A Safer Smart House
By André Fauteux
“As many as 3% of the population, one million Canadians, have electrohypersensitivity?
(EHS) symptoms that are so severe they are unable to function in our modern world,” according to biologist Magda Havas, an electromagnetic fields (EMF) expert at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont.
Those affected have lost their tolerance to low exposures to EMFs, especially radiofrequencies (RFs) used by antennas and wireless devices, which do not seem to harm most of us—at least as acutely. They suffer daily from severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, tinnitus, memory and concentration problems, and mood disorders. While the jury is still out on the exact causes of the disorder, patients, physicians and independent scientists worldwide say the symptoms regress or disappear when low- and high-frequency EMF exposures are reduced. And this is even without their knowledge, thus contradicting the so-called nocebo effect, where symptoms are caused by fear of a danger.
Builders and renovators should be aware of this because the number of EHS cases has been increasing dramatically in the last decade, noted Dr. Riina Bray, Medical Director of the Environmental Health Clinic at Women’s College Hospital, in Toronto. “Those at highest risk for EHS include the foetus, children, the elderly, the infirm, those with predisposing morbidities—usually cardiac and neurological—and those with a toxic overload,” Bray told the Federal Standing Committee on Health (HESA). Both experts are quoted in HESA’s report, Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Radiation and the Health of Canadians, published last June.
Thus, in the age of smart-connected homes and devices, we will see an ever-increasing demand for safer houses that are not filled with products communicating wirelessly, at least not 24/7. And that market may explode sooner than later: Havas’ research—notably in schools—shows at least 30% of people are already experiencing mild to moderate EHS symptoms, though most have not linked them to EMFs yet. These are same symptoms you or your close ones may be experiencing if you often hold a wireless devices to your body, which manufacturers warn against in their product litterature.
Reducing the RF Risk
Following up on my earlier feature in Home BUILDER (Nov/Dec 2015) on 60-Hz EMFs, here is how you can reduce the most noxious form of EMFs—pulsed RFs, especially in the microwave (3 to 30 gigahertz) band:
Most of your clients are probably addicted to wireless and playing ostrich to the increasing scientific calls to reduce RF exposure. Of course, it’s not your business to tell them what to do. But building professionals have a moral obligation to keep informed about the growing consensus around new toxins, be they phthalates in vinyl, flame-retardants in insulation and fabrics or RFs from smart meters and appliances.
In coming years, expect homes wired with phone jacks, Ethernet cable and eventually fibre optics in most rooms to sell faster. Healthy housing research and reports by CMHC in the early 1990s concluded that, at minimum, we should all make our bedrooms pollution-free oases where the body can recover. That’s especially true for radiation because night time exposure to EMFs (including light) reduces the body’s secretion of melatonin. The vital hormone not only regulates our biological clock including sleep patterns. It is also a powerful tumour suppressor.
California EMF consultant Jeromy Johnson suggests that builders recommend the use of a timer to shut off their wireless router at night. Trained as an engineer, Johnson realized his successful Silicon Valley career was coming to an end when he became electro-hypersensitive.
“Ethernet is safe, it’s secure against hackers and it’s faster than Wi-Fi. When people realize the dangers of Wi-Fi, I think there’s going to be a massive movement back to wired connections. Microsoft Surface and Google Nexus offer an Ethernet option. If you do need Wi-Fi, use a Router Guard to block 90% RFs emitted.”
When a client asks you for a low radiation home, your challenge will be to ensure you install thermostats, switches and other controls that emit little or no RFs. If a client wants home automation, a good compromise is Lutron’s RadioRA2 master control system. It uses safe infrared sensors, wires and lower frequency RFs (170 and 434 megahertz, typical of remote vehicle starters) to control lighting, shades, AV and temperature. In addition to being less vulnerable to interference from neighbouring wireless devices, its Clear Connect RF technology only emits microwaves for five seconds when a command is sent.
“It’s the product I prefer,” said Quebec home automation dealer Martial Beauregard, of MBI Systems. “In more than 15 years, I only received two service calls.” Another issue is that large appliances are beginning to be equipped with wireless chips that will also pulse RFs 24/7 to chat with your Home Area Network (HAN) and perhaps someday with smart meters. If you install such wireless appliances in a new home, you may receive calls from clients wanting a refund if the manufacturer won’t allow chip deactivation.
Medical scientists and international home automation expert Timothy Schoechle says Smart Meters are a benefit to utilities and a disadvantage to consumers in several ways. They have been linked to several home fires. They present privacy issues as they can be hacked and they collect data on consumer behaviours that utilities have sold to marketers. And, despite what health authorities and utilities claim, two former California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) presidents, Michael Peevey and Loretta Lynch, admitted off and on the record what physicians and patients have been saying for years: Up to 190,000 daily RF pulses can trigger EHS symptoms, especially if you spend hours daily next to one or, even worse, near several. If your utility does not offer an opt-out program (in favour of non communicating digital meters), the Smart Meter Guard ($130 US) is a stainless steel meshing cap that can be installed on the glass globe to block up to 99% of RF emissions without preventing data transmission.
The least builders should do is keep bedrooms and other highly occupied rooms at least 3-4 meters from a single smart meter. If there are several meters nearby or if children and other hypersensitive individuals live in the house, the RF emissions (also from external sources such as cell towers) can be shielded with reflective carbon-based Y-Shield paint sold by Safe Living Technologies (SLT) (www.slt.co), based in Ontario. Various metallic materials (roofs, cladding, mosquito screens, low-emissivity glazings and foil-backed vapour barriers) also reflect RFs to varying degrees. SLT even sells Swiss Shield Daylight fabric, which contains 4% copper and silver. It is often used to make drapes and bed canopies to shield 99.6% (24 dB) of 1 GHz RFs.
It’s also a good idea to filter the high frequency transients (dirty electricity), generated by all electronic devices. According to physicist Paul Héroux, who teaches occupational medicine at McGill University, this is the most dangerous form of EMFs. Many people have seen their health improved after installing capacitors that cancel such electrical noise created by Switch Mode Power Supplies (SMPSs). But before doing so, have your electrical system checked for wiring errors because capacitors can generate high 60 Hz magnetic fields in unbalanced circuits. An EMF consultant can track all radiation sources and recommend solutions. For example, dimmers and fluorescent lighting are huge sources of dirty electricity; replace with multiple switches and LED lighting (colour temperature around 3000 K to protect the eyes from harmful blue-white light).
Energy efficiency lowers 60-Hertz EMFs by reducing power use. And many people with EHS or other health problems find that living in an off-grid home improves their wellbeing because it isolates them from dirty electricity from the grid. Using direct current (DC) lights and appliances fed directly by photovoltaic panels is also preferable because their DC power does not generate 60-Hz EMFs. However, according to Héroux, brushed DC motors generate considerably more RF interference than their brushless or electronically commuted (ECM) counterparts. The same goes for DC/AC inverters: Buy top quality “pure sine wave” models as they generate less dirty electricity. People with EHS have also seen their health improve by having a surge suppressor—which also protects appliances—installed on their wiring, such as the Canadian-made Clean Volt and Cratus Canada.
In conclusion, if healthy housing is your business, the least you can do is buy the little Cornet ED78S RF/LF Meter and measure low and high frequency EMFs in your houses to get familiar with various sources of emissions. It costs only $155 at www.slt.co, which also offers high-end meters to differentiate various RF sources. And the best thing you can do is build or renovate in tandem with an EMF consultant.