A Natural Presidential Home: Greening the White House

The authorities on green building offer advice for how Barack Obama can give the White House an eco-friendly makeover.

| January 2009 Web

  • Photo by JF Holloway/Courtesy flickr; http://flickr.com/photos/jfholloway/
    The White House already has some eco-features in place: energy-efficient lighting, low-flow toilets and new insulation.

Do you have suggestions for how Barack and Michelle Obama should green the White House? Let us know your suggestions on our forums.

1. The first step toward making any building more efficient—and thereby more eco-friendly—is to analyze the structure’s energy use and find simple ways to save via sealing, enhanced insulation, better energy equipment, etc. I think it would serve as a great example if the White House were fully or partially powered by an alternative energy source. Plus, with two young children in the White House, it is important for the Obama decorators to choose nontoxic interior materials and finishes. Finally, reusing is the best way to avoid the use of new resources. I am sure the Obamas plan to donate gently used items to charities or auctions, but they should also remember to collect and recycle deconstruction and renovation waste, and make sure to donate used building materials to Habitat for Humanity or another similar organization. -Jessica Kellner, Managing Editor, Natural Home magazine

2. If the White House is as green as  this report says, then I think the next step to greening the president's new home is to make green grow from the inside-out and the outside-up. The White House chefs can prepare local, organic, seasonal food and support area farmers. The White House lawn can be home to a fruit, vegetable and native flower garden that the Obama girls can help tend to. The White House roof can become visibly green—a living roof for plants and food—so that the beautiful aerial shots of the home set an example for all to see. -Kim Wallace, Assistant Editor, Natural Home magazine

3. With wildly fluctuating gas prices, and seemingly conflicting scientific studies, many Americans are unable to fully relate to the pervasive movement to “go green.” As such, they may not yet see the benefits to changing their lifestyles. But “green” has one highly personal facet—that of human health. By focusing on the benefits of environmental health, particularly concerning that of infants and children, the Obamas can inspire American families to become more environmentally aware. Creating a healthy home environment has much more meaning and more obvious benefits to the average American family than the benefits of buying a hybrid car or turning down the thermostat. As widely reported, the Obama’s older daughter, Malia, has asthma. This brings the “green” discussion out of the rhetorical and into the realm of the highly personal—for both the Obamas and many American families. Urban dwelling children, and minorities in particular, suffer disproportionately from asthma and other serious illnesses related to chronic environmental exposures. By focusing on ways to minimize or eliminate toxins in the White House living quarters and on the White House grounds (from contaminants in pesticides and cleaning products to those found in interior furnishings and building materials), the Obamas can have an enormous impact on both human and planetary health. By taking steps to help their own family, the Obamas will also be helping Americans to see the direct link between small environmental changes and improved health, and hopefully motivate them to make similar changes in their own homes. -Mary Cordaro, Certified Bau-Biologist and Environmental Consultant

4. The biggest way to create a green impact at the White House is to find "teachable moments" throughout the house, for residents, guests, staff and tour visitors. I suggest that there is a focus on demonstrations of recycling, using recycled materials, using energy-efficient lighting, using daylighting, using regional materials and using renewable energy—all of which are emphasized by tour guides for the throngs of visitors who tour the White House daily. Monitoring the savings (through recycling, of potable water, of energy, and of carbon) and installing visible displays of those ongoing savings, will create interest and learning for visitors, staff, the Obama girls, Michelle and Barack. -Brian Dunbar, LEED Faculty, Executive Director, Institute for the Built Environment

5. The most important first step to use for greening the White House is to do a thorough energy analysis of the building.  It is quite old and has been renovated a number of times, probably all using different building techniques and technologies. There is no point putting in various green elements if you don't know what condition the building is in and how it is performing. -Nathan Kipnis, AIA, LEED AP



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