A growing number of people are concerned about EMF exposure from ‘dirty electricity’. So what is dirty electricity, what effects can it have, and what can you do about it?
What is Dirty Electricity
Regular electricity is conducted into our homes over electrical wiring. Most people receive their power from the utility company over the power grid, although some generate their electricity locally, at their own home (so-called off-grid living).
This electricity that we receive is at a standardized voltage and frequency. In the US, most homes receive electricity at a power of 120 volts and a frequency of 60 hertz. In Europe, voltage is generally between 220 and 240 volts and 50 hertz.
The term ‘dirty electricity’ refers to variations – spikes and surges – in the voltage and frequency. When dirty electricity occurs, the currents flowing through our electrical wiring deviate from the standards we expect.
Where Does Dirty Electricity Come From?
As a baseline, let’s think of regular old ‘clean’ electricity as smooth.
Just as electrical wiring and the power grid can conduct electricity from the utility company, so can it conduct other electrical signals and other forms of EMF. Two types of this unwanted EMF include transient voltage and wireless signals.
It is these forces that convert ‘smooth’ electricity we expect into unpredictable, ‘dirty’ electricity. And once these forces are created, they spread throughout a building – and even to other buildings – over the electrical wiring and power grid, radiating potentially harmful EMF into our environments.
Increasingly, the devices and appliances that we use and enjoy are not designed to operate from the standardized electricity that we receive from the grid. And so the electrical signals must be converted to some other form.
This is most notable with power inverters (like you would find in a solar power system or an RV, that converts DC power to AC). Other devices and appliances do not draw a consistent amount of power, instead varying their draw and consumption, creating surges and dips in the voltage. This can occur up to thousands of times each second.
But it’s also true of our cell phone chargers, TVs and laptops. And we also find this in other installations, such as light switch dimmers.
That process of converting the form of the power can create transient voltage, which are temporary bursts of unwanted voltage that flow through our electrical wiring.
Stray Wireless Signals
Wireless devices – everything from traditional radio and television, all the way up through cell phones and WiFi – work by sending radio frequency (RF) EMF radiation through the air.
These signals can be captured and conducted by power lines on the street and electrical wiring in our homes. And so the vast array of wireless signals traveling through our environments can be captured and transmitted using the same electrical infrastructure that powers our lives.
This can lead to unpredictable EMF emissions from our electrical wiring and appliances. In the context of dirty electricity, these stray wireless signals can be referred to as RF transients.
While the term ‘dirty electricity’ most commonly refers to the voltage transients, many (myself included) consider these stray wireless signals to also be a component of dirty electricity. Because they contribute to the dirty (perhaps, more accurately termed ‘unpredictable’) nature of the EMF to which we are all exposed from the electrical infrastructure.
What are Some of the Most Common Sources of Dirty Electricity?
Due to its nature, dirty electricity can come from multiple different causes. However, there are some culprits that are known to be among the worst offenders.
- power inverters
- light switch dimmers
- energy efficient lights
- any appliance with a motor (such as a blender)
- wireless devices (like smart meters and WiFi routers)
- overlapping or intertwined extension cords
- poor electrical wiring in the walls
As I say, these are among the sources known to be among the worst contributors of dirty electricity.
But you can not know how much dirty electricity you are exposed to unless you measure.
How do You Measure Dirty Electricity?
I talk a lot about how to test and measure EMF. And in those materials, I mention power density meters (to measure wireless radiation) and gauss meters (which we can use to measure EMF from electrical wiring and appliances).
However, these tools are not sufficient to measure dirty electricity– particularly the voltage transients.
In order to measure dirty electricity, I recommend a meter specifically designed for the task.
I can recommend two options.
Both meters are designed to measure the amount of voltage variation present in your home’s electrical wiring.
Just plug them into an outlet and start taking your measurements of the voltage variations present in your environment. (Both companies also make dirty electricity filters– more on that below– but you do not need to purchase the filters in order to make use of the meters.)
What are the Health Effects of Dirty Electricity?
First, I wish to note that it is quite difficult to say with specificity and certainty what the health effects of dirty electricity truly are. This is because:
- Dirty electricity virtually surrounds us. It is almost impossible to find a population unexposed to it, for the purposes of forming a control group as part of any studies.
- Dirty electricity is, by its nature, highly unpredictable. Unless you are constantly measuring the levels, you do not know how much surrounds you at any given moment.
- Dirty electricity is, by and large, an under-investigated area of EMF exposures (in part, because of the two reasons I mentioned immediately above).
However, there have been some studies– some performed by highly respected researchers including Dr. Sam Milham and Dr. Magda Havas, among others– that begin to illuminate some of the health effects linked to dirty electricity.
Dr. Sam Milham
Dr. Sam Milham is a physician and epidemiologist (now retired). And in many ways, Dr. Milham is the father of dirty electricity– not that he created it, but he created the term and was the first to explore it in his very important books of the same name, Dirty Electricity.
In that book (and in other published studies), Dr. Milham advocates that the electrification of our lives has led to an epidemic of what he refers to as the ‘diseases of civilization’– diseases that did not occur in populations until they were exposed to EMF from the electrical grid.
These diseases of civilization include Alzheimer’s, infertility, depression, heart disease, and Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).
Dr. Sam Milham was able to show how the incidence of these diseases, and increases in the death rate, correlated with the onset of electrification, independent of where it occurred in the country. And he showed that these diseases did not increase in populations that were not exposed to these forces– such as the Amish.
Dr. Magda Havas
Dr. Magda Havas has also contributed important work to our understanding of the health effects of dirty electricity.
In one 2004 paper entitled ‘Dirty Electricity and Electrical Hypersensitivity: Five Case Studies’, Dr. Havas and co-author Dave Stetzer (who makes the STETZERiZER meter and filters, mentioned elsewhere in this post) performed tests wherein STETZERiZER filters were installed in homes and schools to reduce dirty electricity in the environment.
They found that “symptoms associated with electrical hypersensitivity (such as chronic fatigue, depression, headaches, body aches and pains, ringing in the ears, dizziness, impaired sleep, memory loss, and confusion) were reduced,” and concluded that dirty electricity may be contributing to the growing epidemic of electrohypersensitivity.
A second study by Dr. Havas published in 2009 along with Angela Olstad found that, following the installation of STETZERiZER filters, the subjects noted “improvements in the incidence of headaches, general weakness, dry eye or mouth, facial flushing, depression, mood, dizziness, pain, skin irritation, clarity of thought and more energy.”
In a separate study also published in 2009, Dr. Havas investigated the link between dirty electricity and “Several disorders, including asthma, ADD/ADHD, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia.” Dr. Havas noted the reasons for concern about these links, and called for further study to delve more deeply into the possible causes.
What Can You do to Protect Yourself from Dirty Electricity?
I always say the best EMF protection is free, and the same is true for dirty electricity EMF. And there are some dirty electricity protection products available, as well, to help protect yourself and your family even more.
Start with the Free Ways
Remove Light Dimmer Switches
Dimmer switches create significant voltage transients. As much as I enjoy the mood control offered by dimmers, I recommend that you replace them with traditional on/off switches.
Unplug Electronics When Not in Use
Those who know my work, know that I recommend turning off your WiFi when not in use, and turning your phone into airplane mode when it’s not in use. That’s because these devices emit significant levels of radio frequency radiation to operate, and if you’re not actively making use of those wireless signals, turning them off can make a big difference in your exposure.
The same is true for devices that create dirty electricity. That would include your TV, your air conditioner, your stereo– basically anything that runs off of AC power. If you’re not using it, unplug it. And that way, it won’t be adding to your household dirty electricity when it’s off.
Avoid Eco-Friendly Lighting
Eco-friendly lighting solutions include CFLs (compact flourescents) and LEDs (light emitting diodes). As much as I support the purpose of eco-friendly illumination, they emit tremendous levels of unwanted EMF, contributing to dirty electricity in your home. (As do more traditional fluorescent tubes.)
So, when possible, opt for standard incandescent or halogen bulbs.
Manage Your Extension Cords
Like everything that conducts electricity, extension cords (and their cousins, power strips) emit EMF radiation into your home. We can’t change that, but we can manage how we use these cords in our homes to reduce some of the risks.
So keep your extension cords neat and tidy. It’s important not to loop them or run them over each other. If you loop your extension cords or have them run over each other, it can cause an increase in EMF emissions.
Dirty Electricity Protection Products
The same two companies that I mentioned above that make dirty electricity meters, also make dirty electricity filters. These are designed to filter out the stray voltage from your home’s electrical system.
This includes the STETZERiZER® Filter and the Greenwave Dirty Electricity Filter. I have not used either product, so I am not able to make a recommendation. (Although, I will note that Dave Stetzer who makes the STETZERiZER products, has been a pioneer in the science that recognized and popularized the concept of dirty electricity.)
There are differences in the capacity and costs of both systems. An average home may require up to 20 of these filters in order to provide suitable protection. So if you are interested in this type of protection, I recommend you do your research and price out solutions from both companies.