LEED EMF Credit Denied

LEED denies EMF credit


Citing the need for more research on human health effects, and questioning long-established Building Biology approaches to minimizing electromagnetic fields (EMF), the USGBC and denied a recent application for a EMF LEED Credit.

Healthy Building Science was the LEED for Homes (LEED-H) consultant for two residential properties (CA and NH) that intended to utilize Healthy Home Standard credit criteria to achieve Innovation in Design (ID) points under the LEED-H Rating System. After watching CHPS adopt EMF credits, it seemed logical it was time for a EMF LEED credit.

USGBC Denies LEED EMF Credit

LEED EMF Credit Denied – Sparking Questions

USGBC takes a stand on LEED EMF Credit – are they right?

I guess there are clearly three sides of this fence.

Supporters: Those that support additional regulation in the US cite an enormous culmination of human-health data indicating significant cause for concern. The recently updated BioInitiative Report lists hundreds of scientifically rigorous, peer-reviewed, published studies showing clear evidence that low frequency magnetic fields (EMF) and radio frequency (RF) radiation can harm human health. Ask the authors of those studies – serious scientists from around the globe – and they will tell you that current regulations and buildings codes are inadequate for protecting occupant health. Other supporters include the growing population aware of their own electrical hypersensitivity, including those with Lyme disease and autism. Also among the supporters are all the Building Biologists around the world who work with – and help – this sensitive and underserved population. Last, but not least, is anyone believing in the precautionary principle, because after just skimming the BioInitiative Report it’s hard not to be concerned.

Those Teetering Atop The Fence: There are always those demanding more scientific evidence before a regulation should be instated. It happened with asbestos, formaldehyde, lead, pesticides, and tobacco. Sadly, this element forestalls often prudent regulation and in the lag time people suffer. Many believe that the tactics used by big tobacco to fight smoking regulations are now being used effectively to delay EMF regulations. Did you see the last scene in “Thank You for Smoking?” Makes you think it may be time for a EMF LEED credit, no?

I count the USGBC and US regulatory agencies among this camp. “We need more research….”

EMF Lobby Smells Like Big Tabacco

EMF Lobby Smells Like Big Tabacco

Opposers: There are probably very few actually opposing minimizing EMF exposure when possible. But there must be some. Humm… hard to think of who. Perhaps cell phone companies? Nope – even they say follow best practices and distance yourself from the source. Perhaps big power companies? Nope – even they say use precaution where feasible.

EMF LEED Credit – Innovation in Design Application

For those in the industry this should appear pretty straightforward. Here is the basis of what we submitted for the EMF ID Credit in LEED:

IDc3:  Innovation – Magnetic Field (EMF) Reduction


Reduce occupant exposure to low-frequency magnetic fields through electrical layout design, shielding, and field verification. Implement best practices for low-EMF electrical installation.

Approach and Implementations

Distance from the source:

Magnetic fields drop off quickly from their source. Therefore distancing known point sources from high-use occupancy areas (e.g., beds) is an effective control measure. Main feed wires from the utility to the home, to the main electric panel, and to subpanels, shall not run immediately behind or under sleeping areas. Beds shall not be located within 10 feet of the main electrical panel or subpanel(s). Beds shall not be located within 5 feet of unshielded point sources such as motors, fans, or lighting transformers.

Best practice wiring methods:

In properly wired electrical cable magnetic fields are low because they cancel each other out from the balanced Hot and Neutral. [See Diagram 1.] Electrical panels will be selected with neutral bus bars running the full length of both sides of the panel. Hots and Neutrals in electrical panels, junction boxes, switches and electrical outlets will be kept together as long as possible. [See Diagram 2.] Neutrals from different branch circuits shall not be ganged together in junction boxes [See Diagram 3], and Neutrals and Grounds shall only be bonded at the main electrical panel.

Shielding from sources:

Magnetic field shielding material shall be installed between occupied areas and known point-sources located within 5 feet of high-use occupancy areas. Where impractical to distance point-sources such as motors, fans, or lighting transformers, magnetic field shielding material shall be utilized to reduce occupant exposure levels. Field verification will test shielding efficacy against such sources, and additional shielding shall be installed if necessary to achieve stated goals for maximum allowable exposure levels in sleeping areas. (See next section and Image A.)

Field verification:

All measures outlined above shall be field verified. The two methods in the last sentence of best-practice wiring methods are included in the National Electrical Code (NEC), but these two errors are tremendously common in the field and electrical inspectors are not trained to identify them. A certified Building Biology Environmental Consulting, using a methodology adopted from the International Institute of Building Biology & Ecology, shall perform separate continuity tests from the N-bus and H-bus to each individual Neutral in every electrical panel. This method will identify if Neutrals from different branch circuits are ganged together, and if Neutrals and Grounds are bonded anywhere other than the main electrical panel. If NEC violations are discovered they will be fixed prior to occupancy.

After passing electrical inspections and the home is powered up, internal fixed loads will be powered ON and a Building Biology Environmental Consultant using a gauss meter shall measure magnetic fields using long-established field assessment protocols from the International Institute of Building Biology & Ecology. Sleeping areas shall be < 1.0 milliGauss (mG) or < 100 nanoTesla (nT), or additional mitigation measures shall be implemented until these thresholds are achieved.


EMF LEED Credit Denied

Here is the final response from the USGBC Environmental Quality Technical Advisory Group (TAG):

“the consensus was unanimous that the original CIR ruling should be maintained;

This inquiry is denied because there is not enough research provided to show there is a health need for EMF mitigation in residential construction or that the proposed approach is an effective way to reduce EMF in a home. Plug loads will have more of an impact on emf than the proposed measures. More research is needed.  

The EMF issue is based on speculation and possible health risks.  While there may indeed be something to the claims, without the greater scientific community providing support there is simply no concrete evidence that the outlined efforts will have any effect on a building’s inhabitants.

Additionally, while limits were proposed on EMF, the method for limiting exposure is questionable with regards to achieving the goal.  One load on a particular circuit may generate an EMF much different from another load on that same circuit (I.e. plug an alarm clock into your wall receptacle and you get one EMF profile.  Plug a fan into that same receptacle and you get an entirely different EMF profile).  EMF’s in a household are dynamic as the loads shift throughout the day.  It’s a moving target.”

This response was signed by Mika Kania, of the USGBC: [email protected] and Asa Foss was also carbon copied: [email protected]

I’m personally at a loss and not sure what to do next… Hoping that someday an EMF LEED Credit will be a reality.

LEED denies EMF credit

Change USGBC EMF Petition

I’ve started a petition on Change.org and I’d welcome your vote for change!

10 Responses to “LEED EMF Credit Denied”

  1. Alex Stadtner says :

    Hi Nicolas,

    Thanks for the note. As a supporter of the USGBC and LEED, I remain very disappointed that would not offer an ID credit for managing EMF. As you mention, other countries have more stringent standards to protect public health, and in some countries these low-EMF design measures are standard practice.

    I fear that your last paragraph sums up the situation pretty well. Most Americans will deny a health threat until it is staring them in the face. Most Americans respond as our government does – reactively, instead of proactively. So while LEED portends to be foreword thinking and pushing the market toward healthier buildings, as long as they deny health impacts from EMF/RF the USGBC is missing an enormous aspect of healthy building. It is my believe that in the next decade we’ll see increased controls and more stringent regulations set forth… but on this note it doesn’t look like the USGBC will be a leader.

    On a more positive note, you should check out some of the language in the latest version of CHPS (Collaboration of High Performance Schools). They didn’t adopt very stringent measures in their rating system, but, as far as I know, CHPS is the first well recognized green building rating system in the US to address magnetic fields in any way. Again, it’s not setting a very high bar… but at least they were brave enough to take a stand and try to protect our children in schools to some degree.

    On another note, we’re fans of your Giron product. It is flexible, lightweight, thin, easy to install, and does effectively mitigate point source magnetic fields.


  2. I just came across this article and wish to comment on it. Obviously I am partial to shielding the magnetic since I work for a company specialized in this.

    It appears to me that LEED’s decision is based on the scare of costs, not on the potential impact on people’s health. Many countries have strict laws. For example in Italy by law the population cannot be exposed to magnetic fields greater than 30 mG in new constructions. While WHO recommends 3-4 mG and therefore Italy’s law may seem extremely permissive, it is a good start. Other countries are currently revising their regulations and considering adopting stricter measures. Hopefully, for people’s sake, proper restrictions will pass and trump LEED/USGBC’s decision.

    It is also ironic to me that there are numerous standards on electromagnetic compatibility (the IEC EN 61000 series) as technicians notice the misbehavior of electronic apparatus while decision makers refuse to consider the adverse effects on people’s health. Could it be that we care more of the well-functioning of our work tools, digital data storage, entertainment, toys, etc., than our health? Could it be that since EMFs are an invisible, tasteless, scent-free evil we would rather not deal with it and spend the money to improve our quality of life? Oh, the modern western world…

  3. […] and green building advocacy groups have picked up the battle cry. I was disappointed when the USGBC (LEED) decided not to award a point for EMF reduction… and now I’m happy to see another green building rating system taking the lead.  EMF […]

  4. Alex Stadtner says :

    I’m actually a big fan of the USGBC and LEED Rating System. But in this case I believe they have made a mistake. Sowing doubt in the existing scientific evidence linking EMF/EMR to health effects (healthybuildingscience.com/2013/01/07/emf-health-effects/) is the same tactic used by lead, asbestos, coal, tobacco, etc. It’s a very effective tactic at delaying much needed change. Saying “we need more research before we can take action,” in the face of growing evidence of harm, is a slap in the face to anyone believing in the precautionary principle. Sadly, had the early activists supporting change in the lead, asbestos, coal, and tabacco industries had a chance to influence policy based on the mounting evidence of public harm…. thousands of lives could have been saved. So if I have to pick sides on this debate – I stand proudly on the side of precaution.

  5. worldclock says :

    That LEED Denies EMF Credit. Citing need for more research. must to be great!!

  6. […] you think that “green building” rating systems in the US should consider EMFs, please join us and sign this […]

  7. dustin says :

    A Prospective Study of In-utero Exposure to Magnetic Fields and the Risk of Childhood Obesity

  8. […] LEED Denies EMF Credit. Citing need for more research.. […]

  9. […] USGBC/LEED recently denied an Innovation in Design (ID) credit application for Magnetic Field (EMF) …. This post includes the official LEED EMF ID Credit Application. The following text is in the […]

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