Electromagnetism: Myth, Madness or Reality; EMF’s and a Healthy House

Electromagnetic fields ( EMF’s) are one of the most basic building blocks of the natural universe. The electromagnetic spectrum is huge and covers everything from gamma and x-rays to light, radio and microwaves. Today, the term EMF commonly refers to the variety of electromagnetic field produced by the electric currents in our power lines, household wiring and appliances. This is what we will concentrate on here.

The modern lifestyle we have become accustomed to in our industrialized culture would seem impossible without electricity.  While generally, electricity as a technology is not well understood, potentially harmful effects on human health from continued exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF’s) is even less understood and highly controversial.  “However, there is  growing  evidence that long-term exposure to low-level EMF’s  in domestic electrical circuits and equipment can be harmful at least as an allergy trigger in the hyper-sensitive and generally upsetting to our metabolism and raising stress levels.  Let us remember the millions of cell divisions occur in our bodies everyday and that as living beings, we function via minute electrochemical charges and our whole body is surrounded by natural bio-electrical fields.  After years of adaptation and evolution, our metabolism is geared to the background levels of radiation and electromagnetic energies from the earth, sun and planets.  We depend on these for our health of mind and body.  We are sensitive to any unusual exposure, whether natural  or artificial.  Too much radiation is our usual worry,  but we can equally suffer from deprivation- - as has been found in scientific tests of subjects in Faraday cages, which exclude all radiation.”  (David Pearson, The Natural House Book, Architect ,England ).   Research is indicating that similar shielding by some modern building materials  (metal studs, roofing and certain placements of metal reinforcing  bars) can alter or distort natural bio-electrical fields.

Artificial electromagnetic fields, both electric and magnetic field components, are emitted by main supply alternating current (A.C.) pulsating at 60 cycles per second ( 60 Hertz or Hz.) and common appliances like TV’s, lights, computers,  clocks, photocopiers, motors, electric blankets as well as metal pipes, radiators, and metal ductwork often required  by building codes to be   bonded on ground to the electrical system can be sources of sizable EMF’s.  Alternating current (A.C.) does not exist in nature.  In nature , one only finds direct current (D.C.).  The electric and magnetic field component of direct current (D.C.) is also to be taken into consideration.  D.C. electric fields, or static electricity, refers to the positive/negative ion balance of the air; often referred to as the “space charge”.  Conditions in a typical outdoor environment has an average ratio of 40:60, positive:negative ions. Indoors we can find a huge buildup of static electricity (ie: excess positive ions) especially when one is surrounded by synthetic materials and mechanical systems. Common building materials that contribute to electrostatic buildup include plastics carpets,vinyl flooring, drapes, wallpaper, paints and finishes.  Poor ventilation and low humidity also contribute to static buildup.  “Bacteria, mold and yeast flourish in a positive ion environment.  Ductwork, copy machines, computers and other devices ground off negative ions  resulting in a greater number of positive ions.  The grounding off of negative ions in HVAC systems contributes to bacteria and mold growth in the air distribution network.  Frequent cleaning of ductwork and sanitizing it with a non-toxic citric cleanser can eliminate a predisposition to “sick building syndrome”, but will not solve negative ion depletion.”  (Richard Crowther. Architect,

Colorado).  Contrast how you feel when walking through the woods, along the beach or after a rain with being indoors all day surrounded by office equipment and synthetic furnishings.

The other common and often taken for granted field is the naturally occurring D.C. magnetic field of the earth as indicated by a simple compass. Some metals ( ie; bed springs, bed frames and building materials) are magnetically charged during the manufacturing process and can distort the earth’s magnetic field in a small localized area.  Motors and other mechanical devices can alter this field as can water flowing underground and through pipes, land filled material and certain underground mineral deposits.

I have had the good fortune of working with European and American experts in this field over the last 15 years and had the chance of using equipment verifying the presence of these fields.  Coupled with my own research , I am convinced we can reduce another stressor in our already high stressed lives.  As a builder, we are now incorporating techniques and guidelines into  our work.  The general prescription is as follows:

Guidelines for Reduced EMF Exposure

  • Locate circuit panel breaker box away from sleeping areas
  • Have no wires run in floor system directly under sleeping areas
  • Each bedroom to have its own designated circuit with the option of shutting down circuit while sleeping ;
  • Either with a remote switch, demand switch, a designated switch or manually at the circuit panel.
  • Locate TV, computer and kitchen appliances away from adjacent bedroom walls when possible.
  • Substitute photoelectric smoke detector for ionizing type ( ie: radioactive!).
  • Substitute 3-step fan resistor type switches for traditional dimmer switches.
  • Substitute MC shielded wire cable or metal conduit for standard Romex cable for whole house or at least the sleeping areas if possible .
  • Substitute fiberglass rebar for  steel rebar
  • Avoid the use of steel studs, aluminum siding and metal roofing if at all possible.
  • Strict adherence to the National Electrical Code (NEC).: ie: no wiring errors. It is important that all grounds and neutrals be kept isolated. Do not connect neutral conductors from different circuits together (ie: parallel neutrals).  These are common wiring errors that are code violations and result in elevated magnetic fields.
  • Three- way switches must be wired with 3 conductor wire ( 3-wire) and not 2-wire.

Other recommendations:

  • Install nonmetallic coupling on main water supply pipe if connected to city water and  conductive gas and water lines that come into contact with appliances.
  • Eliminate Knob and Tube wiring and other ungrounded circuit wiring from existing home.
  • Reduce or eliminate the use of synthetic coverings and finishes like carpet, vinyl wall paper, vinyl flooring, and paints which contribute to static electricity build-up in the air.
  • Eliminate beds with coil springs and metal frames if possible.
  • Unplug water bed heater and electric blanket when sleeping.
  • Consider furnace heating options other than forced air.
  • Unplug all lamps , clocks and fixtures at least 3 feet away from sleeping body.
  • Consider replacing standard appliance cords ( lamps, clocks, radios,etc.)  with shielded wire cords.
  • Substitute a liquid crystal computer monitor or a grounded screen guard for standard computer monitor screens.  Be mindful of locating your computer and workspace a safe distance from other people and other computers.
  • Consider 12 volts D.C. generated from local solar, wind or hydro systems instead of 120 volts A.C. standard grid power.
  • Consider using a ear bud or headset when using a cell phone.
  • Locate structure away from broadcast towers, electric substations & transformers and high voltage power lines.


  • Pearson, David, The Natural House Book, Fireside, 1989
  • Baker, Paula AIA, Erica Elliott,MD. John Banta.  Prescriptions for a Healthy House, a Practical Guide for Architects Builders and Homeowners.InWord Press, 1998
  • Prata,Stephen, EMF Handbook, Waite Group Press ,1993
  • Becker, Robert, Cross Currents: The Promise of Electromedicine, The Perils of Electropollution.  J.P. Tarcher, 1991
  • Riley, Karl.  Tracing EMF’s in Building Wiring and Grounding. Tucson, AZ. Magnetic Sciences
  • International, 1995 (800-749-9873)
  • International Institute for Baubiologie and Ecology, Box 387, Clearwater,Fl. 34615, 727-461-4371
  • Microwave News