your house

President Clinton's "Greening of the White House" program is replacing traditional building fixtures with new energy-efficient ones that pay for themselves in a surprisingly short time. You can do the same at your home or business.

by Craig R. Sieben, reprinted from Earth Day Times 1995, with permission
ach year, 1.2 million people visit the White House, a structure that holds a half million square feet of office space, a museum, three restaurants, a conference center, a botanical garden and an exercise facility. But let us not forget that the White House is also one of the most famous residences in the nation, and it is currently undergoing a retrofit of extreme significance.
In keeping with the Clinton administration's commitment to environmentalism, the president announced on Earth Day 1994 a major, multimillion dollar initiative called "The Greening of the White House." The White House Office on Environmental Policy was asked to assemble an interagency team of experts to lead the project, which is a comprehensive, multi-year effort designed to improve energy efficiency and cut waste throughout the White House complex.
The Greening of the White House is also designed to comply with the recently enacted Executive Order 122902, which requires that all federal facilities reduce energy consumption by 30 percent by the year 2005.
The Greening of the White House project has consistently demonstrated that "green" practices are beneficial to the environment and save money while improving occupant comfort. The purpose of the project is to lead by example and launch a national effort to promote energy efficiency and environmental responsibility.
This is being accomplished by providing the necessary information and tools for citizens to adopt these green practices in their own homes and businesses. It is the hope of President Clinton that residential builders and homeowners across the nation will soon be taking steps to emulate The Greening of the White house in their own structures.
In relation to the White House itself, the goal of the project is to make the facility an environmentally sustainable model and a showcase of efficient technologies. Resource consumption will be decreased by as much as possible. And all of this must be done without the total project costs exceeding the resulting savings.
This last goal is critical. Because renovations are expected to pay for themselves, the project will be a model for homes and businesses throughout the United States, and perhaps the world. Upgrades must also be implemented without disrupting the facility's operation and in a way that respects the historic and security concerns of the White House.
To identify the measures necessary to accomplish the project goals, a team of government and industry leaders performed an environmental and energy audit of the White House complex. The expert team was lead by Mark Ginsberg, director of the Federal Energy Management Program, and included representatives from federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the General Services Agency, and the National Park Service. The American Institute of Architects, with support from the National Wildlife Federation's Corporate Conservation Council, assembled a multidisciplinary, volunteer team that included 100 national experts to advise the team.
In addition, the Rocky Mountain Institute provided technical implementation of energy-efficient technologies and environmentally sustainable building design practices. The recommended actions are part of a comprehensive approach that includes specific actions divided into five general categories: energy efficiency; building ecology; air, water, and landscape; materials, waste, and resource management; and managerial and human factors.
This article focuses on the energy-efficiency component of the plan. Detailed below are specific, practical steps being taken to make the White House a more energy-efficient complex. (Much of this material is taken from "The Greening of the White House Phase I Action Plan," dated March 11, 1994.) The goal is to show how these steps may be as applicable for your building as they are for the White House.


The state of the modern residential environment, from widespread computer use in home offices to normal, day-to-day living, mandates a serious consideration of lighting requirements. These are often the easiest and most profitable items to pursue.
It is important, however, to determine the desired lighting levels and quality requirements before finalizing equipment specifications. Proper design can yield larger savings and generate far better occupant satisfaction than a decision driven primarily by equipment vendors.
At the White House, proven, straightforward upgrades were initiated first because success with this first set of retrofits helps create an atmosphere where the occupants are more favorably inclined toward pursuing additional retrofit opportunities. Lighting quality considerations, especially in such an important national treasure as the White House, must be the dominant factor in the design of successful energy-efficiency solutions. The following initiatives have been completed at the White House to date:

Plug loads

"Plug loads" refers to everything plugged into the electrical system, from refrigerators to computers. Because the White House also serves as a government office, office equipment is a major part of the facility's plug load. And although the power density of the White House equipment is greater than that of the typical home office, these examples still apply.
The White House is now purchasing office equipment that provides energy saving of up to 50 percent or more per piece of equipment, at little or no increase in initial purchase price. The energy audit of the OEOB suggested that energy savings of $30,000 per year could be achieved by simply using more energy-efficient personal computers. Further, the more efficient equipment is generally quieter and less of a burden on the cooling system.
The same day he launched the Greening of the White House, President Clinton signed an Executive Order mandating that all federal purchases of personal computers, monitors, and printers meet EPA Energy Star specifications. Many manufacturers now offer equipment with the Energy Star logo, including lap top computers, ink-jet printers, and monitors that have a "sleep" mode. These are commonly available, and they can lower energy consumption by 50 to 95 percent.
The White House purchasing agents are now committed to buying other equipment, such as copiers and fax machines, with low-power standby and other efficiency features, including double-sided photocopying.
The staff is also encouraged to use electronic mail and "paperless" (PC or LAN-based) faxing, which offers increased convenience and productivity as well as significant energy savings and reductions in paper use.
The White House is currently improving its capacity for electronic communications. Significant gains can be made in this area, though it is important to design a system that is reliable, easy, and convenient to use.
In another effort to reduce the plug load, President Clinton and his family installed the first "Golden Carrot" refrigerator, which is the most efficient mass-produced refrigerator in the United States. Developed as part of a national competition sponsored by electric utilities, environmental groups, and the Environmental Protection Agency, the super-efficient refrigerator exceeds 1993 Department of Energy standards and contains no CFCs.
It is estimated that if all refrigerators in the OEOB were "Golden Carrots," the yearly energy bill would be reduced by between $3,000 and $6,000. Currently, the Whirlpool "Golden Carrot" model, which won the competition, is available in many utility areas, and other manufacturers are developing similar models.

The building envelope

The building envelope includes windows, walls, roofs, and doors. For most of the White House complex, the windows have the greatest effect on comfort and energy use. Because the windows in the OEOB offer thermal performance much below the desired level for the Washington climate, new window technology, including thermal windows and insulating glass, is now being used as a part of an extensive renovation of the complex.

Heating, ventilating and cooling

Heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems (including window air conditioners) are a prime target for energy and environmental improvements because they consume a lot of energy and the refrigerants used are a source of ozone-depleting air pollutants (chloroflurocarbons, or CFCs). Further, improved efficiency reduces electric bills and decreases pollution associated with electricity generation.
The White House HVAC renovation project, developed by the Executive Residence staff and the National Park Service, emphasizes energy efficiency, as well as historic and security considerations. The main objectives are to eliminate ozone-depleting CFCs; centralize all cooling operations; upgrade HVAC controls with an energy-management control system; install smaller, more efficient chillers that will meet part-load requirements in the spring and fall; install a condensate heat recovery system to preheat domestic hot water; and eliminate all electric reheat functions by replacing them with hot-water coils.
This project will take several years to complete, and while these measures are specifically designed for the White House complex, most are applicable to other facilities.
In the meantime, of the nearly 1,000 window air-conditioning units in the OEOB, about 10 percent are replaced each year. The replacement units are approximately 20 percent more efficient than their predecessors, and with the sweltering Washington climate, they pay for themselves with energy savings in about one year.
In addition, all steam radiators in the OEOB are being fit with modern, energy-efficient thermostatic control valves. This will cost about $8,000 and generate savings of about $1,500 per year. The improvement will significantly enhance occupant comfort while providing savings. The steam-heating system is also being rezoned for better control of steam distribution.

The White House model

It's fairly safe to say that the White House is the most well known "mixed-use" facility in the country. Much of what is being done in the White House as part of the Greening of the White House project can also be done in your building, whether it is a house, corporate headquarters or a public facility. The effort being made at the White House can serve as an example to all Americans as to how to be more environmentally responsible and resource efficient while saving money and improving the quality and value of our built environment.
Copies of the White House plan are available. In addition, an interactive and educational CD-ROM provides details about the renovation. For information on either of these tools, call the Federal Energy Management Program at 800-566-1877.

Craig Sieben is president of Sieben Energy, a Chicago-based firm that provides independent energy-efficiency consulting and energy-management services. This article is based on one that originally appeared in the September/October 1994 issue of Good Cents Magazine.