Hundreds of papers and reports have been written over the past five decades regarding negative health effects of electromagnetic fields, but much work remains to be done. One important topic where relatively little research has been done is that of safe and healthy housing. We are surrounded by a toxic soup of electromagnetic fields, so one focus of the Healthy Housing Research Institute (HHRI) will be to investigate methods of reducing the interior fields inside a house. If the house construction reflects or absorbs most of the exterior fields, then those with Electromagnetic HyperSensitivity (EHS) can heal while inside the house. Those with mild EHS might still be able to work at a regular job, if they can just get a decent night's sleep.
Anyone who has ever built a house is painfully aware of the hundreds of decisions that must be made. Many involve research into competing alternatives. For example: Should it be adobe, straw bale, Insulated Concrete Forms, or stick built? We read literature, watch videos, compare prices, and make an informed decision. The same is true for any house built by the HHRI, where we must rely on other people's original research. In some cases, however, we must do the original research ourselves. The following is a list of research areas and tentative decisions made for the HHRI first experimental house. Actually, it will be the size of a small house but will not have a kitchen or bathroom. It will be permitted as a shop/office/lab.
The selected size is 1440 sq. ft. (30' by 48'), ranch style (single story, no stairs), slab on grade, metal roof, metal siding on outside, metal ceiling, and metal interior wall covering on the exterior walls of the building. If testing is satisfactory, and identical building will be built on an adjacent lot, except with interior walls and plumbing for three bedrooms, two baths, and a kitchen. It will be permitted as a single family house. The size and style is reasonably consistent with other new housing in Rockvale.
The wall surface needs to reflect as much of the incoming toxic electromagnetic soup as possible. This immediately suggests using metal siding, which has been used for agricultural buildings for many decades and is not uncommon for house siding. It is fire resistant, an important consideration for houses built in a juniper 'forest'. Good quality siding is also hail resistant. It is claimed that the painted finish will last at least 50 years. Several agricultural building manufacturers have adapted their metal roof, metal siding buildings for the housing market, so this type of construction is readily available at reasonable costs. Standard metal skin housing leaks EM signals through all the windows, doors, cracks, and seams, so the research activity will be finding the best methods to bond all the metal strips together and how to do the window screens. Most likely, there will be two window screens, one of aluminum and one of stainless steel. With careful attention to detail, the interior fields can be reduced substantially.
The plan is to use Morton Buildings to build the shell of the house. They send in an experienced crew with a truckload of posts, trusses, and pre-cut panels. When they leave, it looks like a complete house from the outside, with all doors and windows in place. The inside, however, is totally bare and empty (except for a small storeroom in one corner of the shop). Only the exterior walls are load bearing so there are no posts or columns inside. Local subcontractors then come in to do the interior walls, plumbing, electrical, etc. It appears that this plan will be the easiest and least expensive method of getting the first house in place, recognizing some disadvantages. The Morton wall will have relatively little thermal mass, highly desirable in a passive solar house. Insulation will be adequate, but might be better with other wall systems. Other technologies will definitely be considered for any additional houses.
A known signal source will be placed outside the building, and the interior fields measured. Different frequencies will be tried, and different positions and orientations of the directional antenna connected to the source. Interior fields will be mapped in front of the windows as compared with the wall. I will look for leaks around the doors and windows. Then I will add a second metallic screen to the windows and repeat the testing.
Some external fields will leak into the interior of the house in spite of our best efforts to prevent this from happening. There is also the possibility of the house wiring, lighting, and computers producing unwanted fields inside the house. A signal source inside a metal box can set up what is called a standing wave pattern, where there will be 'hot spots' of much higher field strength than would be seen if the source were outside in open air. For this reason, it appears essential to place a good absorbing material throughout the house. The best material is water. Its absorbing properties enable microwave ovens to work. Interior walls made of stacked containers of water (like five gallon buckets) would soak up any stray fields very nicely. Five gallon buckets are unattractive, take up an excessive amount of floor space, and have other disadvantages as interior walls, so are unlikely to actually be used in housing for the electrically sensitive. But I plan to use five gallon buckets of water forming a wall across the interior of the shop as a 'benchmark' test, something to compare other concepts with. One question I hope to answer is whether a partial wall would be adequate, such as a section perhaps eight buckets wide by seven buckets high. Properly located in the house to also serve as thermal mass, and covered with drywall and painted, it just might make an important difference to some.
We will also test the use of steel mill slag as an absorbing material. It is readily available as road base from a steel plant in Pueblo. It can be used either loose or as aggregate in concrete. In this first building, the loose slag would be placed in five gallon buckets after the water from the previous testing was dumped out. If testing of slag in buckets is extremely successful, I may build an interior non load bearing wall across the shop, a conventional 2" by 4" stud wall on 16" centers, covered with sturdy sheetrock to within a foot or so of the ceiling. I would then fill the wall cavities with loose slag. Once the cavities are full, the openings can be closed with more sheetrock. Measurements of interior field strengths will be made before and after the walls are filled with slag. The slag will serve three different purposes: absorbing material, thermal mass, and sound deadening between rooms.
Moving slag in wheelbarrows and buckets might be acceptable for a single research building, but using slag as aggregate in concrete would be preferred in successive houses. This would be for an entirely different style of construction. The exterior walls (and perhaps the interior walls also) would be concrete. The exterior walls would be covered with insulation, then metal siding. The interior would have plaster on the walls and probably drywall on the ceilings. The house would have considerably more absorbing material in the walls, leading to even lower interior field strengths. Considerable theoretical and experimental work on the absorbing ability of slag in concrete was done in 2012 and 2013 concrete.pdf and concrete2.pdf. Results were very positive. But the next step would be to build a batch plant capable of making concrete to precise recipes in several cubic yard quantities. We need to determine a 'good' recipe for the concrete before pouring walls for a house. A cubic yard or so of a particular recipe would be made and samples taken for compression breaking tests. The remainder would be used for something like retaining wall blocks. It could easily require the testing of 20 or more different recipes before we are convinced that we have a concrete with adequate compression strength that will make decent looking walls. Then we pour the walls of a cabin and evaluate the appearance and the absorbing ability. The recipe could get tweaked again for the next cabin, and so on. We might be able to build a small batch plant on the cheap for $50,000. The cost and space commitment for a batch plant is such that we need to be very confident that we have the funds and approvals to build several cabins before taking this step.
AC OR DC?
Back in the 1890s, the War of the Currents was fought between Tesla and Edison. Tesla had invented the AC system, which allowed electrical power to be stepped up in voltage, sent long distances across country from a large generating plant, and stepped back down in voltage for household use. Edison's main argument against AC was that it was hazardous to our health. Tesla won the battle, not because it was more safe but because it was cheaper. A growing fraction of us are now convinced that Edison was right! In my own case, an hour spent in a 10 milligauss 60 Hz magnetic field will make me quite ill. I know people who become ill in magnetic fields a hundred times smaller or even less. The shop and the following house on an adjacent lot should have magnetic fields below 1 milligauss, acceptable to the mildly sensitive but not to the most severely sensitive. All housing structures built in the gulch will be off-grid and operate only on DC, powered by photovoltaic panels and batteries.
The next decision is the voltage level, 12 V, 24 V, etc. It is interesting to note that there are economic benefits to society in general if we switch to DC. Much of the electrical load inside our homes and offices is now native DC, requiring a AC to DC converter which is usually not very efficient. If all this load could be plugged directly into DC at the wall outlet, we could reduce our total electrical consumption by perhaps 3 percent. This is a large number at the national level to the people concerned about keeping the lights on, so there is considerable incentive to make it happen. There is a group working on this for the past several years, which can be found at www.EmergeAlliance.org. Their decision is to use 24 V for electronic devices and 380 V for the heavy loads. Eventually, the power supplies of computers, monitors, and the like will be redesigned so the devices will plug directly into 24 VDC rather than 120 VAC. The off-grid units in the gulch will probably have two sets of wiring, one for 24 VDC for the electronic equipment and the other for 120 VDC for lighting. Any 380 VDC wiring will wait until EmergeAlliance gets further along. See electrical.pdf for some additional thoughts.
The shop will be heated by electric baseboard heaters. This is a minimum first cost decision and is actuallly helpful in doing house energy efficiency measurements. I will look at radiant floor heating for the house built on the adjacent lot.
Swamp coolers work quite well in this high desert with low humidity. I have been using a 24 VDC swamp cooler, powered by PV panels and batteries for several years in my present office/lab in Rockvale, and it works quite well. The Morton shop will have a concrete slab for a floor, with no insulation under the slab, so the slab will be cooling the shop in the summer from the 55 degree earth under the slab. It is possible that the internal temperature will be acceptable without a swamp cooler. If the interior is just too hot, then I will place a conventional swamp cooler at one of the windows.
Incandescent bulbs work well for most people with EHS, but are being phased out by government order, and use a large amount of energy compared with fluorescents and light emitting diodes (LEDs), so will not be considered for the shop. Fluorescent bulbs tend to pulse on and off 120 times per second, which affects some people. The modern electronic ballasts tend to put 'dirty electricity' back onto the wiring. The same noise appears in the light itself. The bulbs contain mercury, a very toxic element in our bodies. These facts are more than adequate to reject their use in this house. That leaves LEDs as the only practical choice. LED bulbs that directly replace incandescent bulbs are readily available at any big box store. They consume less than a fourth as much power input for the same light output as incandescents. The problem is that at least some manufacturers use internal power supplies in the base of each bulb that put out large amounts of 'dirty electricity'. My Stetzer meter would jump from 30 units to over 400 units when one of these bulbs was turned. Then I saw on the Internet that Phillips LED bulbs were different. I tested a 60 watt (equivalent) version that did not change the Stetzer meter at all. The light output was constant about 80 percent of the time, then would drop down to about half light and back up the other 20 percent, at 120 Hz. The Phillips 100W and the ACE 100W LED bulbs work even better (no effect on a Stetzer meter and no 120 Hz variation in light output). I suspect that many with EHS would function quite well while using this type of bulb. Phillips makes dozens of different LED bulbs, so one needs to watch out for models that do not work as well. Some test results are in ledcomparison.pdf.
Another version of LEDs is a strip, perhaps 5, 10, or 20 meters long and about 1 cm wide, that has perhaps 60 LEDs per meter. The strips have equalizing resistors and internal connections in the copper traces to allow the strip to operate on 12 VDC or 24 VDC. If we have a 24 VDC wiring system connected to an equivalent 24 VDC battery, then an LED strip connected to this supply will have a smooth output, no 'dirty electricity', no 120 Hz component. I have built half a dozen 'luminaires' with LED strips, some in daily use for several years, and consider them a good choice for lighting in this first house. Test results for some early work are in the .pdf document ledlighting.pdf.