What's wrong with the White House: The inspectors' view
Anyone who's ever bought a home knows that a home inspection is the best way to learn if a house is in decent shape or if it's secretly on the verge of collapse. Home inspectors scrutinize over 1,600 different features, including electrical, plumbing, foundation, and more—to help home buyers find out if anything's seriously wrong before they commit to buying the place.
Since the White House isn't up for sale, we'd wager it's been a while since home inspectors have toured those hallowed halls. But we asked a couple how they thought the seat of our government would do on an inspection.
It turns out, not well.
"We doubt the White House would pass a home inspection," says Stacey Corso, a spokesperson for Roofstock, which performs home inspections on properties across the U.S.
The main reason for this likely failing grade is that the White House is old—built in 1792—and old buildings often contain materials that are now considered unsafe.
"I do wonder if they've remediated all the lead paint that was surely used in the past," says Welmoed Sisson, a home inspector in Maryland.
As for the cracked ceiling in the East Room that could fall on top of those below, "that could be due to lots of factors, including water leaks, structural movement, or the material separating from the framing," Sisson continues. "Given the history of the house, the material could be a traditional plaster on a wood or wire lath. If so, it's possible the plaster keys holding the ceiling in place are failing, which would eventually cause the plaster to break off and fall."
Old buildings also often suffer damage from outdated, ineffective plumbing.
"I wonder if the drainage issues in the Navy mess kitchen are due to old-style traps," Sisson says. "In the '40s and '50s, drains didn't always have today's P-traps, but odd devices called drum traps, bottle traps, or bell traps. All of these are prone to clogging, and are virtually impossible to keep clear of grease and debris, as they can't be snaked."
Meanwhile, the West Wing's 40-year-old bathrooms are definitely prime targets for some eco-friendly upgrades—and perhaps a bit more space.
"A 40-year-old bathroom will likely not have things like low-flow toilets," Sisson says. "I recall President Bill Clinton being asked about the White House bathrooms. He said something to the effect that there were a lot of bathrooms, but that 'they're really small.'"
'The White House is a bit of a wreck'
Yet in spite of the sorry state of the White House, it hasn't been completely neglected.
"The White House got a gut-level restoration during the Truman administration, so there shouldn't be any typical old-house hazards like knob and tube electrical wiring or lead water pipes," says Sisson.
Still, though, "the White House is a bit of a wreck internally," says Los Angeles real estate developer Tyler Drew. "Not only would it fail inspections, but Lord knows what you would find once you get behind the plaster walls."
Part of this is due not only to the building's old age, but also its rotating parade of tenants (aka first families).
"Imagine buying a house that changes owners every four to eight years, and those owners have vastly different tastes," Drew says.
For instance, he points out, "Lyndon Johnson tore nearly the entire plumbing out to install special high-pressure nozzles in his personal shower. Franklin Roosevelt had an indoor pool installed in the basement. ... JFK replaced it with a bowling alley. Jimmy Carter installed solar panels in 1979, only to have Ronald Reagan tear them off and Barack Obamareinstall them in 2010. It is rumored there are secret doors and passageways in and under the White House constructed somehow without anyone knowing, or pulling permits."
Because even the White House shouldn't be above permits, right? So while the White House isn't for sale, if it were, Drew says, "I'd tell home buyers to run for the hills."