A lighting upgrade at the touch of an iPad

Electronically programmable bidet-style toilets were installed upstairs and downstairs, with timers on the heated seats.
Electronically programmable bidet-style toilets were installed upstairs and downstairs, with timers on the heated seats. (JIM LEBAIR)
Posted: November 02, 2014

Sarah Alfadl owns a beautiful house in Bryn Mawr, but she's traveled extensively around the world and owns houses in Europe, as well.

So when she had to the chance, she wanted to renovate her Montgomery Avenue property's three bathrooms with cutting-edge technology, and give her kitchen an upgrade, too. Alfadl and her contractor, Jim Lebair of JRL Design in Oreland, installed an electric lighting system that uses wireless controls.

The remote Lutron RadioRA2 control system eliminates the need for new wiring. Radio sensors can be installed quickly and communicate with compatible dimmers.

It's also easier than turning lots of lights on and wondering whether they're off after you've left the room, said the University of Pennsylvania law school graduate, who worked for many years as an immigration lawyer.

"Instead of six or eight buttons, you can control the system through your iPad if you want to," said Alfadl, who has lived in the house since 1990.

Another reason she wanted the Lutron radio-controlled system? It allowed her to incorporate high-design bathroom fixtures most American homes don't have, such as European-style bidets with heated seats, heated towel racks, and radiant-heat floors.

For instance, her apartment on Guernsey, an island in the English Channel, "has all under-floor heat, and I wanted that in the bathrooms here, as well."

Alfadl wanted warmer rooms in the house overall, so she had her contractor first install air sealing and spray-foam insulation in all the exterior walls. Lebair also installed vents for bathroom exhaust fans and added floor- and towel-warming devices to spot-heat those areas. A solar-powered fan draws hot air out of the shower.

In the upstairs guest bathroom, Alfadl removed an old tub and installed an all-glass steam shower with a sitting bench and a Schluter moisture- and water-management system. It aims to ensure that moisture doesn't penetrate the grout and seep behind the shower tiles, Lebair said.

The shower temperature is modulated by Steamist controls, and water can be heated up to 114 degrees Fahrenheit.

"I like it at 105 degrees," Alfadl said.

In two bathrooms - the guest bath and in the in-law suite - she installed Toto Washlets with "rear cleansing" and heated seats. The Washlet is a Japanese-manufactured bidet-style toilet that is hooked up to a separate electrical system. It uses less water and toilet paper, which appeals to environmentalists.

"These toilets do everything but put you to sleep," Alfadl said.

Because the Lutron RadioRA2 systems manage lighting, she has saved plenty on her electric bills, she said.

"Last winter, there were five people living in the house, doing laundry, using the heat and all the lights, and still our highest monthly bill was $950," Alfadl said, less than the family was paying 15 years ago. "The insulation and renovations have cut our electric bills in half."

Mark Glidden, chair of the Bucks-Mont chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and owner of lighting-design firm Stone & Glidden, has installed Lutron RA2 systems starting at under $2,000.

With the improvements, "the rooms are energy-efficient, more accessible to all ages, safer and with improved indoor environments," Lebair said.

For her master bathroom, Alfadl splurged. She bought slip-free Italian tile from Eusebio in King of Prussia, Danfoss electric heated floors, and Runtal radiant-heat towel racks.

"Sometimes, I don't even need to turn the heat on in the bathrooms because I turn on the floors and the towel racks and use them as heaters," she said.

Lebair extended the Lutron radio-controlled lighting system to other rooms in the house, such as the master bedroom, living room, and kitchen. With just one click, Alfadl can dim the sconces and the hallway lights and leave a small light on in the kitchen at night.

Now, she's taking what she learned from this renovation and applying it to upgrades in her other houses.

"I put to use a lot of the finishes that I learned here," Alfadl said.




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