Maintain Your Pipes and Your Business

Utilities At America's Most Famous Residence: Plumbing, HVAC, And Electricity At The White House

by Sheila Vasquez

The next time you take a nice hot shower first thing in the morning or offer a guest the use of your powder room, consider this: the first residents of the White House didn't even have bathrooms! Now, of course, the White House is a model of modern convenience, but it took many years for the upgrades we all take for granted today to be installed. Here's a peek at some of the landmark additions to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It will make you appreciate having to wait a day or two the next time you need a plumbing or heating repair in your home.

The Early White House Years

The White House was built in 1792, and the first US President to occupy it was John Adams. Unfortunately for President Adams and his wife, there were no bathrooms in the residence--in fact, there was no plumbing at all.

It wasn't until after the fire set by the British in 1814 that crude bathing facilities were added. It was at this time that the business and residential portions of the White House were separated.

Upgrades From the Civil War Years Through the Turn of the Century

It wasn't until the 1850s, however, during the Fillmore administration that White House domestic staff no longer had to haul buckets of hot water to portable bathtubs for bathing. During the Fillmore years, plumbing was finally added to the second floor.

Franklin Pierce felt that the White House was a touch chilly in winter and had a new hot water furnace added. Crude ventilation was also added during the 1870s.

The shooting of President Garfield in the next decade spurred early experiments with air conditioning. A contraption that passed air over ice water kept the President cool on his deathbed.

A massive renovation was completed during the administration of Teddy Roosevelt in 1902. Plumbing was a central focus of the upgrades, as was expansion of the first electrical lighting added in the 1890s. Attic fire protection was also installed during this time.

Modern Conveniences from the Depression On

Central air conditioning close to what is used today wasn't added until the 1930s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt following the Christmas Eve fire of 1929. While minor improvements to the heating system were made in the decades that followed, one of the most innovative was the installation of solar heating panels by President Carter. While these were removed in the 1980s, a new set of solar panels was implemented in 2002.

The White House now sports 35 bathrooms, about half as many as Buckingham Palace, which is quite something, as the White House sees approximately 100,000 visitors per month (as of 2009 statistics), while the residence of Queen Elizabeth II only about 50,000 annually.

However, it's the Vatican where plumbers quake in their boots. While the Papal bathroom facilities are a private affair, the Vatican Museums alone are visited by over five million people each year. That's an awful lot of drains to keep clean. To learn more, contact a company like A Absolute Plumbing & Heating with any questions or concerns you have.