Plans for a greener White House

Just as President Obama gets handy swinging a figurative hammer to nail down an acceptable recovery plan for the automotive industry, he's also gearing up for a few home improvement projects at the White House? Home improvements that, unlike past presidents, he'll be paying for out of his own pocket.

It's a tradition for the First Family to be allotted $100,000 to make America's house their home, but in recognition of the tough times many homeowners are experiencing, the Obamas are turning down taxpayer-funded redecorating and footing the bill themselves.

Hollywood decorator Michael S. Smith may be signed on to design, but they "are not using public funds or accepting donations of goods for redecorating their private quarters," says Camille Johnston, director of communications for the First Lady. They'll also be steering clear of cash from the privately funded White House Historical Association, which served up $74,000 for a new set of china before the Bushes departed from Washington.

With the President's efforts to promote energy efficiency, the arrival of Earth Day later this month and an organic kitchen garden already planted on the South Lawn, things are looking good for the White House remodel to have a green theme. Energy savings, sustainable design and healthy living have been keen interests of previous residents, and it would be nice to see if the Obamas will likely expand on these as they make their own remodeling plans.

Here are a few sustainable ideas they might like to consider, but that would also be very doable on a non-beltway budget:

  • Choose VOC-free finishes, floor-coverings and fabrics for home and office environments that are easy and healthy to live with well after the remodeling is over.
  • Install smart lighting, from efficient fixtures and dimmer controls to the compact fluorescent bulbs and LEDs that illuminate them. Energy-saving motion sensors in key rooms would also be helpful, if only to ensure that the president has time for tasks other than patrolling living quarters to turn off unused lights, as he's been known to do in his previous residences.
  • With an amazing collection of art and historical furnishings on hand, the first family and their decorator can do some stylish repurposing for interiors. Items that have long been in White House storage could reappear to add interest and pedigree to living spaces, and present favorites could be moved to new positions and even inspire fresh contemporary color palettes.

For a window on how other First Families have made themselves at home, check out these highlights from past White House renovations.

Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and co-author of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure. He delivers home improvement tips each week as host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program.

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