Canadian company working to unlock barriers for home building innovations

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The Financial Post has put a spotlight on the frustrating pace of standards evolution and how it’s affecting the housing industry.

When builders are allowed to adopt new tech, they are able to increase the housing supply so more people can become home owners. Instead, writes Kevin Carmichael, builders and the tech innovators who supply them are faced with “a swamp of regulation and political indifference.” Levven’s wireless controls make the construction of new homes less costly and more labor-efficient.

“To install anything in a new home,” notes Carmichael, “it has to satisfy all the building codes, and there is nothing in the Canadian Electrical Code about wireless switches. [Levven’s] initial attempts to get a stamp of approval, starting in 2015, were rejected because the standard setters were unwilling to take a risk on undefined gadgetry.

“We never thought it would go to the electrical code, because we were taking wires out of the wall,” Levven president James Keirstead said in an interview.

“Levven ran headlong into a swamp of regulation, bureaucratic caution, and political indifference to improving economic competitiveness. Keirstead’s experience is an excellent example of how our leaders’ refusal to get serious about internal trade barriers impedes innovation.

“Keirstead is still working on getting the electrical code changed to include wireless switches. In February 2018, after hiring a lobbyist, he managed to get the Alberta government to issue a notice that states Levven’s switches should be treated like any other.” As of June 2019, only Alberta, Saskatchewan, and a number of American jurisdictions have explicitly approved of wireless controls in new home construction. This means that about 90 percent of the country’s real estate market is still blocked from taking advantage of this innovation, based on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s latest tally of housing starts. Jim Balsillie, the former co-chief executive of BlackBerry Ltd / Research In Motion, now uses his influence to get policymakers and entrepreneurs thinking strategically about what it takes to win territory in the digital economy.

“Power and money come from ones and zeroes,” says Balsillie. “What we’ve missed is the need to create a digital policy infrastructure.”

Balsillie notes that unlike China, the United States, and the United Kingdom, Canada has not taken a leadership position on international standards organizations. He urges Canadian policymakers to shore up the country’s policy infrastructure with a systemic approach to international standardization “If we don’t shape data governance, it will be foisted on us,” Balsillie said. “You are passive at your peril.”

Blocked from selling his switches to builders in most of Canada, Keirstead turned to the United States. Its building codes weren’t ready for Levven’s tech either, but Keirstead said he found that regulators were more open to innovation. He thinks he’s close to getting his switch added to the U.S. electrical code. “That would be epic for us,” he said. How do home builders benefit from eliminating wired switch costs? Learn more here. Kevin Carmichael is a national business columnist for the Financial Post, and senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. You can read his original article here.

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