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My electrical panel and electric companies smart meter are right behind the headboard in my bedroom on the outside of the house. So I am sleeping just inches away from all this electrical wiring. I wake up having terrible headaches and exhausted. I am extremely concerned about the long term effects to my health. When I sleep upstairs I wake up feeling great. I am wondering if it is possible to move the electical panel to the garage, I know this a big job... Can it be done, any ideas of cost. I am at the point where I am going to sell my home. Any advice out there. Don't want to move.

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    The only reason to worry this much about a panel being next to your headboard is if it was a Federal Pacific... – ThreePhaseEel Aug 1 '17 at 22:32
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    Perhaps this should be split up into two questions. One for this forum Can I move my electrical panel and one for another forum What are the health effects of sleeping near an electrical panel (if any) From your description, my first guess is there is some allergy or mold or something that is affecting you downstairs. – Jon Aug 2 '17 at 19:24
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    If it is causing problems, sound might be a more plausible reason than EMF. A high pitched whine might be hardly noticeable but enough to prevent your brain from switching off fully. This could certainly cause you to wake up feeling terrible as you do. – Niall Aug 3 '17 at 7:36
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    Millions of people in the US have for decades willingly exposed themselves to significant EM fields by using electric heating pads and blankets. Despite no proven ill effects these blankets were redesigned to greatly reduce the field strength, and concern of potential harm is no longer a feature of public discourse. But I suspect that the fields from the redesigned blankets are still greater than from house wiring. madehow.com/Volume-6/Electric-Blanket.html – Jim Stewart Aug 4 '17 at 12:20
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There is no scientifically based evidence for any physiological effect from your smart meter or your panel. The overwhelming probability is that if this bedroom is "messing with your head", it has nothing to do with the electrical panel.

EDIT

As a trial try sleeping with your feet next to the wall with the panel and meter. Any electric and magnetic fields around the meter and the panel decrease very strongly with distance and would be 10,000 to 1,000,000 fold weaker at the foot of the bed.

ADDITIONAL EDIT

We have aerial service in my neighborhood and the service drop is in heavy steel conduit through the roof into the top of the meter box on the outside wall. The GE load center is on the opposite side of the wall in the garage. Some houses in our tract development have the load center in a closet in the main bedroom, but none have the load center in a wall above where a bed could go. There is one house where the garage was remodeled into a bedroom and the load center (originally in the garage) is now is a bedroom wall where someone could put a bed.

The wires going to the house come out the top of the load center. I got out my ZIRCON OneStep stud finder with AC scan. Sweeps of the scanner across my smart meter outside gives no response.

I scanned in AC mode above my GE 150 A load center inside the garage and the scanner strongly detects the wires above the load center. When I hold a sheet of aluminum over the wires the scanner does not detect them.

When I sweep over the closed door of the load center I get no response. If I open the door and sweep over the breakers, I can get a response.

When I sweep the scanner over an extension cord (plugged in but no load) I get a strong signal. I lay a piece of aluminum sheet over the cord and get no response.

You could hang a sheet of aluminum on the bedroom wall or on the headboard of the bed to shield your head from the fields emanating from the wiring going out of the panel. In my house the top of the GE load center from which the wires to the house emerge is about 65 in above the floor so if yours is the same it would be pretty far from your head while sleeping.

If you have an underground service drop, then the incoming service lines would be just across the wall from your head, but the wires are probably in heavy steel conduit, and so Christine I don't think you are getting any physiologic effects from your service panel, smart meter, or even the outgoing wires to your house circuits.

James G Stewart BS, MS, PhD (physics, biology, biophysics)

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    +1 this type of psychosomatic illness is what happens when pseudoscience creates conspiracy theories on the interwebs. There is absolutely no basis for this but paranoia. – ArchonOSX Aug 2 '17 at 0:49
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    There is certainly some very far stretched possibilities here, be it metals in the blood combined with albeit an immensely weak magnetic field or just RF noise or perhaps the noise the meter makes (maybe it whirs, whistles, clicks) - but if there is something in the home causing health effects the panel that is more like a FOOT away from your head is not it. Maybe bad air filters, mold spores, mildew, bad diet, heavy metals in well water, etc. The list is LARGE. See a doctor, and begin a process of elimination. – noybman Aug 2 '17 at 2:56
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    @ArchonOSX Fibromyalgia sufferers were dismissed in the same way, "it's all in your head", now suddenly they are eagerly accepted by doctors. What changed? Only one thing: a major pharmaceutical company is shilling a pill that treats fibromyalgia. This entire field is mostly guesswork, and the strong emotions are because you want your system of thinking to be right. That's jingoistic, not scientific. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Aug 2 '17 at 15:27
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    @Craig the nerve impulses in living organisms do have an electrical manifestation but they are not electromagnetic waves. Instead the nerve impulse is a wave of chemical state which can be detected by an electrical potential difference between the inside and the outside of a nerve cell. Nerve impulses travel at ~10 m/s and EM radiation at ~10^8 m/s. Weak electromagnetic radiation does not interfere with nerve impulses. Consider that MRIs of the head are done with a strong magnetic field and radio frequency EM energy with no observable effect on people. – Jim Stewart Aug 2 '17 at 16:09
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    @JimStewart look at it on Google Earth. There will be a dead zone underneath and adjacent to the power line, with no habitable structures, at most a parking lot. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Aug 2 '17 at 16:26
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I'm not going to touch the question of whether EMF's are harmful to humans.

What I will say is that EMFs do exist, we are well aware of them, and they are a significant factor in system design. Different wiring methods have a significant effect on EMFs, as does AC versus DC. There is a lot of "room to work" here.

Depending on how you do it, your house could even be more functional. After all, home electrical is optimized for "safe, then cheap". It could just as easily be optimized for "safe, then minimum possible EMFs, then cheap"... at somewhat higher cost obviously. On new work, I would say 130% to 200% of normal costs, depending on how deep you go and how much bonus functionality you want. On old work, a bit more since you are redoing.

This is a huge opportunity to trade "learning" for "money". If you DIY it, it gets much more affordable, and there's another good reason to do that: you are unlikely to find a contractor who will respect your wishes, especially in a building boom with all the good contractors being kept busy. Therefore you'll need to know at least enough to assure she has done the work correctly (for EMFs). Learn some more, and have total control and much less cost.

Areas of focus

Code electrical, or "how to wire houses". That's because this is mandatory. For instance every bedroom must have at least one circuit providing 120VAC receptacles, period. Nothing in Code says you can't turn the circuit off at the breaker and never use it. You will certainly want it there when you sell the house.

Look particularly at steel conduit wiring methods. Aside from being metallic, steel is also magnetic, and so it greatly attenuates what little EMFs exist from imbalances due to wire geometry.

Pay close attention to balance currents, sums of currents, etc. These are all about EMFs. AC power inherently has some degree of EMFs, that is the entire point of AC: the Electro-Magnetic Force is used to transform the power to practical voltages. That's why AC won the War of the Currents.

Basics of low-voltage DC electronics. DC is useful because it has extremely low EMF emissions. For a static load, magnetic fields are present, but they are static - like a refrigerator magnet. Which opens the door to:

Low-voltage solar technology. Houses which are of-grid have low-voltage DC systems powered by solar panels and batteries. You're not after that (though it would be a cheap upgrade and make your house power-failure resilient). You're after their parts bin - the supply of appliances, components, and experience / best practices.

Practical implementation

Obviously, you need to move either your bed (which is out of scope for this question) or the service panel. That part needs to be done by pros, and it starts with talking to your power company about where is feasible to provide a service drop. This would go to a new "meter pan" similar to your existing one. There must be a master/main breaker, and that can be either out at the meter pan or in the service panel, or both. The advantage to "meter pan" is it entirely de-energizes your main service panel, making it much safer to work on DIY. Having main breakers in both locations is redundant and pointless, but harmless.

You can also get meter pans which have the main service panel in them. Don't do that - #1 they're outside, and the weather tears them up fast, especially those expensive GFCI and AFCI breakers you'll need. #2 locked into a brand that wildly overprices their breakers. #3 they're too small, you want a very large panel in this day and age, at least 40 space, with sanely priced GFCI and AFCI breakers.

You must install all the AC electrical work to meet Code minimums, and I recommend, follow best practices to make the house market-attractive. Even if you don't intend to use those features. Because a) you'll need it to sell, and for b) permits, c) occupancy and d) keep your lender happy.

Another thing to think about is shutting off neutral at the panel by installing Philippines style - wiring the panel with neutral as a pole and using double breakers. That eliminates any possibility of antenna-ing down the neutral. I would install two 120V-only subpanels off the main panel, and connect 120V loads to that. You could use a 3-phase panel to switch neutrals on split-phase, but you'll waste a lot of space and it can only support 1/3 the circuits. You don't need to worry about antenna-ing down ground, as current does not normally flow down it.

You'll also want to think about what you want to do with low-voltage DC power, if anything, since EMFs from DC are almost nil. A lot of total wiring length goes to lighting, and those are the hardest wires to replace. Lighting circuits can be reused - even though 12/24V is 90/80% lower power capacity, LEDs are so efficient that they make up for it. Many loads from refrigerators to TVs to internet routers can happily run on 12 volts. Are you OK with DC power failing with the AC power? Do you want to add a battery and maybe some solar panels to make the house blackout-resilient? Easy stuff once you commit to DC power.

So you get this second AC service hooked up, then you make a plan to cut over every circuit in the house. I would assume you don't want to trunk a bunch of wires to the old panel location, so you'd be running new circuits or tapping old circuits in a different place. The trick is to leave the old service in place, and powering most of the house, so you'd run new circuits to key locations like refrigerator, furnace, etc.

Honestly you could make a science project out of it, get a gauss meter and other test instruments and try different wiring methods, measuring the results. Put it up on Youtube, make a few bucks.

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If you are worried about electric fields being the cause the fix would be easy. Make a fariday shield, this can be made with metal screen or foil material and connect the screen to ground. If you don't think it will work take a piece larger than your radio put it around the radio and no more signal. When I was in the service some of our rooms with sensitive equipment had Faraday cages around the entire room. If this helps a large picture with mesh on the back or paint a picture on the mesh would work. Any screen metallic foil will reduce the field but to really stop the fields running a wire to ground make the shield more effective.

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  • A faraday shield does not attenuate the entire EM field in any case, and probably doesn't have much effect at all on a low frequency field like the one around your electrical supply wires. – Craig Sep 5 '17 at 14:45
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    It depends on the size of the grid. A solid conductive covering that is grounded will even block EMP 60 Hz. Noise from transformers has been blocked for years with metal cans, today's higher frequency supplys have less metal than in years past. I have worked with high power high frequency and high power DC, proper shielding will block electrical noise of all wavelengths. – Ed Beal Sep 5 '17 at 19:16
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Of course it can be done. Pretty much anything can be done if you have have enough money and time.

That said, without knowing the layout of your house, moving an electrical panel (and meter?) is a pretty big job. The most difficult part is what to do with the existing wires. You could use the existing panel as a big junction box, and run new wire from there to the new panel, in conduit on the outside of the house. This would be the easiest (but ugliest), but may not alleviate your problems. You could reroute (pulling new wire) the existing wire from the current panel to the new panel. This would be the most difficult, and is akin to a complete rewire; it would involve lots of holes in walls as new wire is pulled.

Costs are off-topic here, but expect to spend many thousands of dollars for a job like this.

A simpler solution would be to move your bedroom upstairs, as you already know you don't have a problem sleeping up there.

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You deserve more credit

Christine, you seem to be getting some grief over this. I see words like "psychosomatic illness," and I feel a little bit offended on your behalf. I'm going to take you at your word. You sleep in that spot, and you wake up not feeling well. That's good enough for me.

Yes, you can move the panel

As others have said, yes that service panel and meter can be moved. It will not be cheap, but it might not be as bad as you think. An electrician should be able to give you a quote.

There might be some kind of shielding you could install around the panel, but that would require more research. I have nothing definitive for you there.

My anecdotal experience

I once moved into a 3rd floor college apartment (long time ago now) a day before any of my roommates arrived.

I set up my computer on the desk that was up against the outside wall of my favorite bedroom. I turned the machine on and the entire CRT display was warped in slowly fluctuating waves that were shifting back and forth about half an inch. It was usable, but unpleasant.

I immediately walked around to the back of the apartment building and sure enough there was a 4" EMT conduit running from a weatherhead on the roof, down the wall right past the head of my bed, 2 feet to the side of where the computer was, to a big panel with several meters at the first floor level.

I briefly considered sleeping with my feet to the wall. I have no brains in my feet and I knew that an EM field's strength drops off rapidly with distance (the inverse square rule). But I didn't really want to intentionally sleep with my feet in the strongest part of that field, either.

Besides, using my computer with the display waving back and forth was driving me nuts.

So I switched to the room furthest from the service feeders in that 4" EMT conduit, and the computer display was rock solid.

Electromagnetic Fields Interact, and Your Head Is Full of Them!

There is indeed an EM field around those big wires feeding your electrical meter. In fact, if you study what electrical current actually is, you discover that the EM field is the thing that propagates the electrical energy down the wire. The EM field is where the power is (it certainly isn't in the moving electrons, since the electrons don't actually go anywhere).

Electricity is magnetism and magnetism is electricity. They're two faces of literally the same phenomenon. Electricity is an EM wave, and an EM wave is always an electric field and a magnetic field rotated 90 degrees from each other. If two EM fields overlap, they do interact with each other. Your brain is an electrical machine, which means that small, weak EM fields inside your brain are an integral part of its function.

My conclusion, then, is that if you stick your brain with its vast multitude of little EM fields inside another bigger, more powerful EM field, the bigger EM field can't help but have some kind of effect. Maybe the overall effect is just to prevent your brain from efficiently doing what it does to repair and refresh itself as you sleep. But even if that's the extent of it and it does no physical damage at all, you still don't wake up rested and refreshed. You might as well have stayed up most of the night watching TV. Since your brain regulates the production of key neurotransmitters like serotonin, which in turn regulate the production of key hormones... You see where I'm going.

There can be absolutely no denying that if you stick your head in a strong EM field, that the field is going to interact with the electrical fields inside your head. I frankly don't know if this will cause any physical harm. But it doesn't seem like a stretch to think that it might have an effect on your sleep. Your brain produces "delta" waves when you are in deep sleep. Delta waves are (big surprise), electromagnetic fields. Maybe the EM field from the wires interferes with the delta waves somehow. Or maybe it's doing something else.

But physically, just in terms of electrical fields interacting, it is absolutely doing something.

So I have issues with the dismissive, blanket assertion that you're making it up. I see no reason not to believe you when you say if you sleep with your head in that EM field, that you wake up tired.

I believe you

I doubt that short exposure would do you any harm. But I have no problem believing that trying to sleep in it could have a deleterious effect on your ability to get deep sleep, if nothing else.

Good luck!

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  • Christine will experience harm in the form of financial loss and maybe disruption of inter-personal relationships if she falsely believes that there are EM fields emanating from her house wiring and harming her. The fields decrease with distance much more rapidly than inverse square because the wiring is arranged so that currents are flowing opposite directions and so the magnetic fields cancel out. The panel is a closed conducting box which is grounded. – Jim Stewart Aug 2 '17 at 18:54
  • The currents are flowing in opposite directions? Sorry, but that is literally the dumbest thing I've read all day. It's AC current, switching direction 50 or 60 times per second depending on which country you're in. The current from each pole of the transformer is 180 degrees out of phase with the current from the other, but that absolutely does not mean that there is no EM field around the bundle of wires (there is), or that her particular installation was done the way you ASSUME it was done. – Craig Aug 2 '17 at 20:04
  • What I meant was that with NM cables the hot and the neutral conductors are bound close and parallel by the sheathing, and the instantaneous currents in the hot and neutral are in opposite directions. Inside the panel the hots and their associated neutrals do separate and diverge, but the steel panel box would tend to confine the fields to the inside. – Jim Stewart Aug 2 '17 at 21:01
  • Service feeders to the OP's meter box won't be in NM cable, they're wires as big around as your index finger, and there are 2 hots 180 deg out of phase plus a neutral carrying the imbalance of the load on the hots (plus a ground). The steel box, and the steel EMT conduit, do NOT nullify the EM field. The current flowing in the opposite direction on the neutral doesn't eliminate the EM field around the wire, and any cancelling out of currents is a function of the frequency, amplitude and alignment (phase) of the EM fields around the various wires, unrelated to the direction of the current. – Craig Aug 3 '17 at 4:22
  • @JimStewart If you personally want to sleep with your head a foot away from the service feeders to your house or apartment and well within the EM field moving on those wires, please be my guest. I wouldn't dream of trying to stop you. – Craig Aug 3 '17 at 4:28
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Christine (and others viewing this thread), I am sorry to hear about you electrosensitivity. This thread has many well-meaning, but uninformed replies.

The best answer I can give you is that you should engage a Building Biologist that is certified for Electromagnetic Radiation. This would not be inexpensive, but would lay out your options plainly and help you remediate.

In brief:

  • The ~900 MHz signalling that comes from the smart Meter in frequent bursts is definitely harmful to humans. A small percentage of the population feel it more than others, but all are affected by such RF signals. There are many hundreds of scientific papers that show effects of pulsed and polarized microwave radiation in sub-thermal doses (on the order of milliwatts per square meter) -- neurological, blood-brain barrier, cell calcium channel among others. Look for BioInitiative 2012 or https://www.emf-portal.org/en as examples. Many people are ignorant by saying "there is no scientific proof" or "damage only occurs due to thermal effects" -- remember that tobacco was defended for 50+ years, Xray exposure for decades (I remember seeing a foot xray machine at a shoe store when I was a child!) and the arguments ran similarly. It is better to be cautious.
  • We have an electrosensitive person here, so I can tell you that you can significantly reduce the impinging RF radiation by buying a screen mesh cover to place over the smart meter, for about $60. Not perfect, and depending on the geometry of your house, might cause some of the signal to reflect back in, but a simple item to try.
  • Abandon the room that faces the smart meter. Use it for storage, not for your sleeping. You might not be able to repair it sufficiently. Also, all the other RF emitters in your house -- cordless phones, baby monitors, cell phones, wifi, bluetooth can lead to similar reactions.
  • Almost all electric utilities offer you an 'opt-out' electric meter, sometimes for a monthly fee, which would eliminate the RF completely, though other negative aspects would remain, this might be enough to ease the pain.
  • Your terrible sleeping might, or might not, be due to the RF coming from the smart meter. Many houses have electrical problems (generally related to mismanagement of the neutral wiring) that could lead to these problems. This is why a trained building biologist is needed to investigate your particular situation.
  • There are many good support groups that have much empathy for your condition, rather than the harsh antipathy that is commonly found are tech-oriented websites. Do not disbelieve your intuition in this case. Poor sleeping and excessive RF exposure is a quick path to cancer (in part due to the disruption of the melatonin cycle -- much active research is going on). Look for "low emf" or EHS keywords to find. I hope that this unfortunate incident might be the 'wakeup call' that gives you better longterm health.
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    Do you have some links to reliably peer-reviewed meta-analyses to support your conclusions of in vivo harm from low levels of radio frequency energy? (Note that studies at the cell-culture or biomolecular level don't take into account higher-level effects that can influence absorbed dosages.) Note also that only some smart meters work on 900MHz; while 900MHz AMR/AMI isn't at all uncommon, there are AMR/AMI systems working on other RF bands, and also through power-line communications. – ThreePhaseEel Jan 9 at 1:31
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    Also, while the epidemiology for 50/60Hz magnetic fields causing trouble in the human body is relatively weak (if there's an effect, it's small and hard to pull out from all the confounders the studies so far have encountered), you probably should place more emphasis on fixing those mismanaged neutrals, as they can pose problems a bit more...acute than fractional-percentage cancer risk increases. (The NEC in 300.3(B)/310.10(H) prohibits that sort of mismanagement, not for EMF reasons, but because of the fire hazard it poses, due to induction heating of ferrous metal in the loop...) – ThreePhaseEel Jan 9 at 1:34
  • Yes, you are correct ThreePhaseEel, about there being variations in the RF bands selected. You can look at the FCC ID on the 'smart meter' and on the FCC website likely can get a better idea of that particular meter's RF footprint. And it might well be that signalling is done on the wire (using PLC) instead of RF. There are variations. My experience has been with people who react to the RF band used by our local utility (ITrons running 902-928 MHz). – Ken Gartner Jan 10 at 2:49
  • And, again, you are correct about the Neutrals issue being an important imperative. These are tricky to troubleshoot and if the electrician's nose is rubbed in it, they will indeed repair it as it leads to 'objectionable current', a NEC code violation. Still, tracking down whether it is the electrician's fault or a device attached to the electrical (and thus not the electrician's responsibility) is where the sleuthing could use a helping hand. Remediating the RF is something that a normal person can do. – Ken Gartner Jan 10 at 2:54
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    I asked for a meta-analysis, instead of individual studies, a) to avoid the "zillion dueling citations" problem, and b) because for weak effects, individual studies can return false positive results due to the poor signal-to-noise ratioes involved -- meta-analyses are one of the main safeguards against that in modern scientific work. Interesting point on control groups -- AFAIK: most of the studies that have tried to establish an effect from EM fields have been epidemiological studies, which work a bit differently than classical test vs. control comparisons. – ThreePhaseEel Jan 10 at 3:20
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My favorite quote, "I can build anything, if you draw a picture of it on the back of a large enough check."

Can the panel get moved to the garage, yes. But in my opinion it is a waste of money. Buying a new, expensive mattress would help you more.

Some people hang a pyramid shape over their beds and swear it helps them sleep. Nothing anyone says could convince them they are wrong. Because they experience the difference.

If you are this concerned about EMF's then the top five sources of EMF's in your home are laptop computers, tablets, cell phones, hair dryers, and just about any appliance with a motor.

The smart meter on the panel does very little. It transmits for less than a second, once every 15 minutes. Compare that to the cell phone, that is next to your body and constantly transmitting.

I look at it from two different points of view. What is the measurable value of EMF received over a typical day compared to every other source of EMF that day. If I'm on a diet, do I worry more about that one chocolate chip I ate or the Super Size meal I had at the local burger joint.

The second point is what do the professionals say. I know it's become popular to insult every professional group. But do you really think doctors who swore an oath to "do no harm" are trying to cover up a threat from smart meters. Doctors are not trying to make more sick people. I can't find any medical group warning people about the danger from these. And some have spent many years looking for any evidence.

I suggest you buy a new mattress. And if you are still worried, put some foil on the wall between you and the meter (faraday shield). It won't make a difference, but you'll feel like you took some action to reduce the threat. It's also very inexpensive.

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  • The question really isn't about general danger from smart meters, though, it's about lying for 8 hours with your head literally a foot away from the service feeders carrying all the electricity utilized in the whole house. – Craig Aug 4 '17 at 6:29
  • The original post mentioned the threat from the panel and smart meter. I focused on the smart meter because it's the only thing designed to emit EMF. The panel and wires emit relatively nil EMF. There are free aps you can install on your phone to detect EMF. Try it and walk around the house. Stand in front of the panel. Run the microwave. See what effects are measurable. Don't just assume. – Swanson Aug 7 '17 at 18:43
  • I'm not assuming. I explained in my own answer last week that I have personally experienced strong enough emanations from feeder inside EMT conduit that computer equipment that was within a couple of feet of it wouldn't operate correctly and I had to move the equipment. Beyond that, well, I'm really not assuming. ;-) – Craig Aug 7 '17 at 19:41

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