Designing homes for more restful sleep
Last week our guest columnist on Cleaning up The Mess, architect DAVID FOJO, called indoor air pollution a silent killer. This week he focuses on Electro-magnetic pollution.
Electro-magnetic pollution is becoming a significant issue of the new millennium as the information age reaches full stride. In the last few years there have been numerous exposés on US national television, documenting the many ill effects attributed to these silent and now all-too-pervasive fields. Indoor air pollution is an even better documented health problem that is generally agreed to be a much worse problem than outdoor air pollution.
The typical modern home is riddled with fields of all kinds—electric, magnetic, radio, and microwave to name a few, the effects of which are, at best questionable and, at worst, linked to cancer. Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are produced by the wiring and appliances in your home, even when there is no power being used (particularly when they are improperly grounded or the polarity is incorrect). EMFs are produced by all electrical devices including TV’s, kitchen appliances, lights (particularly fluorescent lights), computers, telephones, electrical panels, transformers and air conditioning units to name a few. The only two good kinds of electro-magnetic fields are generally those produced by the cosmos (mainly the earth) and those produced by the body. But even here there are exceptions.
For example, there are a surprisingly numerous number of building sites that are geopathically disturbed, which because of the high levels of EMF’s naturally occurring there, are not considered to be suited for human habitation. By and large, all man-made EMF’s have the potential to be toxic in large enough doses. Actually, too little of certain kinds of EMF’s may also have a negative effect on the human body. But, the common problem in the typical home or office is high levels of EMF’s. The question that begs to be answered is: how much is too much? That question has already been partially answered by research in Germany and Sweden. The Germans, Swedes and others in Europe have set standards for EMF’s that are stricter than those in the rest of the world, sometimes by a factor of 50 or more. My own view is that, as a general rule of thumb, we should try to avoid lengthy exposure to EMF’s that are significantly higher than those found in nature. Let’s take a concrete example.
The earth’s naturally occurring Electro-magnetic fields produce a very small voltage in the human body of about 5 to 20 millivolts (20 thousandths of one volt). Not coincidentally, this is the ideal field for perfect health according to the Institute of Building Biology, an international organisation concerned with the healthiness of the indoor environment. The Institute strongly recommends that environments in which there are fields of 100 millivolts or more are in need of corrective action, since fields higher than this have been linked to various health problems. In a minute I will give you an idea of what the fields are like in the typical modern over-electrified home but first let me give you a few examples of how sensitive the human physiology is to very small EMF’s.
We think and move our bodies by producing small electrical impulses. For our bodies to maintain health every cell (each a computer/battery unto itself) must be in perfect Electro-chemical communication with other cells. There are six trillion of these intercellular communications per second in healthy body. A pacemaker keeps a person’s heart going by delivering a series of one millivolt electrical impulses. Now that you know how sensitive we are to these fields you will be suitably impressed with the following story: A certain man stood in the middle of a large open area with a body voltage meter in his hand. He observed the usual reading of about 10 millivolts. He began walking towards his home and when he was approximately 20 feet from his home he noticed his meter readings begin to inch upwards.
Readings in his home varied from a few hundred to several thousand millivolts!! The reading in his bed, where his body was supposed to get deep undisturbed rest, was 5,000 millivolts, about 250 times the strength of the earth’s natural field! You don’t have to be an MD to suspect that maybe this is not good for you. This was the situation in a new condominium complex in Altamonte Springs, Florida and I can vouch for it because I am the gentleman in question. I began to envision my condominium as a giant toaster, and me the unsuspecting, overdone slice of toast. And I wondered why I woke up in the mornings not feeling rested. By turning the circuit breakers off in my bedroom I was able to reduce my body voltage to 1,400 millivolts, still nowhere near the recommended 20 millivolts, but I could not reduce it any more due to the fields generated by the wiring in the adjoining condominiums.
Then using a special grounded shielding material under my bed and on a small part of the bed head wall I was able to reduce my body voltage to 60 millivolts. Although this is still a bit too high, the quality of my sleep has been dramatically improved. This is a very common benefit of reducing sleeping body voltage. But what about the other thousand or so residents of my complex? Were they also being fried at 5,000 millivolts every night? If so, that would explain why everybody was always so crabby. At that voltage I’m surprised they didn’t start to smolder while they were sleeping.
But seriously though, our responsibility as architects, engineers and builders, is to create safe and health-creating spaces. It is possible to design homes with safe levels of electric fields through proper wiring techniques and materials, and proper location of wiring and appliances in relation to sleeping and living spaces. While there is mounting scientific evidence that electric fields of over 100 millivolts are injurious to human health we have also found considerable anecdotal evidence. Building biologists, in particular Wolfgang Maes in Germany, and Peter Sierck, John Banta and Roger Maurice in the US have over the last several years corrected high body voltage conditions in thousands of sleeping areas.
In more than half of the cases the clients reported dramatic improvements in the quality of their sleep, and how rested they felt in the morning. Also common were reports of increased well being, and relief from complaints such as hyperactivity and allergies. When electric fields were reduced in office environments increases in productivity were reported.
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