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