This is the third in a series of posts where I explore various aspects of my indoor environment. You can read part 1 on air quality here and part 2 on water quality here.

Another aspect of my environment that I am interested in better understanding and mitigating is my exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) within my home. As its name implies, EMFs are a combination of electric and magnetic fields created by both natural and man-made sources (often referred to as non-native EMF or nnEMF) and comprise what’s known as the electromagnetic spectrum.

EMF Resources

EMF Testing and Protection Resources

Looking for EMF protection? Check out my Resources area for an extensive list of EMF and RF meters, home and personal EMF protection, and more!

What is the Electromagnetic Spectrum?

Electromagnetic Spectrum

The electromagnetic spectrum represents all of the possible frequencies of electromagnetic energy (including visible light), but most of the frequencies are invisible to us. It ranges from extremely long wavelengths (very low frequency exposures such as those from power lines), to low frequencies used for AM and FM radio to microwaves, to infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light, to extremely short wavelengths (x-rays and gamma rays) and includes both non-ionizing and ionizing radiation.

What are Sources of EMFs?

There are both natural and human-made sources of non-ionizing EMFs. Some examples include:

  • Extremely low frequency EMFs (ELF-EMFs): external power lines (overhead, underground), house wiring (and house wiring errors), transformers and electrical motors from appliances such as hair dryers, electric shavers, and electric blankets, current on pipes and cables
  • Radiofrequency (RF) radiation: cell phones, smart meters, portable wireless devices (tablets, laptop computers), wi-fi, and microwave ovens
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Are EMFs Dangerous?

The majority of EMF safety guidelines around the world are based on the ICNIRP or IEEE recommendations (the ICNIRP guidelines are most stringent as they are international, and IEEE are American). The USA has no federal limits (a few states have set their own exposure limits, mainly related to power lines).

However, there is a growing body of evidence linking ongoing exposure to EMFs to negative effects on health. The BioInitiative Report contains a comprehensive collection of published research. Even the National Cancer Institute and the World Health Organization have sections of their websites devoted to EMFs and cancer:

  • Studies have shown EMF exposure above 2 mG will start to develop biological stress in humans
  • Evidence links prolonged exposure to levels between 2 and 12+ mG with cancer and possible immune system effects
  • Exposure to 12 mG suppresses the human hormone melatonin (critical for sleep, mood regulation, and overall health)

Measuring EMF Levels in My Home

To conduct my tests, I used two devices – a TriField 100XE meter (recently updated to the TriField EMF Meter Model TF2), which measures AC magnetic fields, AC electric fields, and radio (including microwaves) in all directions, and a Cornet ED78S meter, which also measures radio frequency and magnetic fields and has a digital display, but cannot measure LF electrical field radiation. I also purchased an inexpensive outlet circuit tester to check for house wiring errors (I found and fixed two improperly grounded outlets above my kitchen counter).

EMF and RF Meters
TriField 100XE meter (left) and Cornet ED78S meter (right)

I then created a diagram of my home, noting the location of power outlets, appliances, light fixtures, and windows, and began taking measurements. The average readings ranged between 3 mG and 6 mG – way too high, but there were even some localized areas that were much worse. I needed to figure out what was causing these elevated readings and figure out ways to lower them.

EMF home assessment

EMFs in my Kitchen

Kitchen appliances had the worst EMF readings, mainly due their internal electronics and motors. The microwave readings were off the chart, even from 10 feet away when running. All of my appliances also gave off a ton of EMF when they were off, again, due to their internal electronics but the microwave was still extremely high. So it was a bit disconcerting to realize that whenever I was cooking, my crotch was getting blasted with radiation from my stove while the microwave above it was blasting me in my head!

EMF levels in kitchen

EMFs in my Bedroom

According to guidelines, bedroom EMFs (especially in the area of your head) should remain under 1 mG while sleeping and never exceed 2-4 mG. When scanning my bedroom, there was a huge spike of EMF levels (over 6 mG) right by my head where I was sleeping! Looking behind my bed, there was a poorly shielded coaxial cable jack right behind where I slept, which was causing a huge spike in EMF. Simply unplugging the poorly shielded cable cut the radiation level down by almost half.

EMF levels in bedroom

EMF follows what’s known as an inverse-square law, which states that the magnitude of one’s exposure drops proportionally to the square of one’s distance from the source.

Inverse-square law

Moving my bed six inches away from my wall reduced the the EMF levels to well within safe range. Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones!

EMFs in my Living Room

When scanning around my living room I found an area with off-the-charts EMF right behind my sofa. But this would only show up on evenings and weekends. I could literally draw out a rectangular shape with the meter. I live in an apartment building, and it turned out that my neighbors had their TV (one of the old-school tube varieties) pressed up against the other side of the wall.

EMF levels in living room
Diagram showing huge rectangular EMF field  behind my sofa

Time to move my sofa!

EMF and RF from Devices and Wi-Fi

I then looked at my exposure to EMF from my laptop and RF from wi-fi routers. RF was well within “safe” levels unless I went right up to my router.

EMF RF from laptop wifi

My laptop’s (MacBook Pro) EMF readings would shoot up if it wasn’t plugged in (since it is no longer grounded), and I could see spikes in RF radiation when the laptop or tablet was transmitting data. Highest levels of radiation came from directly above the keyboard as well as directly underneath. Levels were somewhat lower when the laptop was plugged in (since it becomes grounded).

My iPad Air 2 tablet gave off slightly less radiation, but there were still significant spikes. My cellphone (iPhone) was by far the worst device as it gives off 3 different types of radiation – cellular, wi-fi, and bluetooth.

Below are a few charts summarizing the measurements I collected from my MacBook Pro (15-inch, retina display, late 2013 model), iPad Air 2 (9.7-inch, retina display), and iPhone 5s. First, I took some measurements from directly in front of my MacBook Pro and iPad:

MacBook Pro
(underneath, ungrounded)
MacBook Pro
(underneath, grounded)
MacBook Pro
(underneath, grounded
+DefenderPad)
TriMeter   
Magnetic (LF)100 mG (!!)30 – 60 mG0 mG
Electric0 v/m0 v/m0 v/m
Radio/Microwave0 – 0.1 mW/cm20 – 0.1 mW/cm20 mW/cm2
Cornet   
Magnetic (LF30)ERROR (> 10mG)ERROR (> 10mG)0.4 – 0.5 mG
Magnetic (LF600)8 – 36 mG9 – 32 mG1 – 2 mG
Radio/Microwave2.1 – 8.7 mW/m2.02 – 7.7 mW/m2.003 – 0.2 mW/m2

Lastly, I took measurements from the front and back of my iPhone while streaming video over wi-fi, then placed it inside a SafeSleeve, a protective case that claims it is “FCC certified lab-tested to block up to 99% of both types of potentially harmful EMR cell phone radiation (ELF and RF).” However, it only shields the front of the phone, and although it did block much of the radiation, the levels are still too high for my liking to recommend keeping it in your pocket or near your body for extended periods of time:

iPhone 5S
(front of screen)
iPhone 5S
(front of screen
+ SafeSleeve case)
iPhone 5S
(back of phone)
TriMeter   
Magnetic (LF)7 – 10 mG0.5 – 1 mG6 – 10 mG (8 – 15 mG w/Bluetooth)
Electric90-100 v/m30 v/m0 v/m
Radio/Microwave0 mW/cm20 mW/cm20 mW/cm2
Cornet   
Magnetic (LF30)3.8 – ERROR (> 10mG)1.0 – 1.5 mGERROR (> 10mG)
Magnetic (LF600)3 – 8 mG1 -2 mG8 – 31 mG
Radio/Microwave0.04 – .13 mW/m2.008 – .6 mW/m2.05 – 12.6 mW/m2

Reducing Exposure to EMF and RF

Below are some of the steps I’ve taken to reduce my levels of exposure to electromagnetic radiation:

  • Correct any electrical wiring errors in my home and make sure pipes/sprinklers are not carrying an electric current
  • Unplug any electrical cords or poorly shielded coaxial cables that might be producing electromagnetic fields
  • In living areas where there is a very high localized level of EMFs, consider rearranging furniture or moving away from walls
  • Replace light dimmers with standard light switches
  • Don’t stand next to my microwave — ever — and stay 10 feet away when it is running
  • Unplug a microwave when not in use — or better yet, get rid of it
  • Turn off wi-fi routers before bed
  • Always put my cellphone and tablet into airplane mode before going to bed and never place any electronics or nnEMF sources near my bed
  • Disable bluetooth on devices if not needed
  • Never carry my cellphone in my pocket or place directly on my body or head
  • Make calls using headphones
  • Replace headphones with ones that do not place speakers (and create EMFs) directly in the ear (I’ve been using these “air tube” earphones)

I am also working on installing a “master switch” that can cut all non-essential power in my home overnight (or if possible, you can simply turn off all bedroom circuit breaker switches).

If you have a smart meter installed on your home, I highly recommend having it removed or purchasing a cover that will block some of the radiation from getting into your home.

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Exposure to Outdoor EMFs and RFs

No matter what I did, I wasn’t able to get my ambient indoor EMF levels below the recommended guidelines everywhere in my home (especially near windows). So I started walking around my neighborhood (Brooklyn, New York, to be exact), and I was amazed to see how most of the time the outdoor EMF levels were consistently over 7 mG and would spike as I approached underground power lines, cellular antennas, and traffic lights.

Summary

Probably no surprise, but New York City is a dangerous place to live (and not because of crime!). We exist in a modern society and it’s impossible to completely eliminate external environmental issues. But by better understanding what’s going on around us, we can proactively take simple measures that will help to greatly minimize their effects.

EMF Resources

EMF Testing and Protection Resources

Looking for EMF protection? Check out my Resources area for an extensive list of EMF and RF meters, home and personal EMF protection, and more!

About Bob

Bob Troia is a technology entrepreneur and citizen scientist who is focused on the intersection of data-driven citizen science, health and wellness, human performance, longevity, and self-optimization. He has been featured on CBS News Sunday Morning, PBS NewsHour Weekend, National Geographic Explorer, CBC (Canada), SBS-TV (South Korea), Fast Company, Men's Fitness, Outside Magazine, and on many leading health and wellness podcasts.

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hi Bob, the whole series was very interesting, well documented and including affordable tools. I’ll be doing part of the tests at home using some Chinese tools, I’ll share if I come up with something interesting!

  2. Avatar
    Jeremy Lansman Reply

    I have yet to see replicated studies, that radio fields (EM Waves) can interfere with biological processes at the levels allowed for human exposure. As a worker in the field (no pun intended) I have been concerned and followed the topic since the mid 1970’s. As for static or alternating magnetic fields, I am less concerned, but still have never seen anything. There is a new study showing a lot of particles lodge in the brain, assumed to be from internal combustion engine and other fuel exhaust. If you wish to contact me, hunt me by my name… I am easy to find. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/09/industrial-air-pollution-leaves-magnetic-waste-brain If this study is substantiated, it is not just scary, but also offers some mechanism for magnetic field/brain effects.

  3. Avatar

    Hi Bob, we just moved to a new home and I would like to run some similar tests. I have a cheaper emf measuring device and would like to buy a better detector. Can you recommend other devices than the Trifield 100XE meter and the Cornet ED78S Electrosmog Meter, they are both unavailable on Amazon?
    Thank you

    • Avatar

      Hi Delia! I’m not sure where you are located but Amazon is saying the Trifield 100XE will be back in stock in about a week. There is a newer version of the Trifield meter in stock called the TF2: http://amzn.to/2FQiaCd . As for the Cornet meter, there is a similar model (ED178S) and they have a newer model (ED88T PLUS Electrosmog Meter) that has features such as data logging.

  4. Avatar
    Vilma Smith Reply

    Hi Bob,
    We are purchasing a new home and there are lots of power lines in the back. We bought an EMF reader and its reading is a 3.5 in the house. Is that bad? We bought the Trifield meter

    • Avatar

      Hi Vilma, 3.5mG on the low EMF setting? Is it that level throughout the entire house (even if you move away from walls/windows)? Are these levels consistent 24/7? And are the levels the same outside? That would indicate the issue could be outdoor power lines, etc. but if the levels are higher inside the home it could be due to wiring issues, appliances, etc. 3.5mG is slightly higher than the EPA’s recommended limit of 2.5mG

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