Robie House renovation shines light on LED technology

By: Gloria Young,
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When Scott Wheeler began looking for a new location to house the Auburn office of The Engineering Enterprise, he wanted a building with character,
“We own our building in the Bay Area,” he said. “It housed the generator for the ship building yard in Alameda. It has a lot of style and is a unique building.”
Wheeler was not in a hurry in his quest to find the right site.
“We want to be in Auburn long term,” he said. “So we’ve not aggressively looked but just kind of figured to keep an eye out. We were happy at The Promenade but wanted something we could build out as (needed).”
Then last spring, he took a second look at a Downtown landmark that had been on the market for a while.
Robie House, at 1125 High Street, most recently was a salon and spa. It was named for Wendell Robie, avid horseman and founder of the Tevis Cup 100-mile endurance ride.
“One thing that stood out was that it had a lot of character,” Wheeler said about the picturesque Victorian.
The space was smaller than he had in mind, but  “ultimately it was a decision that if we renovated, we thought we could make it work,” he said.
Eight months later, after Historical Design Review Committee approvals and the permitting process, the renovation is nearly completed.
“I would say no more than six weeks into the project, it became less of, ‘hey, I think we can make it work,’ to it was more like this was going to be a great space,” he said. “If you look at where the building was and all the work the contractors and people here put into it, it was quite a transformation.”
One of the major aspects of the remodel was converting the building to LED lighting.
“We were looking at different things we could do to set our building apart,” Wheeler said. “Using our representatives we work with in the lighting industry, it made sense to do something different and unique. As far as we know, this is the only office building in the state of California that is 100 percent LED lighting.”
It also gave Wheeler and the company an opportunity to use the office space as a testing ground for the latest in lighting technology.  
He’s very pleased with the results, but not ready to count out fluorescents and will continue to offer that choice  to clients.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions that LED is the greatest lamp source out there,” he said. “Frankly, the (standard) four-foot fluorescent T8 lamp still operates as efficiently if not more efficiently than most LEDs currently on the market. Where the LED really starts giving you some advantages is its (lifespan) is 50,000 hours.”
Wheeler’s team added to that efficiency by putting all the lights on dimmer switches with a remote control capability.
“It’s a lot easier and more cost effective to dim an LED lamp versus a fluorescent lamp,” he said. “We can program our lighting control system so that we can set the limits for the lights to turn on. If we want them to come up to 50 percent initially, we can set that in our lighting control program.”
The lighting controls in each office also have motion sensors.
“All of the motion sensors and switches communicate with the main controller over a wireless network,” Wheeler said.  “We’re still programming it.”
There are traditional wall switches for manual control, too.
Battery-operated window shades are also connected to the wireless system.
“We set it up in the system so that if we want to (automatically) close the shades at night and open them in the morning, we can do that. But there are also manual controls,” he said.
The system was built for commercial use, but much of it is applicable to residential buildings as well. In fact, Wheeler has a similar wireless system in part of his own home.
“Absolutely it is a simple system and the features are such that you can put a controller in your bedroom, let’s say. This is what I have and a feature I love most in my house,” he said. “I have a button that says ‘all off.’ I can leave the lights on and go upstairs and hit a button and it shuts all the lights off.”
To make the most of  LED capabilities in the home, he suggests installing can lighting..
“I would say that if I’m building a new home, I have no doubt that any can light in my house would be LED,” Wheeler said. “You can get good color quality and they are certainly head and shoulders better than those compact fluorescent replacement lamps you can buy (at a big box store). That’s where the lifetime of the LED really benefits you. If you are talking 50,000 hours for an LED and a normal incandescent light is 10,000 hours, you are getting at least five times the lifespan.”
For the three bathrooms in the building, contractors installed three different LED styles — above and side fixtures — providing lighting style versatility.
“LED lighting has transformed (the electrical engineering) industry more than anything else has in the last few years,” Wheeler said. “There are so many changes and advancements occurring on a monthly basis. LEDs are pretty darn efficient and becoming more and more efficient.”
At Foothills Lighting & Design in Downtown Auburn, employee Linda Ledesma described LEDs  as a fast-growing trend.
“That’s where it’s all going,” she said.
She credits the trend to the dimming capability, versatility and energy savings over time of LEDs.
Sales representative Jim DeGaetano, from Satco’s KolourOne division, who was also in the store Tuesday, agreed.
“LEDs are at a point where they are coming down in price and the quality has increased 1,000 fold,” he said. “They’re at a point where they are starting to be a reasonable alternative  (to fluorescents).”
Besides a lighting makeover, the Robie House got some other major renovations as well, while at the same time preserving historical integrity. In addition to  making the structure ADA-compliant, the work included tearing down walls and removing a fireplace and chimney believed to have been an add-on at some point.
“The chimney was not very structurally sound,” Wheeler said. “It was also our conference room. So we opened up the wall and put in four 8-foot high glass doors. It’s just a lot of glass to open up the space.”
“We left the outside’s vintage style. The inside is ultra-modern with the latest and greatest amenities, systems and what have you. If we have architects come into our office and we’re going to talk about lighting, we’d better have some of the latest and greatest in our building.”
The Engineering Enterprise specializes in electrical systems from power and lighting, to fire alarms, telecommunications and security systems. A recent project was doing lighting design for Sacramento International Airport’s new Terminal B.