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Alberta leads as first province to approve wire-free switches

Peter Kenter
Alberta leads as first province to approve wire-free switches

Suppose you could take the wire out of light and fan switch installations. No more superfluous copper wiring. No more cutting holes in drywall.

Edmonton’s Levven Electronics has done just that with its GoConex wire-free switch product — a battery-powered, surface-mounted switch paired with a remote-activated load controller through a secure wireless connection.

Having solved the technical challenges of developing and manufacturing the product, the company crossed a significant regulatory hurdle in February when Alberta became the first province in Canada to approve the product in new construction.

James Keirstead, president and CEO of Levven Electronics, estimates that eliminating the copper wire connections to a traditional switch could save 800 to 1,200 feet of copper wire and 30 to 35 electrical boxes per home. Adopted nationwide, the device offers the potential to save 302,000 person-days and 175 million feet of copper wire annually.

Converting to the switches would likely be cost-neutral, says Keirstead, but provide both environmental advantages and convenience. Builders could decide where to place switches long after rough-in and building owners could easily move the switches after construction without costly electrical and drywall work — the switches can be fixed to the wall using a few small screws. The low-powered switches could also be located anywhere in bathrooms, even near showers.

 

They reduce construction times and simplify home renovations

— Shaye Anderson

Alberta Minister for Municipal Affairs

 

“The switch is powered by a common watch battery designed to last 10 years under normal conditions of 30 uses per day,” says Keirstead.

“We couldn’t market a product that required even a two-year battery changeover, so I challenged our engineers to develop a technology that required the least battery power. Low-power options like Bluetooth still used too much power, so we went with an RF signal.”

GoConex was ready for market in 2015 and was soon sold to consumers through home improvement stores, including Lowe’s, Rona and Home Hardware. The switches are designed for commercial applications as well.

Switches and load controllers can be installed to create complex lighting systems, including master switches and zone lighting. The latest iteration of the product offers the option of remote control via mobile devices.

While electrical codes didn’t specifically prevent contractors from using wire-free switches, they didn’t specifically approve them either.

“The light switch was patented in 1917,” says Keirstead.

“When they wrote the codes, nobody really defined what a wall switch would look like. Many jurisdictions take those codes literally — if they don’t specify wire-free options, then they don’t accept wire-free options.”

Contractor customers such as Landmark Homes installed the switches in energy efficient homes in Edmonton where inspectors approved buildings incorporating the new product. Not so in Calgary where inspectors backed a more literal interpretation of codes.

After Levven lobbied the provincial government, Alberta Municipal Affairs published an electrical safety Standata bulletin in February. While the bulletin doesn’t change the building code, it provides explicit guidance to clear inspectors to approve wire-free switch installations.

The bulletin stated:

“For the purpose of these Rules, a wall switch may include any form of wall mounted lighting controls, including wireless…”

“These switches are a win-win for homeowners, builders and developers,” says Alberta Minister for Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson.

“They’re safe, they reduce construction times and simplify home renovations by removing the need for complex rewiring. They’re also more economical and energy efficient as they do not require as much steel, plastic and copper as traditional hard-wired switches. This is technology Albertans support, and we’re pleased that the construction industry can offer it to customers in the province.”

Keirstead notes that Saskatchewan has indicated it may soon follow suit with similar guidance.

The product has already been welcomed south of the border in Arizona, New Mexico and parts of California, a combined market larger than Canada’s. Levven is currently working on a proposal to see wireless switches specified in the 2020 edition of the National Building Code and the 2021 edition of the Canadian Electrical Code.

“Approval has been a long and arduous process,” says Keirstead.

“But if the process had been easier for a start-up product, I suppose someone would already have done it.”

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