Five Questions with Levven President and CEO James Keirstead

June 26, 2024

Levven is an Edmonton, Alberta-based electronics company that specializes in creating power controls and wire-free switches that make homes more affordable, personal and sustainable.

President and CEO James Keirstead recently sat down with CCI President Benjamin Bergen to talk about Levven’s wireless technology, the current Canadian housing ecosystem, and how regulatory frameworks can better enable Canadian Innovators.

This transcript is edited for length and clarity.

Benjamin Bergen: James, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Can you give us a sense of how Levven got started?

James Keirstead: Believe it or not, Levven was born out of my former life. I’m one of the guys who founded a company called Blue Falls Manufacturing, and we created a brand called Arctic Spas. What was unique about Arctic Spas is that we didn’t just assemble components from other companies— we vertically integrated much of our supply chain.

We began making our own controls right here in Edmonton. We were the first guys to connect hot tubs to the Internet using a mobile device application.

A few years later, I met a builder here in Edmonton who was pre-building house walls and wanted to seal them off but couldn’t because the wires in the walls had to be inspected. He was looking for a way to remove the wire from the walls. Someone from Alberta Innovates brought him to my head engineer and me, and we saw the idea right away.

Our thought was, what if we put up a wall-mounted battery-powered switch that would use a radio frequency to communicate with a power controller in the junction box behind a light or receptacle? That way, you can eliminate the need to install wiring into the walls, which saves money and time.

BB: That’s such a great idea to build a business around! Can this technology be helpful in terms of housing supply?

Housing is such a massive national conversation right now, with not enough supply and a huge amount of frustration among potential buyers. Given Levven’s closeness to the housing ecosystem, does that give you some insight into potential solutions?

JK: Well, a few parts of building a house are quite complex. Some of the problems can be solved with automation, and others are skills-related challenges.

Heating, plumbing, air conditioning, and electrical skills are in short supply in new home construction. To expand the labor pool in new construction, we can reduce the skill requirements by simplifying tasks like wiring. Using less wire in the walls and making the home’s wiring simpler speeds up the building process and saves builders time and money.

What’s more, there are many savings we can't quantify, but we know they exist. For example, without switch boxes in the walls, there are fewer penetrations in the vapour barrier and ceiling plates, which improves the house's envelope and efficiency.  The drywaller can work faster without needing to cut around switch boxes, and the painter can finish more quickly without fixing drywall mistakes. These factors speed up the entire process for all trades. While we've quantified the savings in the electrical trade, the knock-on effects benefit everyone involved.


BB: Looking at this through the civil society and political side of the equation, I’m curious as to whether there are regulatory challenges or burdens facing tech in the housing market. Are there frameworks that we can change to help us build homes faster?

JK: Yeah. Well, as you know, regulatory capture is increasing, not decreasing. Levven is quickly becoming a 15-yearovernight success, and a big part of that is that we launched our first wireless switch in 2014. In 2015, the code in Canada said you can’t use a wire-free wall-mounted control, it didn’t make sense to us at the time, but that was the code.

It took us until 2021 for us to get the code changed in Canada and 2020 in the United States. Just because the code changed didn't mean all the provinces adopted it—in fact, it didn't get adopted across Canada until January 2023. That kind of regulatory control should have killed Levven; if we didn't have our other business of selling controls for hot tubs, we would never have survived.


BB: There’s a huge piece in talking about the government determining what is permissible and what isn't and how you can still innovate and use your technology for all the good stuff.

JK: If we want to embrace sustainability fully, we need to embrace new technologies to support innovators, or it simply will not come fast enough. And we have a massive problem in Canada. If you look at the number of houses built last year compared to the year before, the number decreased. We are not headed in the right direction, and there is still a lot of work to do.


BB: At CCI we’ve definitely looked at how Canada can be standard makers rather than standard takers on innovative products and technology processes. Thinking about smart homes and smart technology within them, what are some of the savings to the consumer in the long run when using wireless technology?

JK: Yeah. Imagine for a moment that you could have most of the devices you interact with in your home connected together in a network. If you can do that, those devices can support you in how you live.

Let me give you some examples. We could see energy cost reductions by simply having smart devices that can sense lighting conditions and automatically dim lights to the appropriate levels so that we can see well, but limit energy consumption. Another example is how you age in your home. You can stay longer if you can move switches to where they are accessible to you, or you could have your fridge help you order the foods you need so you’re not struggling with those things as you age. Your heating and air conditioning could operate based on temperature sensors throughout the entire house that can start balancing comfort and energy consumption in your house over time.  

We don’t see it because, frankly, homes are the dumbest things we interact with daily. We don’t have enough smart infrastructure for them yet, but with the ideas we have at Levven, we’re working on it. When you can turn an entire control layer into a smart layer, there are lots of opportunities for add-ons and additional sensors to make your home operate more efficiently.

Then it gets really interesting.


About the Council

The Council of Canadian Innovators is a national business council of more than 150 scale-up technology companies headquartered in Canada. Our members are job-creators, philanthropists and leading commercialization experts in the 21st century digital economy.


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