|Teach Yourself Environmental Home Inspecting|
We’re all familiar with DC electric fields in the form of static electricity. Charges build up from walking across a rug in dry weather, you touch a metal doorknob, and zap. Static electrical discharge. What is this sudden discharge doing to your body? I remember a discussion on this in class 25 years ago, more raising the question than having any answers, and don’t recall the subject coming up, at least in my presence, since. However, it appears safe to say that since our bodies are electric, they are sensitive to the static discharge. As with any EMFs, avoidance is preferred to zapping.
How do you minimize exposure to static electricity?
Question: What are the best types of humidifiers to use if the RH (relative humidity) is too low?
Answer: Air-O-Swiss steam humidifiers would be a good choice. xxx ultrasound? electrolysis UV light
What are AC electric fields and how do they differ from AC magnetic fields?
We learned that magnetic fields expand in concentric circles of force from current flow and go through just about everything in their paths, including our bodies. AC electric fields are another type of EMFs. They expand outward from the electric system and from electric devices, whether turned on or off, and are attracted to antennas.
Since our bodies are mostly water, we make pretty good antennas. The closer we are to electric wiring or to something plugged into it, such as a reading lamp, the higher the level of AC electric fields that can be measured on the body.
Another difference between AC magnetic fields and AC electric fields is that there is cancelation of fields with AC magnetic fields, both in household wiring and in electrical devices. There is no such cancellation with AC electric fields.
Question: So what does that mean? that we should go back to a pre-electrical age?
Response: That would be impossible, but there are some work-arounds, such as:
xxx Years ago, I attended a conference organized by the Foundation for Advancement in Cancer Therapy. One European researcher was asked at the end of his session, what was the number one thing we could do to decrease the risk of cancer (this was before the days of pervasive wireless). His response: "Get rid of alternating current."
As we know, magnetic fields from alternating current are mostly cancelled in our electrical systems and in electric devices. But AC electric fields are different. They don’t get cancelled. xxx
xxx AC electric fields mean that electric fields are going back and forth, back and forth, with positives and negatives being reversed 120 times per second (based on 60 Hz x 2, for back and forth). What does this mean? You know how with a magnet, one end is positive and one end is negative? If you have two positives or two negatives in contact, they repel, but a positive and a negative attract. Now move that up to thinking about the body electric. If we are electric, would the positive and negative charges thereby alternate 120 times per second? Might this be a form of electrostress?
MEASURING AC ELECTRIC FIELDS
Let’s talk about measuring AC electric fields now. This is a simple exercise to do. You measure between the person on the bed (or chair or wherever) and the earth. The earth is “ground zero” (even though it really isn’t, as we’ll see a little later, but it is close enough). You stick a meter between the two (the person and the earth), with one wire going to the person and the other wire to the earth.
The meter used is called a multimeter, because it does a multiple of things. We’ll be using it to measure AC voltage. Voltage?? Voltage is another word for electric fields. The multimeter can measure DC voltage and AC voltage. You are familiar with using a multimeter or a DC volt meter to measure DC voltage if you have ever checked the remaining charge in a battery.
You will be able to find an assortment of multimeters, from about $12 on up, on-line and in local home supply stores. I have a Fluke multimeter, about $450, but my far less expensive meter also works. Just confirm that the AC voltage range reads to a low level of mV (millivolts), like lower than 20 mV.
(As an aside, an AC volt meter specifically for measuring the voltage on a body is available at www.lessemf.com, for under $100, if you prefer just a one-function meter.) xxx
So, you have your multimeter now. The meter will use “voltage” instead of “electric fields.” You already know that the symbol for AC is a sine wave, like a squiggle on its side. So look for “V” with a sine wave over it. That’s the reading you’ll be using.
Some multimeters will have just the V with the sine wave, such as my professional Fluke meter. Some will have a range of numbers, with letters after them. Go for the lowest level that gives you a reading. The lowest level might be either on a micro level (like a little u-shaped symbol) or a millimeter (m). If there is a choice like this, go for the lowest millimeter level. If it doesn’t give you a reading at that level, bump it to the highest millimeter level.
For your information, after the millimeter ranges, there would be V (volt) ranges. My multimeter gives you a choice of 2 or 20 volts. These are above the range that I’m interested in, because the final reading should be down in the millivolt range.
Question: What numbers are we looking for?
Answer: Readings that I get an average bedroom typically range from about 1500 mV to 2500 mV. (These would be 1.5 V to 2.5 V, considering that there are 1000 mV in one volt.) While it’s true that we will never get to zero, our aim is to get as low as we can, taking reasonable steps to achieve that.
Why do we want to reduce AC voltage at the bed?
Exposure to AC voltage affects the sleep of many people. As always, people are different, and they respond in different ways. Further, exposure to AC electric fields has not been much studied, to my knowledge, but since our bodies are electric, it makes sense to reduce exposure to all sorts of EMFs. If you had the choice of two beds, and identical bedrooms, except for levels of AC electric fields, where one bed measured 20 mV and one bed measured 2,000 mV, which would you choose to sleep in? I rest my case.
SOME AC VOLTAGE STORIES
My dad was a restless sleeper. When I started this business, I measured their bed, and AC electric fields were average, probably around 2000 mV. In those days, we were less aware of controversies relating to grounding fabrics. These will be discussed later. However, I set one up at my parents’ bed, and it helped. My dad began to sleep peacefully.
Sometime later, my brother’s kids visited, played hide-and-seek, and knocked off the grounding wire. No one realize this, but my mother asked me afterwards if I would check the setup, because my father had begun to thrash around again. I reconnected the ground line, and he slept peacefully. This turned out to be a pretty good blind study.
One mother reported that her five-year-old daughter had stopped bedwetting, when the AC voltage was reduced at the child’s bed.
Another client sent me a holiday card, giving thanks that he been able to sleep for the last year by using grounding material. He told me that he even traveled with fabric and wondered why it didn’t help everyone the way it helped him.
Another client, who had had a stroke, had tried a grounding material prior to my visit and had given up on it. He said that it was as if an electrical current was running through his body. Another electro-sensitive client had previously given a similar report and was unable to use a grounded material.
At another house, the man reported that he could not sleep in the home, but he could sleep elsewhere. His voltage readings were far above the average, topping out at 35,000 mV. When the cause was identified, the high-voltage was traced to the furnace, two stories below. The breaker to the heating unit was temporarily turned off, until an electrician could make the repair. The man was then able to sleep.
Another client had a similar story. She could not sleep in her bed, but she could sleep out of the house. With her bed, the 18,000 mV turned out to be due to a reading lamp clamped to her bed frame xxx and to an electric blanket. Both were removed, and she slept fine.
You will understand these stories better, after we finish our discussion of measuring and reducing AC electric fields, plus going into the pros and cons of grounding materials.
EQUIPMENT NEEDED TO MEASURE AC ELECTRIC FIELDS
Note: Some companies sell kits for measuring body voltage, so you have the supplies you need already assembled for you. Check www.lessemf.com, www.slt.ca and www.EMFSleepSafe.com.
A multimeter, or the dedicated meter for just AC electric fields available at www.lessemf.com (Less EMF) and www.slt.ca (Safe Living Technologies in Canada)
A grounding plug, about $15 at www.lessemf.com
Lamp wire about 15 or 18 AUG. Instead of searching for this, just order a similar wire from LessEMF or Safe Living Technologies. Estimate the number of linear feet of wiring you will need, between the bed and the outlet. Bearing in mind that the outlet may prove to be unusable, get a longer piece of wiring that would extend between a GFI circuit in the bathroom or reach to the ground below.
A package of medium-sized alligator clips, also available from the above. If they don’t have the medium ones, like an inch and a half long, get what they have. You will need two sets of clips. One set is comprised of a wire with two clips, one on either end.
A long screwdriver and, if planning to try a grounded conductive material, a ground rod
A piece of metal for the person to hold. I bought a 6 inch piece of copper pipe in the plumbing department of a home supply store. A dinner knife could also be used.
HOW TO SET UP TO MEASURE AC ELECTRIC FIELDS
Ideally, the measurement would be made between a person sitting on the bed, near the pillow, and the earth outside. However, rather than deal with windows and screens, I typically take a shortcut and plug-in to the grounding lug at a nearby outlet. The ground line of the electric system should be grounded, so could be a stand-in for the earth outside.
Warning: I would never use the grounding lug to permanently plug in grounding material. You don’t want something so close to your body to be connected to the household electrical system, in case something goes wrong.
But first, notice that I said that the ground line of the electric system “should” be grounded. What if it isn’t? Either I won’t get a correct reading, or I even may get a shock if there is a wiring error. My first step is to confirm that the wiring is correct at the outlet and that there is a true ground.
Here’s how to do that:
This outlet tester is available at www.lessemf.com, for around $15. If you can’t find it on their website, give them a call at 888-537-7363.
OK, you now have a workable outlet. (If your bedroom outlet is not usable, then plug-in at the GFI outlet in a bathroom.)
You may recall from above, we spoke of one connection at the multimeter going to the ground and the second to the person. Concentrate on one connection at a time. Let’s say we do the connection to the earth outside or the ground lug of the tested outlet.
HOW TO MEASURE AC ELECTRIC FIELDS
Someone else, or you yourself, should sit near the pillow or lie on the bed and hold the metal pipe or kitchen knife.
Move the gauge on the multimeter to AC voltage.
Take your reading in millivolts. As said before, a common range in a suburban home (or any home outside of a city requiring BX cable) would be around 2000 mV, give or take. In an old home, with less wiring, it is likely to be lower.
Let’s say you got a reading of 2000 mV. We want to get as close to zero as we can, without shutting down the whole house electrical system every night. What steps might we take to reduce the exposure? Let’s use numbers for an example:
That does it for the bedroom. Everything has been done that could be done, at least in the bedroom, and the AC voltage (also called “body voltage”) is still at 900 mV.
Remaining options for reducing body voltage at the bed
The best option
Remove the reasons for the elevated voltage. That is, identify which circuits are affecting the bedroom and turn them off at night. It’s possible to have a licensed electrician install a relay box and move the few breakers/circuits over to that, so that you could turn them off remotely from the bedroom. We’ll talk soon about how to ID the guilty circuits (not hard at all).
The controversial option
What it is: Using a conductive material under you in the bed. The material, which is a better antenna than your body is, is grounded to a ground rod out the window. Thus, you have a better antenna under you, so voltage heads for that and is drawn off and out. This concept is also known as "earthing." The theory goes that your body is connected to the electrons in the earth as if you were walking on the beach in bare feet.
PROS TO USING CONDUCTIVE MATERIAL
Also, you only get the 2 mV with skin contact. Depending on the conductivity of your bottom sheet, the reduction may be between 150 mV and 700 mV, not nearly as dramatic as two – and often not a whole lot of different from unplugging electric devices near the bed.
CONS TO USING CONDUCTIVE MATERIAL
So what happens to the voltage when it comes to your body? It converts to a minute electrical current and flows through on the way to the grounded conductive material. This happens whether the overhead installation is on or off.
These minute currents could happen even if there is no overhead fan or light. The voltage a fraction of an inch from our body could induce an electric current in the body. If this is so, then the greater the reduction of AC voltage, the greater the strength of the induced current. A dramatic reduction to 2 mV may be reflected in more electrostress in the body.
Question: Yet some folk sleep better with grounded conductive materials. How do you explain that?
Answer: I don’t. We are all different. This is why I present pros and cons, to help readers decide if this is something they want to try. But first, here’s another point for the “con” side.
What is happening if there is a metallic connection (wire) between the ground in the earth and the conductive material under your body? Could that voltage be reflected back to your area? The concept of “earthing” is to connect with rejuvenating electrons from the earth…but voltage is there as well and drawn to better antennae, at the speed of light.
You could easily measure the voltage in the earth under your window. Place two long screw drivers in the earth at least 10’ apart. Connect one to the black lead of the AC electric meter and the other to the red lead. This is similar to the set-up at the bed, only instead of plugging into a grounded outlet, you are “plugging into” a long screwdriver.
A typical reading might be around 12-15 mV or somewhat higher. Voltage varies at different locations and may be higher deeper down. I’ve never gotten a reading under 5 mV, as I recall.
Sal La Duca explained that about 20-25 years ago, power companies stopped running return wires back to the plant. Instead, the return wire from your house goes down a pole or three, heads into the earth, and stops there. The current runs back to the plant on its own, or wherever it runs. This is a main cause of voltage in the earth.
Cows are more sensitive to this voltage than we are, and steps had to be taken at some dairy farms in Wisconsin and other areas to reduce the exposures the cows were having.
HOW WOULD YOU TRY "EARTHING" IF YOU WANTED TO?
You would place your conductive material under your sheet, in one scenario. Attach a grounding wire, perhaps by alligator clip, to the conductive material. Run the grounding wire out the window. (The wire is so thin that the window and screen should be able to close on it.) At the earth, with another alligator clip, attach the end of the wire to the ground rod. The ground rod should not be placed near the electric box, AC unit, or other electrical device outside.
Note: You must have metal-to-metal connections for this to work. Assuming the connecting wire has insulation on it, the insulation must be peeled back an inch or so for a metal-to-metal connection.
www.earthing.com offers an array of grounding products. Be aware that if you have skin contact with the product, such as a conductive fitted bed sheet, you have to wash the product. The more you wash it, the more conductive fibers wash out, and the weaker the effect becomes. As you monitor with your multimeter, you may become disappointed with the reductions measured as time goes by.
I bought a TitanRF Faraday Fabric just to try for radio frequency shielding ($25 on Amazon) and hooked it up to the ground line of the testing apparatus. When measuring body voltage at a client’s bed one day, on a whim, I used the Titan metallic fabric to see what would happen. I hooked it up, using a set of alligator clips, to the ground line (metallic-metallic connection, remember).
The result was dramatic indeed – down to 2 or 3 mV. Why even bother turning off breakers when you get such low numbers? Well, as we spoke about above, the greater the reduction, the greater might be the current induced in the body. And, also as mentioned above, this reduction was with skin contact – not so dramatic when under a bottom sheet and much less than that under a mattress cover. I would mention, though, that in the example at my parents’ bed, the grounded conductive cloth was placed under the mattress cover, and that worked to cure my dad’s restless sleep.
THE BETTER OPTION: REDUCING THE SOURCES OF THE VOLTAGE
This is a two-person job, unless the electric panel box is near the bed. Otherwise, you’ll be doing a lot of running back and forth. One person is at the bed, getting the body voltage readings on the multimeter. The other person is at the panel box. You will need some method of communication (shouting, cell phones, walkie talkies ...). First, observe these cautions:
CHECKING CIRCUITS FOR THEIR INFLUENCE ON THE BEDROOM
The person at the electric box should not touch the main breaker but turn off all single breakers. I know, the temptation is just to turn off the breaker for the bedroom. Yes, that’s usually the highest voltage reading, but there could be some other unsuspected circuit that is also significant for the bedroom. In science, we deal with one variable at a time. We want to see the influence of each circuit, at least the single ones, separately.
So, all single breakers are now off. See what the body voltage is in the bedroom with all single breakers off. 30 mV might be an average level. If you get a much higher reading, however, you might want to turn off the double breakers to see if one in particular is responsible for the higher reading. (If the double breaker is split into two breakers, treat the two as single breakers.)
Start with the upper left and turn on the first breaker. In the bedroom, you will record the reading. Number the breakers – either 1, 2, 3, etc., or the way electricians number them, odd numbers on the left, even on the right. The box may already be numbered.
Turn off the first breaker. Turn on the next one down on the left. Record that reading. Turn that breaker off. Work your way down the left side with the single breakers. When you get to the bottom, keep all those breakers off, and proceed to the top of the right side of the box. Work down the right, recording the reading for each breaker singly.
After each single breaker has been turned on, the reading recorded, and the breaker turned off again, then you are ready to turn all the breakers to the “on” position, i.e., the way you found them.
The person at the bed studies the results. Here’s an example:
1 25 | 2 1500
3 27 | 4 250
5 30 | 6 30
7 25 | 8 150
9 600 | 10 140
With all breakers on, take a reading again. Record that. Let’s say the reading was 1500 mV.
Turn off breaker #2, record that. Maybe with this breaker off, the reading was cut in half, to 750 mV.
Leave breaker #2 off, and also turn off #9, the second highest reading. The reading at the bed drops to 300 mV
Leave these two breakers off, and also turn off #4, the third highest reading. The reading at the bed drops further to 150 mV
Next, leaving these three off, turn off #8. The reading goes up to 200 mV. That doesn’t help us, so turn #8 back on.
Finally, with the three top breakers off, turn off #10. The reading drops to 140 mV. That is, that breaker lowers the voltage, but just slightly more. Leave it on, because it doesn’t have much influence.
So, you have your answer. With breakers #2, 9, and 4 off, the body voltage drops from 1500 mV to 150 mV. That a 90% drop and not shabby.
Check out this site: More information/supplies can be found at www.EMFSleepSafe.com, with their sleep switch.
Note: You could also do both, i.e., turn breakers off and use a grounded conductive material, bearing in mind the controversial points listed above.
WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS’ BEDROOMS?
When more than one bedroom is involved, repeat the above exercise at each bed. However, if it is a given that you will turning off certain breakers for your bedroom, for example, turn them off first, see what you are left with for the next bed, and add in breakers as needed for that one. By the end of working with a few bedrooms, you may be adding in several more circuits.
FINAL AC ELECTRIC COMMENTS
There is frequently something new with electric systems. The scenario above is straightforward, but what if there is an anomaly? For example, when you are unplugging devices from the outlet, the body voltage reading goes up instead of down? This may be a case of reversed polarity. You identify the top circuits that affect the bedroom, as we did above, and then an electrician has to switch the neutral connections among them, until you get readings at the bedroom where the body voltage goes down when you unplug devices by the bed.
It is beyond the scope of this website to go beyond the basics, but there are additional resources available if you run into issues. See the Resource tab.