Updated: May 5
Energy efficiency (EE) is a big concern these days, especially in our homes. The push to switch to LED light bulbs, solar panel arrays, better insulated windows, mini-split heating/cooling units and others is everywhere whether you are updating, remodeling, or building new. Plus there are a growing number of "smart" devices that can connect to the internet for more precise control of energy usage in this ecosystem of products. There are tax credits and other incentives being offered by governing bodies to speed the adoption of energy efficiency. The desire behind EE to save money and take better care of our planet is all well and good, and I certainly count myself among those who want a vibrant, healthy planet to be available for my children and future generations.
However, in this blog, I'm going to lay out the dark side of energy efficiency and "smart" homes, unpacking the hidden health concerns related to EMF exposures that you won't hear about from the industries that created these products. Here is what I will cover:
Types of EMF pollution emitted by energy-efficient and smart devices
Other aspects of EE design that are problematic for health
What you can do to find a balance between EE and EMF pollution in your home
If you are currently shopping for a home, or remodeling/building, you don't want to miss this eye-opening blog!
Let's dive in to the top offending EE products.
LED Light Bulbs
First off, light is a form of EMF, and a very important signaling method for Mother Nature to communicate with, and align our bodies, for health.
LED bulbs have been around for over a decade now. The easiest way to identify them is to note the cooling fins below the bulb and above the screw-in metal base. An incandescent bulb won't have this.
Also, if it is an all-in-one housing (you can't screw a bulb into it), then it is more than likely an LED (it could also be a fluorescent light in this scenario, which is also problematic for EMF pollution). There are three primary ways in which LEDs contribute to increased EMF pollution in your environment:
Light- These bulbs cut out the "energy hog" frequencies of light, primarily those in the red and infrared, which have a lot of heat "waste" associated with them. This is the reason that, an incandescent light bulb (mostly red and infrared frequencies) will be much hotter than an LED bulb. By the way, there is a growing body of research that infrared (heat) frequencies are not waste, but rather healing and health promoting. Learn more here. Or for a really deep dive, check this blog out! Anyways, compare the two charts below, taken with my spectrometer, comparing the frequencies of light that each bulb type emits.
They are very different aren't they?! Now is a good time to note that frequencies of blue light are particularly harmful when seen out of context (the gold standard is sunlight, pictured below, where we only see blue when balanced with red and other colors, never isolated in big peaks like with LEDs). Blue light promotes a state of hyper-awareness in our bodies, and confuses circadian signaling and melatonin release. Learn more here. This design feature of LEDs should be a huge "blue" flag to us and the engineers that make them.
For you science geeks, the info graph below unpacks more detail on how isolated blue light harms us.
Flicker- Another way that LED bulbs are designed to be EE is via rapidly turning on and off, hundreds or even thousands of times per second. This feature is visually imperceptible to us, but allows the bulb to be switched off, and thus not consuming any energy, for a significant amount of time while still lighting up the room. Check out the slo-motion video below for a demonstration.
Unfortunately, flicker is a signal picked up by our cells and internal hardware, and has been linked to headaches, visual disturbances, and even temporary paralysis. How do you feel when you spend time underneath LED or fluorescent lighting?
Dirty Electricity (DE)- Finally, LEDs are problematic in that their circuitry to assist in being energy efficient leads to the creation of, and injection onto your home wiring, of electrical noise. These high frequency voltage transients can be thought of as 'spikes' riding on top of the normal 60Hz sine wave used in North American power delivery systems. Since the LED bulb is connected to your home wiring, the noise it produces will travel ubiquitously throughout your home, even radiating outside the electrical wiring into the air of each room. Take a look at the video below from my colleague in Northern California, Eric Windheim. He does an excellent job of showing us a helpful visual representation of dirty electricity on an oscilloscope.
DE is a massive problem in most homes these days, and many modern devices beyond LEDs are big producers of it. The primary way it has been found to be disruptive is through disruption of nerve signaling in our bodies, as shown in this research paper.
LEDs are truly problematic on a number of fronts, primarily in that they do not come close to matching sunlight, which is the gold standard in healthy lighting. Thankfully, some engineers are starting to wake up and design LEDs with attention to their harmful components. Some new models offer a reduction in isolated blue frequencies, and electricians are realizing that they can be wired in a direct current (DC) fashion, to reduce production of DE and flicker. For now, it is still best to avoid them in your home and only use incandescent bulbs.
Let's keep with lighting for a minute. It might surprise you, but glass plays a big role in the type of light that reaches your eyes and skin. In fact, modern glass achieves energy efficient performance by blocking out many of the "energy hog" frequencies of light on either end of the visible spectrum (red/infrared to the right, and UV to the left). See below for a comparison of new and old glass, with sunlight below. It is 'clear' 😉 that old glass lets light through that matches sunlight more closely.
Next let's look at yet another common component of EE homes these days.
No, I'm not talking about astronomy, but rather, solar panels and their accompanying ecosystem of products that allow you to convert sunlight into usable energy for your home. Seems like a great idea at first, but there are a number of EMF-related concerns to be aware of with these systems.
AC electric and magnetic field pollution- Solar panels are large and spread over a big area. They are electrified throughout. Many times, they are placed on a roof, with the spaces underneath being an area of common use such as a bedroom or an office. Since they are electrified, large AC electric and magnetic fields come off of every square inch of the panels and accompanying wiring, expanding out in a bubble 5-10' in diameter that can easily penetrate most modern building materials. That's a drawn out way of saying that having solar panels on the roof above you can represent a significant EMF exposure for anyone in the space below. These types of EMFs are associated with a number of diseases- read more here and here.
Dirty Electricity (DE)- Similarly to LEDs, solar inverters (the component in a solar system that converts DC sunlight into usable AC power) are big producers of DE. The DE 'noise' they produce is generally of larger amplitude and additional frequencies compared to LED bulbs.
At the end of the day, I think solar has a place in modern homes, but you would be wise to consult with a Building Biologist regarding placement and filtering of the system. By the way, effective filtering for solar systems can cost up to $10,000.
Next, let's inspect a category of products that is increasing in prevalence in all types of homes.
This refers to an ecosystem of products that allows you to communicate with, and more precisely manage, energy usage and other functionalities. These devices all connect wirelessly (cellular, WiFi, BlueTooth) to the internet and your phone or laptop. Sometimes referred to as the IoT or Internet of Things, there are already hundreds of them available, with thousands more being designed as we speak. Here is a list of common ones I see when performing EMF inspections of homes:
utility meters (power, gas, water)
audio/visual equipment such as speakers, TVs, digital assistants (Alexa)
ovens and other home appliances
solar system management software
Lighting control panels and management software
Invisible pet fences
From an EMF pollution perspective, the major issue with smart devices is that they emit radiofrequency radiation (RF) into our homes and neighborhoods. This type of non-ionizing radiation is now clearly linked to major disruptions in the body and diseases like cancer. If you are not intentionally moving to reduce this type of pollution in your home, you are asking for trouble for you and your family. Excessive RF pollution is how my mother contracted a glioblastoma multiforme, and extremely aggressive type of brain tumor. It killed her in less than eight months.
A secondary concern is that most of these devices require us to spend additional time staring at some type of screen, be it a phone, TV, or control panel on the wall. The same problems mentioned above for LEDs and the toxic light they emit hold true for tech screens.
Additional problems with these devices are as follows:
tech addiction and screen time (check out this movie if you are unfamiliar)
security of wireless communication is not as strong as wired
privacy- 'big brother' can tune into, and spy on you and your data
While technology can do nice things for us, until it is engineered from a place of health awareness, you need to take caution in how you use it. Don't believe the marketing; a "smart" device will actually make you worse off if you use it blindly.
Wrapping up, there are just a few other concerns to be aware of with EE homes. I'll state them briefly below.
Heating/Cooling- Energy efficient 'mini-splits' are heating/cooling units that can be placed in different areas of the home and allow for more precise control and energy uses, in some cases, than a centralized system. Unfortunately, these units are big producers of DE, can emit toxic blue light from their control panels, and some emit RF radiation into your home.
Sealed Container- Newer EE homes are built to be air tight, which prevents leakage of heat. This essentially eliminates the ability for fresh air to come into your home directly, instead forcing it to be pulled in and moved mechanically through electrified components. This can change the charge characteristics of the air in your home in an unhealthy way
Building materials- concerns abound here with insulation and other building materials containing VOC and other undesirable components that off-gas into an air tight EE home. What could possibly go wrong?!
With all of this in mind, it seems clear to me now that many people are making a very unbalanced trade of their health span against some small savings on an energy bill. And as far as saving the earth, I believe that with hearts and minds not burdened by unnecessary diseases and ailments, we can develop technologies and ways of living that preserve both our health and the planet's. Having one and not the other is not sustainable. In my professional experience, if you educate yourself and make changes that promote a balance between energy efficiency and EMF exposure, you will be well on your way to creating a substantially improved environment. The EMF profile will be significantly lower, and your health will improve as a result. See below for a summary of practical tips to do this.
Top tips for finding a balance between energy efficiency and a healthy EMF profile
Improve your light diet by getting outside as much as possible, and let natural light touch your skin and eyes (no glasses or sunglasses)
When indoors, use light filtering software for your tech screens, and/or blue blocking glasses. Open windows near you to let in natural light and fresh air
Use incandescent bulbs to reduce blue light exposure, flicker, and DE
Do not spend extended time periods within 5' of mini-splits, or 10' from solar panels and components
eliminate or disable devices that emit wireless radiation, and get a meter to verify results
Switch from a WiFi-based system in your home, to a hardline ethernet system
For air quality and mold concerns, give Kester Environmental a call in the pacific northwest.
To take your EMF mitigation results to the next level, consult with a Building Biologist, like me. I offer a variety of services, both virtual, and in person. I also offer a free 15-minute discovery call. Any of my services can be booked here