence on this particular national treasure.

Brief History of The White House

The first President of the United States, George Washington, chose the site for the White House in Washington D.C. in 1791. Through an intense competition, architect James Hoban’s design was chosen in 1792, and construction began shortly after. Unfortunately, Washington didn’t live long enough to reside in the White house and in 1814, the British set fire to the building– a direct result of the War of 1812. Throughout the following years, many different Presidents added different sections to the White House.  In 1902, President Roosevelt initiated a major renovation project. In the late 1940’s, the White House required another major renovation as the building started to display signs of structural weakness.

Today, the White House boasts a total of 132 rooms over six floors. The size of the President’s home is around 55,000 square feet.  When it comes to private residences for the head of state, the White House is also the only home in the world where the public can visit without paying any fees.

Here are some random, fun facts about the White House:

  • The kitchen inside the White House is capable of providing appetizers to over 1,000 guests and dinner for up to 140 guests.
  • In addition to the incredible number of rooms, the White House also has 3 elevators, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, 421 doors, 35 bathrooms and 147 windows.
  • It takes 570 gallons of paint to cover the outer walls of the White House.
  • The White House has also operated under many different names including the President’s House, President’s Palace, and Executive Mansion.
  • President James Polk (1845 – 1949) was the first President to have his picture taken inside the White House.
  • The White House is comprised of the following: Executive Residence, West Wing, East Wing, and Grounds.
  • Tax payers help to pay for utilities like electricity and water for the White House.
  • Every week the White House receives approximately 100,000 emails, 1,000 faxes, 65,000 letters, 3,500 calls, and 30,000 visitors.

Electricity in the White House

When it comes to energy and electricity, the White House has undergone some significant transformations. As one can imagine, the introduction of electricity into the White House came with its own challenges.  It’s worth noting that as the Presidents became increasingly used to the comforts of heating, cooling, and refrigeration, so did the the rest of North America.

Electricity’s Growing Role in the White House

1891: Electricity was installed in the White House. Benjamin Harrison was President at the time, but he and his wife are afraid of electrocution. Therefore, only the staff turned light switches on and off.

1926: President Calvin Coolidge sees the first electric refrigerator installed in the White House.

1933: Air conditioning is installed in President Franklin Roosevelt’s private quarters.

1952: During Truman’s presidency, both the White House and its electrical wires/technology are upgraded.

1979: Solar panels are installed on the roof of the White House. These panels helped to heat water for the administration staff. Jimmy Carter was President at the time. (These panels were removed in 1986 due to roof repairs).

1993: The White House becomes “Green.”  Light bulbs, windows, and a new HVAC system are implemented (along with many other initiatives) under President Bill Clinton’s administration.

2008: The first solar electronic system is installed in the White House. Two solar-thermal systems are also installed to help heat water for the spa and pool. President George W. Bush spearheads all of these projects.

2014: New solar panels are installed on the White House roof under President Obama’s administration.

Energy Efficiency in the White House

In collaboration with the Rocky Mountain Institute, the White House (during Bill Clinton’s administration) implemented a project which helped to significantly upgrade the building’s energy efficiency. At the beginning of the project, an analysis was conducted to determine specific areas of energy improvement within the Old Executive Office Building and White House.

Overall, there were six components to the project including:

  • Audit
  • Feasibility Study
  • Early Actions
  • Demonstration Spaces
  • Long-Term Initiatives
  • Technology/Transfer Outreach

The improvement of energy efficiency within the White House helped reduce waste and improve building comfort, performance and air quality. The project itself did not have an impact on the historic elements of the building itself, nor did it interrupt daily operations.

Notable “Green Efforts” by Previous Presidents

Many Presidents have resided in the White House. Many Presidents have also taken an interest in energy and the different ways in which the United States uses that energy. Some of these Presidents include:

  • Jimmy Carter: Throughout his Presidency, pushed a seven-point plan that focused on energy efficiency in order to try and help preserve natural resources across the United States.
  • Gerald Ford: Implemented the first fuel efficiency standards for the United States.
  • George W. Bush:  Made efforts to comply with Clean Air Regulatory Acts.
  • Barak Obama: Upgraded the White House’s solar panels and focused heavily on climate change.
  • Richard Nixon: This President was the first to sign the National Environmental Policy Act.
  • Bill Clinton: Helped to push legislature for EPA but not as involved in climate change as Obama.
  • George H.W. Bush: Attempted to protect the environment, especially wetland areas. Also implemented the first programs to help cut out sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide (which causes acid rain).

This list is not exhaustive, however, and it’s not our intention to omit any president’s efforts — it’s just a snapshot of some of the effort(s) put forth by recent presidents in regards to energy, conservation, and/or the environment.