Appeared in—before Interior Concerns Newsletter
By Mary Cordaro and Katherine Metz
DESIGNING FOR LOW ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION IN THE HOME
Every day we are surrounded by electromagnetic fields EMF from sources that are often beyond our control. Low frequency magnetic and electric fields, high frequency radiation from radio waves and microwaves, and artificially inducted magnetism bombard our living and working environments at an increasing rate. Many may feel that electro-pollution is so pervasive that satisfactory solutions are either impractical, impossible, or ineffectual. Yet, it is possible to make dramatic improvement in this sea of electrical environments. The key is in the bedroom, the most important room in the house.
We are most vulnerable when we sleep. During sleep, our bodies let down, regroup, shed metabolic wastes, and regenerate. Healthful sleeping rooms provide us with the right environment for all the important processes of the body's natural electrical system, internal organs and unconscious mind to work smoothly, and without interference. A healthful bedroom is energetically balanced and free of EMF, chemicals and microbial growth, and noxious earth energies. It provides the springboard for a strong body that can effectively cope with a daytime environment that is most certainly less than ideal. If we never give the body a break at night, we diminish our ability to function well during the day.
The first article in this series gave an overview of electromagnetic fields, with special emphasis on magnetic fields. It focused on their health implications, as well as the holistic design approach for new homes. The purpose of this article is to provide the designer and architect with a direction for detecting and abating electromagnetic fields in existing bedroom projects, which provide the perfect opportunity to clean up bedroom EMF.
Outside the house, high-tension lines, low voltage overhead lines and underground cables and transformers generate AC magnetic fields. Inside the house, current in the wiring and current consuming appliances and devices generate alternating current magnetic fields. Wiring, plumbing and other metallic pathways may carry electrical current and radiate very large magnetic fields. Although magnetic fields do drop off with distance, they may be almost impossible to block or shield. If these fields are present in the bedroom, they must be eliminated.
First, with an inexpensive gauss meter, the designer on an existing bedroom project can easily scan for potential magnetic field problems. To scan first for outdoor sources of magnetic fields, the designer can follow the simple protocol outlined by the California Department of Health Services to look for fields from overhead or underground transmission and distribution lines. When the house circuits are turned off, if a utility line is causing a magnetic field that is above 1 milligauss in the bedroom, the homeowner can ask the power company to check and fix any faulty transformers, grounding problems, or "imbalances" on a utility line. If proximity of the utility line to bedrooms is the main problem, community or legal action may be the only possible recourse for the homeowner.
Second, the designer or architect should scan for indoor sources of magnetic fields affecting the bedroom. After turning on every device in the house, if the magnetic field in the bedroom is over 1 milligauss, the designer should first unplug everything in the bedroom. If the field remains, the designer should then ask a certified Bau-Biologist to test and isolate the source of the magnetic fields. Once isolated, the EMF specialized electrician can then determine the sources of the fields, such as the house grounding system or main service, older house wiring conditions such as "knob and tube" wiring, shared neutrals, and current on the ground or water pipes. Fixing these magnetic field problems then becomes part of the design team process.
Sources of magnetic fields, including the examples described above, are also potential sources of low-frequency alternating current electric fields. AC electric fields are generated from electrical alternating voltage, present at 110 volts with a frequency of 60 hertz in the U.S. With the presence of voltage, all boxes, cables and devices with main connections are radiating electric fields, even if appliances, fixtures or devices are turned off. To make matters worse, in an indoor environment, electric fields merging together from multiple sources such as house wiring, lighting fixtures and other appliances, usually do not drop off completely with distance, as do magnetic fields. Instead, they can radiate throughout the entire room at varying levels. Given our highly electric environments, it would be almost impossible to control our exposure to electric fields during the course of a normal day, without shielding and grounding every wire, plug and cable in the home and workplace.
The American scientific and epidemiological communities are currently not satisfied with the available scientific evidence on the health hazards of low-frequency electric fields. It is important to note, however, that in the past two years Swedish government standards for computers have included the lowering of electric fields in response to growing calls for consumer safety. Bau-Biologists and many physicians agree that magnetic and electric fields are a serious health hazard. Case histories from work in the field include patients suffering from nervous disorders, sleeping disorders, bedwetting, headaches, and fatigue. The Bau-Biologie approach to all sources of electromagnetic radiation, including low frequency AC electric fields, is this: the body must have a chance to regenerate every night in order to heal and to better cope with electro-pollution and other toxins during the day. Every day, Bau-Biologists working with clients in the field, as well as with physicians and their patients, see dramatic and spontaneous healing successes when electric fields in the bedroom are diminished.
To measure the level of electric fields in the bedroom, the Bau-Biologist conducts a "Body Voltage" test. First, the Bau-Biologist creates an electrical "nighttime scenario," in which all appliances are plugged in and then turned on or off, as they would be during the sleeping hours. Lying on the bed, the client is instructed to hold a probe which is connected to a properly grounded multimeter. The millivolts inducted, or absorbed, by the client's body at night are measured. If the digital meter reads over the Bau-Biologie standard of 20 mV (millivolts) for the bedroom, then the Bau-Biologist starts looking for easy ways to lower the numbers. It is not uncommon to measure 100,000 millivolts in a body sleeping on a switched off but plugged in electric blanket or heated waterbed! Even a simple lamp or electric clock can cause levels 10 to 100 times over the recommended limit.
The level of electric fields may drop dramatically when the Bau-Biologist simply unplugs appliances. Many times, however, the right combination of unplugged and plugged-in appliances actually cancels out some of the fields. If a reconfiguration of unplugged/plugged in appliances does not bring about satisfactory results, the Bau-Biologist will then isolate and test the actual building circuits to determine which circuits have an impact on the body voltage. Once these circuits have been identified, the client may take one of several courses of action.
A popular low-cost solution is to simply turn off the offending circuits at night. Many clients choose to hire a specialized EMF electrician to install a remote switcher, which sends a signal from inside the house to shut off the identified circuits. In homes where shutting off circuits creates inconveniences such as turning off refrigerators and security systems, the electrician may need to rewire them to different circuits before installing the remote switcher. Every situation is different, and the testing as well as the remediation must be performed by qualified Bau-Biologists and electricians with the necessary professional testing equipment to measure before, during and after whatever potential solution has been implemented.
The implications for designing a healthy bedroom with little or no electric fields are easy to see. The holistic team approach starts prior to the drawing of plans. The architect and designer properly locate bedrooms in relationship to power lines and other rooms with wiring to major appliances. They pay particular attention to eliminating the impact of electric fields by isolating the bedroom circuits, properly grounding the electrical system, and using metal conduit to shield electric fields.
Microwave radiation and radio frequencies from appliances or communication systems are another serious source of man-made electro-pollution. High-frequency signals and pulses from radar, satellite, police or military, radio, television, telephone, cellular phone and microwave ovens are measurable examples of frequencies that may be affecting our health over the long term. Effects shown in short-term studies of animals exposed to radio frequency and microwave radiation include changes in the cardiovascular and immune systems, blood-forming processes and neurotransmitter uptake and brain wave patterns. Since no long-term studies exist as yet, we do not know the health consequences to the average adult, child, senior citizen or the infirm.
Once again, the Bau-Biologie approach is one of prudent avoidance, most particularly in the bedroom. Many times, the actual walls and building materials will shield a great deal of the radiation, except glass doors and windows. If levels are found at the bed site, certain mitigation techniques may be employed. A Bau-Biologist may suggest moving the bed out of the path of the toxic field to another part of the room or another room in the house, and/or installing special radiation-shielding glass in bedroom windows.
For new construction, testing the site well before design is imperative. If a house must be built in a location with high frequency radiation, it may be possible shield the bedrooms, depending on how the windows are oriented. Whether or not bedrooms are located on a second or third story must also be taken into account, since levels of radiation may increase with height. Any home located in an area with high-frequency radiation should be used primarily as indoor space rather than outdoor space, since building materials will many times successfully shield high-frequency radiation. Metal in and around bedrooms should be avoided, since metal can act as an antenna for high-frequency radiation from outside.
The earth radiates as a natural process, and there is no space on earth without terrestrial radiations. These natural radiations play essential roles in our health and well-being. Researchers at the Institute of Technology in Pasadena recently discovered that human brain tissue contains tiny particles of magnetite, a naturally occurring mineral known as lodestone. Virtually identical magnet particles allow other species to navigate in Earth's magnetic field.
But in the presence of normal room electricity, metal becomes magnetized and develops its own artificial, magnetic direct field. This can cause problems. A simple compass held over magnetized bedsprings, bed frames and steel-reinforced walls, ceilings and concrete will show the directional change away from the earth's natural direction of magnetic north. Metal items stored under beds will create the same effect. Some researchers and scientists theorize that there is a relationship between DC magnetic fields and heart disorders, disturbed circulation, arthritis, muscle cramps, changes to the cell membrane, and metabolic and hormonal disorders.
Metal also distorts the earth's natural healing frequency, while reinforced concrete will both block and distort this natural field. The research points to the need for further study. The designer practicing prudent avoidance does not locate bedrooms over garages, fuel tanks or steel girders. They also include metal-free mattresses and bed frames, and locate beds at least sixteen inches away from reinforced concrete, and at least one yard from heaters, stereos and speakers, and metal doorframes and screens. Problems associated with DC magnetic fields can be entirely avoided in the bedroom if addressed prior to design. Even in areas that must meet codes for seismic regulations, structural metal can be engineered away from bedrooms.
This article has focused primarily on the avoidance and mitigation of electromagnetic fields in existing bedrooms. For remodels and new construction, however, the message is clear: all sources of electro-pollution are avoidable in the bedroom, the most important room in the home, if electromagnetic radiation is addressed at the earliest stages of a project. The client looks to the designer to provide not only function and aesthetics, but also an environment that is healthy and supportive.
This article appeared in Interior Concerns Newsletter, 1995