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Harmonics, or whole-number multiples (/echoes) of the input frequency, are triggered by non-linear (non-smooth) Current usage. The most obvious culprits are: fluorescent lighting (of any type), dimmer Switches, SPS (switching power supplies) or SMPS (switch-mode power supplies), and LED or low voltage lighting fed off of 120 VAC (both of which are fed by SMPS), and they have some peculiar properties:

  1. Since alternating power occurs as bipolar bursts of power, each burst will produce a ringing of the EMF spectrum (trigger many frequencies simultaneously), whose frequency extent will vary with the energy content of the burst, although caused by individual bursts.
  2. Since the bursts are quick enough in time, the harmonics may appear as a continuous stream, when detected by simple devices such as an AM radio, or even sophisticated ones like a spectrum analyzer,
  3. Their aggregate waveforms are able to penetrate insulating barriers more easily.

Details on fluorescent lighting, in case you lost your notes . . .

Since an electron in an atom has both mass and motion, it contains two types of energy. By virtue of its motion the electron contains kinetic energy. Due to its position it also contains potential energy. The total energy contained by an electron (kinetic plus potential) is the factor which determines the radius of the electron orbit. In order for an electron to remain in this orbit, it must neither gain nor lose energy.

One accepted theory proposes the existence of light as tiny packets of energy called PHOTONS. Photons can contain various quantities of energy. The amount depends upon the color of the light involved. Should a photon of sufficient energy collide with an orbital electron, the electron will absorb the photon's energy, as shown below left. The electron, which now has a greater than normal amount of energy, will jump to a new orbit farther from the nucleus. The first new orbit to which the electron can jump has a radius four times as large as the radius of the original orbit. Had the electron received a greater amount of energy, the next possible orbit to which it could jump would have a radius nine times the original. Thus, each orbit may be considered to represent one of a large number of energy levels that the electron may attain. It must be emphasized that the electron cannot jump to just any orbit. The electron will remain in its lowest orbit until a sufficient amount of energy is available, at which time the electron will accept the energy and jump to one of a series of permissible orbits. An electron cannot exist in the space between energy levels. This indicates that the electron will not accept a photon of energy unless it contains enough energy to elevate itself to one of the higher energy levels. Heat energy and collisions with other particles, or electric current, can also cause the electrons to jump orbits, and establish light emissions.

Once the electron has been elevated to an energy level higher than the lowest possible energy level, the atom is said to be in an excited state. The electron will not remain in this excited condition for more than a fraction of a second before it will radiate the excess energy and return to a lower energy orbit, as shown above right. To illustrate this principle, assume that a normal electron has just received a photon of energy sufficient to raise it from the first to the third energy level. In a short period of time the electron may jump back to the first level emitting a new photon identical to the one it received.

A second alternative would be for the electron to return to the lower level in two jumps; from the third to the second, and then from the second to the first. In this case the electron would emit two photons, one for each jump. Each of these photons would have less energy than the original photon which excited the electron.

This principle is used in the fluorescent light where ultraviolet light photons (from the de-excitation of the mercury or neon vapor atoms), which are not visible to the human eye, bombard a phosphor coating on the inside of the glass tube. The phosphor electrons undergo a similar process, and in returning to their normal orbits emit photons of light that are visible, which in essence equates to a shift of emitted frequencies. By using the proper chemicals for the phosphor coating, any color of light may be obtained, including white.

The net result, from a bird's eye view, is a light source that is energy efficient, because once the threshold is crossed for the current to flow due to arcing, it is limited by external electrical / electronic components. But:

  1. Since the gas emissions do not fully quench before the next burst of power, the emissions appear continuous, unless the tube is reaching end-of-life.
  2. Since the excitation and de-excitation are statistical occurrence, there is in addition to luminous emissions, emissions lower in frequency, in the fadio frequency region.
  3. Since the required current does not resemble the applied voltage, a stream of harmonics ensues with each burst of current used.

For those who haven't caught on yet, the process described above is ionization and de-ionization in a plasma (electrically conductive gas), occurring with only about 80 volts or so. Certain physicists would have you believe ionization requires zillions of volts . . . power systems' alternating fields introduce currents within our bodies, not unlike those within the plasma just described. But no, no, no, we're not really being "ionized," so please don't use the term unless we're talking high-energy particle physics!

The ease of barrier penetration is employed in TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators) units that are used to alleviate pain. This is an example of a controlled and beneficial biological electrical application. Similar rapid transitions are employed in TASER guns, used by law enforcement to inflict pain and immobilize. The main difference between the two is the magnitude of the voltage transitions. Many harmonics produced by common residential electrical devices ride on the 60 Hz voltage and can likewise penetrate the skin and interfere with the cns (central nervous system). The cns performs muscle control by electrical pulses (action potential) that are characteristic to the electrochemical messages constantly occurring within the body. When an electrical pulse (or pulses) of similar waveform or repetition (read frequency) is (are) able to enter the highly conductive structure below the skin, interference in the form of irritation, pain, or outright failure to control physical activity may occur. Other pulses wholly within the brain can similarly be interfered with. When these harmonic emissions have a convenient carrier, such as a whole-house alternating electric or magnetic field, then these emissions become immediate and whole-body exposure concerns (a former client wished to use a digital widescreen television, but due to the switching power supply's rapid transitions, and the home's electric fields from structural cavity wiring (Romex) acting as carriers, she could not tolerate it (it was almost as if the emissions were occurring within her anywhere inside the home)). These are examples of uncontrolled and detrimental biological electrical interference.

While on the topic of barrier penetration, it must be observed that our skin is typically a good electrical insulator. However, capacitors (essentially two conductive plates separated by an insulator) are used to block DC, but not AC. When AC is applied to a capacitor, the alternating voltage on the one plate it is applied appears on the other plate as well. That being said, since we are typically immersed in a whole-house electric field, the same mechansim is playing out internal to our bodies. In contrast, live-line work employs Faraday suits for those doing the work, and the suit is an exclusion device, covering the employee's entire body and equalizing any possible voltage from any one part of the body to another. In a residential environment, however, voltage sources abound in three dimensions, have different polarities, and different intensities depending on distance, causing not only skin penetration but voltage differentials across the body that can be perceived instantly by some individuals.

Note in the first sketch at right the applied voltage at 60 Hz, and the effect on its waveform of nonlinear current drawn from it. Within the engineered limitations of any install, you should be able to turn everything on and have about the same 120V you started out with, and this is true, within about 3% of the 120V. As a result, the frequency spectrum below the waveform shows a most prominent 60 Hz, and a small contribution from the harmonics of 60 Hz.

Note in the second sketch the current waveform of a nonlinear device. Note that while in sync with the applied voltage, it is quite different. When you look at its frequency spectrum you see that the 60 Hz appears to be "incidental" when you see the size of all the harmonics of 60 Hz. Although for voltage the harmonic distortion (or total harmonic distortion / THD), relative to the applied waveform, is usually no higher than about 3%, for current it can be upwards of 50%. This is a good thing, because electric fields are prevalent in most living spaces in N America, if not from structural cavity wiring, then from appliance cordage, whereas magnetic fields produced by current are the exception rather than the rule. If there is a magnetic field due to a wiring error, its magnetic field may be biologically most irritating. Some of the bioeffects are suggested in the sketch below.

Harmonics associated with Voltage Harmonics associated with Current

A subtle note of interest is that some "experts" try to identify the level of electrical "dirt" using an oscilloscope to display a waveform. They then employ a high pass filter, because they've bought into the idea that only faster harmonics are relevant, and display a second waveform, smaller and fuzzier, on top of the first. As you note on the two sketches to the right an appropriate evaluation display should include not only the waveform, but a frequency spectrum, the latter shown in much greater detail below with a black background. Note in that detailed sketch the harmonics of greatest strength, and those we may be most responsive to, are closest to the 60 Hz fundamental. These "expert" measurement schemes with the high pass filter and an oscilloscope completely overlook these harmonics, and give the impression of talent to the uninformed, when in fact they need serious technical reeducation. More appropriate visual displays include simulatenous waveform and spectrum displays, such as those shown in the Solar-Benefits document linked in the home page.

Some of these Harmonic Emissions can usually and easily be detected with an AM radio. A dimmer in use will produce this type of electrical emission 120 times per second (100 times per second outside the USA) and may appear continuous, in time, and frequency, throughout the AM spectrum, blanketing all frequencies in an otherwise quiet background. Some additional thoughts on using an AM radio are located further down the page on detection of SMPS emissions. Although the AM radio gives a glimpse of the higher end of the harmoncis spectrum, a glance at the graph below should highlight a disturbing presence. That being frequencies slower than 60 Hz. Some fo these are associated with earthquakes, and some clients noted feeling their floor shaking, followed by observation of wiring in the floor directly beneath them, brain waves, production of seizures, etc. Power harmonics are caused by successive current demand on each 1/2 cycle, so they occur as trains of harmonics 120 times per second. Since the moment the current begins to flow during each 1/2 cycle is not exactly identical as the previous, when viewed in real-time frequency spectrum displays show a vertical wobble for every harmonic. The mere fact that they can be seen immediately leads to the conclusion that they are slower than about 30 Hz, the presistence of the human eye. Anything faster than 30 Hz would be perceived as constant.

Harmonics and part of their range

Although Harmonics are mostly associated with current (consisting of as much as 50%), due to Ohm's Law a marginal voltage signature of these harmonics is produced at the electric panels and then propagated out on all other circuits on the same bus. Nonetheless, the harmonics voltage signature is typically no more than about 3%. Depending on the presence and strength of any locally produced magnetic field, and the presence and strength of the harmonic voltage signature, the AM radio may be reacting to either the magnetic or electric field harmonics signature. Depending on the type of wiring used, and a few key measurements, it will be obvious which is which.

Harmonics in a typical circuit

Dwelling a bit more on Ohm's Law, consider a typical residential circuit shown, the nonlinear load, a CFL, is placed at the end of the circuit. The impact on the voltage gradually reduces on its way to the source. That's because Ohm's Law deals with a voltage produced across a conductor from the source to the load due to its resistance and current flow. At the point of use, there is the greatest resistance between the CFL and the source. Should the CFL be placed halfway in the circuit, the gradually reduced voltage impact would only exist between it and the panel. In the other direction, the voltage impact would be greatest and without reduction, because that is not where the current is flowing through.

This has two implications. First, if you are dealing with a charlatan "inspector," it is likely he/she will go from room to room and measure the varying presence of electrical "dirt" at most outlets, with some meter that gets plugged into them. This is a waste of time, and evidence that they do not know the basics of electrical fundamentals. Funds paid to such a person will determine how much of a fool you've been made of, depending on the amount.

Second, anything further from the CFL, in the direction away from the panel, as if the CFL was plugged halfway in the circuit, or worst case scenario, into the first outlet near the panel, will experience the same THD along that entire section of circuit. This is most relevant in the case of a digital power meter, because it will have a decreasing impact on voltage on the way to the transformer, but everything indoors will have the same THD as at the point where the meter draws its power. Since this is central to every circuit in a home, every circuit will be impacted to the same extent as at the point of use. While most consumers may be concerned about the RF emissions from a digital mater, these are generally directed outward from the home, and can barely be detected indoors. In contrast the harmonics from these digital devices can be most relevant, depending on the level of the meter's onboard harmonics filtering, or lack thereof.

"Smart" or Demand Metering

Although digital or time-of-day-consumption-recording meters seem at present to some to be evil incarnate, these "smart" or demand metering or automated meter reading (AMR) has been around since long before personal computers came along. They have been used by the electric utilities to monitor large customer usage to identify their peak power usage times and duration, reactive power content, their total consumption for revenue purposes, and to coordinate additional power generation as needed to meet demand. These applications consisted of dial-up connections where a computer would dial through a voice-grade phone line that was connected to a meter with a modem, and once a connection was made, the various data points requested were downloaded to the big mothership. For those old enough to remember, Internet access used to be pretty much the same.

However, the desire by some for consumer usage information, and the consumer desire for lower utility rates, have cornered the utilities into identifying the means of satisfying both needs by reducing personnel (meter readers), and rolling out large-scale application of automated metering. While this automated metering can be applied to water, gas, electric, and other services limited only by the imagination of the design engineer, the ones of most interest to the reader seem to be those applied to electric power usage, which will be the focus here (the concepts described apply equally to all utilities' AMR, except for metering on the powerline). Bear in mind, that unless you are fully disconnected from the infrastructure grid, you have a contract for services with several utilities. This contract may severely limit your desire of not having automated metering applied to your services. While their use poses valid privacy concerns, whereby your usage can be tracked to identify your daily activities with excellent accuracy, that is entirely another matter beyond the scope of this document. Many permutations of AMR exist, in a non-exhaustive list as: 1) wired to the power system with direct modulation, 2) wired to the power system via powerline carrier, 3) wired via telephone line, 4) wireless activated by drive-by (Mobile AMR), 5) wireless by peer-to-peer (mesh) networking. Any of these can provide data collected daily, hourly, minute by minute, or every data collector's dream (not presently available, but on the drawing board) - real-time data.

One of the early consumer incarnation of automated meter reading (AMR) was with the Turtle AMR, whereby a module on the meter would impress digital data right onto the power wiring. The primary frequency was in the order of 5 to 9.5 Hz and was either coded as a morse-type intermittent signal, or continuous and modulated with the desired data. Many users in a geographical area meant that there were many frequencies within that range in existence at any one time. Graphically it would look like the sketch below. I believe application of this form of AMR is waning, because data transport is slow.

Turtle AMR

Note that the graphical display on an oscilloscope would only consist of the blue trace, whose peak value reaches 170 V, on either side of zero, depending on whether that particular peak is positive or negative. The Turtle AMR signal consists of a clipping of that peak below 170 volts, such that over time, the clipping or non-clipping would equate to digital data at whatever the chosen frequency happens to be. The clipping action is highlighted here by my inserted wave-peak connections to show the two frequency scheme, the 60 Hz power and the 6 Hz AMR.

There are some valid concerns here. Namely that the frequency used for data cartage is within the range of human brain waves, and since it is directly impressed on the power wiring, its conveyance is not only toward the electrical substation data collection point, but also toward the indoor living spaces. Considering that more than about 90% of N American homes use Romex wiring, a wire that allows the voltage to produce electric fields indoors, and since the strongest signal level is at the user's residence, allows the immediate conclusion that the AMR data frequencies are immediately available to the consumer as a whole-body exposure via transformer action, by way of the electric (or electrostatic) field, as highlighted below.

Simplified Transformer Action

Note that in a typical home there are many wires scattered about, sometimes resembling the bars of a birdcage, all energized and emitting electric fields 24/7. This sketch only depicts one partial loop to demonstrate that encircling the body and causing transformer action, whereby the exposed subject experiences internal voltages and currents that mimic the original signal, is downright easy. Critics will immediately argue that there's not enough signal to elicit biological response. However, the body can respond to the frequencies as well as the intensity, so "windowing" effects can be identified, even at very low levels.

In all of this, bear in mind that the entire gist is to perform the same function in a less expensive way - we wanted it this way, and therefore the utilities are constrained into providing it this way. While this may be a good motive, the consequences may be undesirable, and once in motion, there may be no reverting back as utilities cannot (and will do their utmost to not) cater to each individual's desires or needs, as this would cause cost increases that would have to be passed on to the consumers, them being us.

Some of the variants of automated metering are:

We now come to wireless AMR, whose data cartage speeds are much, much faster.

Fixed AMR is / was designed to be available to send data 24/7 to a central collecting point on a polled basis, similar to a cellular tower polling a couple of hundred cell phones in a recurring sequence. The data polling must of necessity be infrequent due to the limited storage of any data collection device to collect data on a predetermined basis, lest the recording device become overloaded and stop recording, or lose the oldest data as it recycles storage. Data storage increases the cost of the data collection metering, and there is no continuous monitoring of data because it is a technical impossibility, even in a "digital" world. The best one can achieve is data collected every 5 seconds perhaps, and even that loads up data storage quickly. A simple solution to download more data and restart the data collection cycle to poll the metering on a more frequent basis. So if you were told that the data is polled once a month or once a week, you may wish to consider that it is being polled every couple of hours or faster.

A more recent concern with mesh AMR, which is becoming ubiquitous in some regions, is the effect their SMPS power source may have on the occupants. There are at least three issues with SMPS:

  1. A no-impact AMR metering scheme would be the one long employed by the utility with large usage customers, with a voice-grade telephone line to each meter (also easy to implement as most consumers already (and still) have hard-wire phone lines), but this goes against the grain of efforts to pursue the path of least resistance.

  2. BPL metering would employ the BPL carrier that is anywhere between about 50 KHz and 500 KHz. The digital data would be impressed upon this higher frequency carrier, and data cartage speed is fast compared to data directly modulated onto wiring as in the Turtle described above. Considering the previous elaboration of electric field presence indoors, we now possibly have this higher frequency present indoors. The body is mostly transparent to frequencies in this range, and the modulation scheme may be complex enough that the body's response, if there is one, may be hard to predict or categorize.

  3. Mobile AMR involves an RF receiver within the meter that is always listening. When an operator comes driving by, the operator's equipment will be broadcasting a series of keying codes specific to the route traveled, and when in sufficiently close proximity, the meter's receiver keys the transmitter and send the data to the mobile operator's electronics. The frequency will vary by vintage of the AMR component's manufacture, but most likely is faster than 100 MHz. The data is infrequently keyed, is of low intensity, and while more economical than walk-by operators, is not as economical as operator-less metering.

  4. Fixed AMR or wireless and operator-less metering is the least expensive, after the cost of the initial roll out. This type uses frequencies typically in the upper hundred MHz, perhaps close to, or even identical to, cellular frequencies. Some use 900 MHz or so, while others use 2.4 GHZ, which is non-licensed, as it was initially intended for ISM (Industrial Scientific and Medical) usage. The next time you get a chance to look at a microwave oven up close, look at its back, and you'll see a label identifying its operating frequency as 2.4 GHz. Why that's the same as my wireless router! Surprised?

  5. Mesh AMR is the type where AMR units talk to each other locally, perhaps to limit the transmit power requirement and extend battery life, or perhaps to reduce the number of wireless antenna installations (also reducing the number of residential objections to such contruction).

    1. the units use fast-frequency electrical switching in the kHz range, possibly within the hearing range of humans or animals, causing audible irritation or torment;
    2. the units cause a stream of harmonics on the residential wiring, which may act as a carrier to bring them about throughout the living spaces;
    3. they use RF to communicate, where the pulsing nature and/or the repetition rate of the RF may be an issue, as it has very steep on/off transitions and may occur within the hearing range (20 - 20,000 Hz), and it so happens that humans and animals are most responsive to these lower frequencies.

The faster data is collected and passed on, the more data can be collect and processed. The data collected can quickly identify living habits of the user, and open them up for pointed marketing from the utility or those to whom the data is sold. The data can be sold to whatever market is available. Can you picture your every action being processed, by an unseeing unfeeling machine, that can determine based on even just the amount of power used, and the time of its occurrence, and the usage of water, and its occurrence, what you are doing in your private residence minute by minute? Is that invasion of privacy?

By necessity. this document can only present the highlights of AMR. The latest and loudest objections being the presence of RF with the AMR. The power levels are obviously below the thermal threshold, so the FCC is out of the loop. If there is genuine biological response, then it most likely is associated with the type of modulation, or some other aspect. Is the actual digital data the problem? Not likely, as the modulation schemes are complex and would appear to our bodies as electrical "noise." Is the rapid-fire turn-on turn-off the problem? That is a possibility, as rapid electrical transitions are associated with the presence of many harmonic frequencies (whole number multiples of the fundamental frequency used), constituting harmonics emissions." These electrical transitions are also be available through the indoor power system in a fashion similar to the Turtle example up above. When one considers that the landscape of the future looks like a wireless "mesh of meshes" for many utilities, the prospect of electrical "silence" becomes more and more elusive.

Should you wish to attempt to keep your home, neighborhood, or town AMR-free, then your only recourse may be your elected officials or the boards that have jurisdiction over the various utilities. You can state your desire, or demand, to not have AMR installed, realizing that it will in the end cost you more to keep the human meter readers employed.

Unfortunately, harmonics may also be provided with the supply voltage from the utility, depite the reduction of impact from each customer's usage on the way to the supply transformer. While an IEEE suggested limit is 3% for any one harmonic, and 5% for an aggregate sum, designated as THD (Total Harmonic Distortion (from the ideal / smooth 60 Hz 120 V sine wave)), the level may be significantly higher. The same IEEE standard (519) recognizes: "the responsibility that users have not to degrade the voltage of the utility serving other users by requiring nonlinear currents from the utility. It also recognizes the responsibility of the utilities to provide users with close to a sine wave of voltage." My measurement of THD in the incoming voltage with a Picoscope was over 5% at client's residence, yet the utility engineer, supported by a $10,000+ Dranetz could not determine any to be over 3%. Data falsification due to vested interest? Operator error?

While harmonic emissions are easily controllable at the source, or by appropriate filtering, some unscrupulous marketers are selling plug-in "filters" of various sizes with the claim to "clean" "dirty" electricity. While clean electricity is continuously varying with time, and in and of itself is an irritant, harmonic energy riding on the AC can be especially irritating. However, indiscriminately installing filters without investigating the residence's electrical system, and verifying there are no wiring errors, will cause more harm than good. Interestingly, these consumer-applied "filters" produce harmonics of their own. So their installation is a mixed effect, in that some are reduced, some are not impacted, and some are increased.

Fluorescent lighting has been around abundantly since the 1940s. They are a primary source of non-linear current usage. This is intimately associated with an ongoing stream of Harmonics (whole-number multiples of the input frequency). Within the last twenty years or so, perhaps less, some individuals have begun to address this as "dirty" electricity, with the immediate implication that they have a filter they can sell you to "clean" it up.


By exposure to Harmonics, the central nervous system may meet with electrical waveforms that have similarities to its own messaging, causing interference (pain, irritation, etc.). In reality any system that allows alternating electric or magnetic fields (the carrier of the electrical "dirt") to occur in free space has the same "dirty" characteristics, even if it is an absolutely smooth (sinusoidal) waveform. So electrical "dirt" is just a marketing name for a feature of the electrical system that has been in existence since its inception, and buying some gimmicky "filters" will not "harmonize, or clean" your living space from it / them.

With the advent of modern electrical devices, many are found to produce lots of electrical "jitter" / waveform distortion (due to non-linear current consumption), or what I will refer to as "electrical noise", but more classically defined as EMI (ElectroMagnetic Interference).

Characteristics of SMPS (Switch-Mode Power Supplies)

A transformer is composed of two or more wire windings. In general one is called the primary, and all the others are called the secondaries. When a voltage is applied to the primary wires, a current will flow, producing a magnetic field that envelops the secondaries. When the primary voltage and current are alternating, or continuously changing with time, the secondaries will produce alternating voltages, that when connected to a suitable load will produce desired currents. Great effort is made to ensure that there is the greatest amount of coupling between the windings to maximize efficiency. Some of these can be small, as the ones powering small appliances, while some can be as large as a house and require forced cooling (those needed to power a town). Their emissions consist of a magnetic field at the exact frequency of excitation. The span of this field may be a few inches for the smaller units.

SMPS make use of the concept that if one increases the frequency of transformer excitation, then the size of the transformer can decrease dramatically. A direct application of transformer size reduction is in aircraft, which use 400 Hz, instead of 50 or 60 Hz. However, the transformer in smaller power supplies is rapidly being miniaturized in many applications by SMPS, the transformer used to power a CFL is about the size of a chick pea.

In order to do this, there are necessary electronics to convert the commonly available alternating power to DC, within the base of the CFL, because the electronics require DC to operate and produce the needed (faster than 60 Hz) oscillations, typically chosen to be above the hearing range (somewhere between 20 to 40 kHz.). Conversion from AC to DC is mostly a noise-free process. After the rectifiers is a capacitor that serves as energy storage. This storage capacitor charges up ridiculously fast, producing copious amounts of harmonics of the supply AC frequency, because it causes a less than millisecond non-linear inrush of current every 1/2 cycle as it charges. The resulting harmonics can span the entire frequency range of 60 Hz to the MHz region, and generally only the odd harmonics will be present.

Where the supply labeling notes they will work with any input from 100 to 240 V AC, this immediately suggests a SMPS. "Smart Meter" SMPS use the same wide range of input voltages, making their design universal and applicable globally. The issue with this may have to do with the voltage values available to the SMPS as DC. When the AC is converted to DC, the DC value climbs to the peak value of the AC voltage. For 120 that would be 170 V. For 240 that would be 340 V peak. Thus the instantaneous spikes generated from the charging of the DC-storage capacitor will have much steeper rise time, especially if powered by 240 V, covering a much greater span of harmonics reaching into the RF region, even when the smart meter is not transmitting data, even though the power used by the SMPS transformer may only be a few watts.

By Ohm's law such an instantaneous current demand causes an instantaneous voltage to appear on the energized supply wire (120 V or 240 V) that reduces the available voltage, while simultaneously causing an instantaneous voltage to appear on the return / neutral wire electrically elevating it higher than zero volts (if used on 120 systems). By the same law, if there is any distance between the point of origin in the residence and the supply transformer, then every neutral wire in the residence will be affected, as every energized wire on the same bus as the supply wire. What this translates into, is that a single local electrical noise source can become a whole-house electrical noise source. Where for small appliance SMPS this may mean a noise source associated with 1/2 of the indoor electrical distribution (since it would use 120 V, or 1/2 of the available supplies), for smart meter SMPS this may mean a noise source associated with every energized wire (if the meter uses 240V as the source).

One of these SMPS is installed in the AMR metering, and "ravaging the senses" of the occupants. While there may be a kernel of truth to the highlighted portion of that statement, its impact needs to be compared to other residential SMPS use. While a typical AMR SMPS may only need as little as 5 or 10 watts of power, a common PC SMPS may use as much as 50 watts, and although the meter's SMPS may be detectable everywhere within the residence, it may be of minor impact relative to all the other customer-owned sources, with the caveat being that the variable of 120 or 240 as the source voltage may make a great difference in harmonic availability throughout a residence, as well as the frequency span of those harmonics. As just previously stated, small transformers are going by way of history and being miniaturized into SMPS. If you are reading this online, your computer is most likely using an SMPS, instead of running on battery. Your phone answering machine may have an SMPS. Your cell-phone battery charger is one, etc. The list goes on.

Inexpensive Detection of SMPS

The way to identify whether a wall-wart is a transformer or an SMPS is to use an AM radio. SMPS emissions easily traverse into the reception range of an AM radio and beyond, when close to the source (they saturate the spectrum between the SMPS AC supply frequency and 1.7 Mhz, and somewhere beyond). Turning on an AM radio and approaching a real transformer, there should be no detectable difference in the received background noise. If the unit is an SMPS, the radio will easily be swamped with noise / static on all frequencies on approach to the unit. In order to be accurate, however, one needs to understand their AM radio. It should be battery-powered for maximum portability, it should be analog rather than digital (that is with a dial that lets you tune between stations),and the user should be familiar with its behavior between received stations, which is where one would use it to hunt down EMI. Some AM radios are absolutely silent between stations, some are not, and this varies by engineering design. To find out which is which, take your AM radio for a walk in the park and get familiar with its behavior distant from things electrical. Then take it home and locate the various noise sources available in your residence, and you will be surprised, as some are not easily eradicated, as some may be embedded within your installed oven, or other permanently attached appliances.

Cautiously Getting Free Help

The local electric utilities are obligated to provide the user with clean alternating power, generally within +/- 5% of 120 V, and generally free of offending EMI. If there is offending EMI, they have an obligation to fix it, at their own expense, until the customer is satisfied. This is generally written within their tariffs relating to "power quality," region by region. If you are certain you have isolated, or otherwise de-energized all customer-owned SMPS, and there is still EMI coming from the utility, as notable from the breaker panel being a "screamer" even with the breakers open / off, then by all means call your electric utility and take them to task. What EMI consists of and what it can offend varies greatly, and telling them it hurts your brain will get you nowhere quick. But getting familiar with the lowest intensity AM broadcasts (those from far away), and having intolerable interference with their reception will "get their goat." They may suggest listening to noise-free FM, but who knew that those sensitives were aficionados of far-away AM? And shamelessly borrowing from Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant Massacree, where he was talking about the Draft: "You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them. And if three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. They may think it's an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may thinks it's a movement." You have lots of power, when you cautiously use their own guidelines against them, and a movement is easy to start if enough individuals participate. If you find this material useful, share it with others, and help them along and yourself. But realizing that utilities have more pressing issues, like emergencies, be kind to them, but persistent until you get satisfaction. If it turns out to be your "smart" meter, they may have no choice but to replace it with a conventional one. Be alert also, that if you call them and they identify your equipment as being the cause, your credibility and their obligation toward you may evaporate instantly. Also be alert to the possibility that getting the utility involved, and several customers being supplied in common, a blatant EMI producer may turn out to be one of your close neighbors, who may be unpleasantly alerted by the electric utility of the need to temporarily disconnect them to identify the source of electrical noise. This could shift some neighbors away from being friendly. Act tactfully!

Issues with dirty electricity "filters"

I am going to use an analogy with water that may hopefully clear up the matter.

We've lived in our home for over 20 years, and for 19 of them our water supply line meandered for about 300' through two other properties, before it met up with the water main in the street. 60 years ago, there may not have been houses on the lots where our pipe meandered through.

Be that as it may, one problem was that whenever our neighbor flushed their toilet, we would lose pressure. This is akin to a machine shop or garage down the street turning on some large compressor, and your voltage (and all lights in use) dim, and slowly come back up in intensity. Locally within your own home, you should be able to notice this every time the refrigerator comes on.

Another problem was that the 300' of pipe was internally flaking. That is, pipe slag would come into our water system. This was particularly annoying, because the pipe slag would land in the clothes washer, and cause rust stains on our clothes. So I installed a 5 micron filter to remove the pipe slag.

I could have used a Parallel "filter," as shown below.

Parallel in piping

This is the same way that all dirty electricity filters (Stetzer's, Greenwave's, and Quiet Island's Capacitive), and now "dissipative" filters (DNA's) are installed. Even assuming there is some flow through the "filter" (as with the leaky water valve above), I still cannot imagine for the life of me that the pipe slag would have been magically absorbed exclusively into the filter, and not also traveled through the other pipes _ and the clothes washer. However, all these electric "filter" marketers are profusely asserting that this is exactly what happens with electrical "dirt." These claims defy the laws of physics, and the real world, and are more than anything faith-based gimmicks or "magic." I have other words for them, but I'm trying to remain polite.

Instead, I installed my water filter in a Series arrangement, as below.

Serial / Series in piping

And you know what? The pipe slag was stopped entirely in the filter. Because we had an ongoing collection of this slag, we had to change the filter on a regular basis. An appropriate electrical filter in this application would not need to be changed, unless the exterior contributions dramatically change for the worse. Unfortunately, a proper electrical filter of this type can cost thousands, and would not eliminate your own contributions, shared internally within your home. Call it capacitive, dissipative, or whatever, this is a scam instituted against the unwary.

Stetzer came up with the novel GS unit for "dirty" electricity, and only his meter that can read them. Convenient.

Greenwave pointed out the obvious, that GS units don't exist in the real world, and promoted an alternative measurement scheme (scam) of their own, mV (millivolts).

IBE (the Institute of Building Biology and Ecology) initially bought into the "filter" concept because they thought there was money in it, and since they've always been hurting for money, and since many of their students are technically "green," the latter bought into it, lock, stock, and barrel. So hiring a Building Biologist (BBEC) to assess, and possibly suggest solutions for "dirty" electricity is a throw of the dice, unless they've received additional technical training on their own. However, once certificated, these individuals have no interest to be further educated. If you are a client, and after having read these pages meet up with one of these and find dissatisfaction, set them straight. Who knows, they may choose additional knowledge, some here free for the taking. In any case, unfortunately, the alternative is to buy into some of these "filters" on your own, and hope for the best.

There is a standard to measure and quantify harmonics / "de," but that is not what IBE teaches, either because they don't know, or because they think their students are too ignorant to be taught this concept.

Capacitve filter Harmonics

Shown above is a spectrum of the current through a capacitive "filter" on a clean system, showing that it introduces "dirty electricity" all by its lonesome. That's because the necessary geometries used in the construction of these devices, makes them complex resonant circuits, and being fed pulsed energy, a resonant circuits rings electrically, like a bell does mechanically. But since the 60 Hz system sends pulses to these devices 120 times per second, the ringing continues, and when looked at in real-time on a spectrum analyzer, the frequency presence of the harmonics appears "constant." I don't see the DNA "filters" to be anything different than other "capacitive filters," other than flowery "dissipative" wording. They, like others selling these "filters," simply see a money stream from a bunch of suckers (gullible public), and want their share of it.

The behavior of devices marketed as "dirty electricity filters," which are nothing more than capacitors, when exposed to a changing waveform, is to convert the impressed changing voltage to changing current flow, the amount of current flow determined by its electrical capacitance value. Additionally, since no capacitor is perfect, such a conversion will add harmonics that are solely generated by the capacitor. This current is then partially impressed onto the electrical system ground (ESG) / neutral, which, albeit "grounded," will develop a voltage directly proportional to the amount of current used (whether from capacitor filters alone or other devices), due to the physics relationship described by Ohm's Law, that is now made available through every cable within a residence, as described above.

ESG with respect to an IEG

So a capacitor filter, by whatever name, will suppress some harmonics, and add some of its own, which is not a "cleaning" effect.

To the right is a graph of Voltage measured on the ESG compared to an Isolated Earth Ground (IEG), in a residence with several digital or otherwise non-linear devices (note there is still a faint resemblance to 60 Hz) - your guess as to how much "dirt" (harmonics) there is. So anyone who tries to sell you a capacitor "filter," without telling you all of the implications, is uneducated at best, or a robber waiting for a chance to take your hard-earned resources at worst.

This EMI is impressed onto the supporting power system. The power system, being what it is, allows circulating currents that should not exist, but do, because of wiring errors, redundant neutral current paths, and system degradation over time. Since the typical electrical system is not subject to regular inspections, these problems can exist for years (or decades) undetected, possibly causing biological damage, or possibly more immediate physical damage (such as death) due to maintenance on related systems that "unexpectedly" carry some of the shared neutral current.

The associated problems are typically 1) Neutral to Neutral wiring errors (with any type of wiring system, including knob-and-tube), 2) Neutral to Ground wiring errors (with either Romex (NM-xx-x) or BX/MC), or 3) conventionally shared Neutral paths between adjoining users (with any type of wiring).

Graphically, isolated detached errors between two or more circuits exist as follows:
(with only the neutral (return) wire shown for clarity)

basic wiring error
wiring error effects

The magnetic field (when there is one) will exist and broadcast into free space regardless of the wire type. This shows a wiring error regarding lighting, which may be more common than for power circuits. Nonetheless due to uncle Floyd and cousin Jack doing "creative wiring" over the years, any type (and mixture) of circuit can be involved.

Field Types

Wiring Scheme Normal Operation Emissions Wiring Errors
Knob-and-Tube wide-area Electric and Magnetic wide-area Electric and Magnetic
NM / Romex wide-area Electric wide-area Electric and Magnetic
BX / MC No emissions wide-area magnetic
Redundant Neutrals wide-area magnetic wide-area magnetic

If there is EMI associated with a cable, it will broadcast unimpeded into free space via other interconnected circuits as an electric field component if the wiring type is either knob-and-tube or NM (Romex), even when those other circuits are not in use. If the circuits are in use, then the EMI will additionally become manifest as a magnetic field component regardless of the wire type installed. Of note should be that harmonics on voltage (producing an electric field) may only constitue 3 to 5% of the electric field, whereas the harmonics on current (producing a magnetic field) may constitute as much as 50% of the magnetic field, making the latter much more irritating (or capable of irritating), when it occurs. All "dirty" electricity filters, by definition, only address the voltage harmonic content (that 3 to 5%, the tip of the iceberg, as it were), suggesting that somehow muddling an effect onto it, makes all things better.

emc filter

A proper EMC (electromagnetic compatibility) filter is shown above. The filters commonly sold as "dirty" electricity filters, are simply the "across the line" capacitor as shown in the sketch, a rather incomplete application. Proper filter application would have the power (supply and return wiring) go through the filter, not in parallel with it, as with all capacitive "filters" sold. If any type of capacitive filter is installed in an attempt to ameliorate the EMI, without the knowledge that there is a wiring error, then the formerly intermittent field will exist as a magnetic field component continuously regardless of the type of wire, and as an electric field component, depending on the wire type. That is because a capacitive filter will, by virtue of its physical characteristics, change a portion of the voltage pulsations (depending on frequency) impinging on it to current pulsations. So the process fundamentally involves a conversion, not an elimination.

Various capacitive filters are available. Some allow five amps per filter, some allow one amp per filter, and others allow a current based on whatever the individual capacitance value is, and how many are installed in the circuit. Thus the magnetic field presence can vary by the various factors just noted.

Capacitors used for Power-Factor Correction

A characteristic of alternating power is that the power conveyance system (the transmission and distribution systems) and load systems are somewhat elastic, in that as voltage is applied the current does not flow immediately at the same instant, but a short time after (somewhere between 1 and 3 milliseconds). While this may seem like a small value, and it is, it can have a big financial impact on the producer and the user. The reason is that ideally both want the same amount of power produced as is being used, instantly and continuously. However, the small amount of time delay allows circulating currents known as volt-amperes reactive (VARs) which, depending on their amount (and whether they lag, or lead the applied voltage) can help provide system stability, reduce system efficiency, or bring about a system collapse.

The time delay occurs because most user loads have inductive elements. That is, the electrical qualities that foster the buildup of voltage but hamper the passage of current (such as motors or transformers). With too much inductance, the voltage begins to drop because there is too much opposition to flow between the source and the user. One of the remedies is to add capacitive elements. These devices foster the passage of current, but hamper the buildup of voltage. As capacitive elements compensate for the inductive elements, the conveyance system becomes more efficient, and the voltage goes back up. Power System Operators (of which I was one for six years) customarily bring large capacitors (7,200V to 230,000V) online regulraly and daily to boost voltage when it begins to sag, and do the opposite when it begins to go too high.

Electricians have known about capacitive elements for a long time, as they are used to start motors, and are used to improve the efficiency of the power usage in large buildings. Even in a private residence of substantial size (5000 square feet, or 400+ amps load service rating typically, or bigger) capacitive elements may be added to improve the usage efficiency. With improved efficiency, and reduced time delay between voltage and current, the user is closer to consuming more real power (watts), and causing less reactive power (VARs).

However, the insertion of capacitive elements (capacitors, "filters", etc.) within a home of average size is not warranted, as no improvement in power usage is realized, and owing to the built-in problems that may have gone unnoticed for years, the situation will most likely be made worse rather than better. Considering that electric and magnetic components have biological impact capability, it is unconscionable for any individual or firm to market them without disclosing the very likely negative impact.

Granted, in the example shown it would be difficult to apply capacitive filters because the circuits are strictly for lighting, but mixed-use (power and lighting) circuits exist often enough that any one circuit may have filter attachment capability (outlets).

neutral shared with neighbors

The above sketch shows the interconnection between the electrical system ground, which can consist of any number of metallic structures in contact with the soil, and a metallic water pipe. Note that a magnetic field depicted exists regardless of whether the house shown is using any power (if it is located in a residential neighborhood where several homes are fed off the same power transformer). When the house shown begins to use power, it may add to, or subtract from the current and magnetic field, depending on which bus is flowing power at any moment, because the polarities may be opposite or alike.

The size of the field may be sufficient to engulf the entire house.

Adding any capacitive filter into any circuit, will have the effect of producing a continuous current flow which will be split between the electrical system neutral and the water pipe. If there is no other NET (uncanceled) current in existence, one will be created. If there is NET current in existence, then the newly added one will either add to, or subtract from it, possibly varying in direction and intensity from any moment in time to the next, depending on the polarity of the electric source (which will determine in which direction the current is generally flowing).

In any case, the current produced by insertion of a capacitor of any size is non-Linear. That is, if you feed it 60 Hz (50 Hz) voltage, the current produced has many frequency components in addition to the original frequency. In light of this, application of a capacitor is not inconsequential, it makes the electricity, it is meant to clean up, "dirtier!"

plumbing currents

When several homes are fed from the same power transformer as above, even if the water pipe and electrical service are located on the same side of the house (an ideal situation that could reduce the wide-area impact of split neutral currents), a magnetic field may exist from water piping in the street that could negate any of the considerations presented here, in that even neutral isolation would not accomplish a substantial reduction of the magnetic field presence.

While the insertion of any capacitive filter may have benefits in reducing some type of high frequency (HF) EMI, as is their claim, their insertion needs to be carefully considered in light of any possible wiring errors, or even normal installation characteristics (as shown with the shared (or interconnected) neutrals) which could produce undesired magnetic fields. Another "trivial" detail not usually mentioned is that their insertion can cause a fire due to harmonic resonance.

As a general rule capacitive filter installation is not recommended,
without a thorough evaluation of the electrical system to

1) identify and eliminate any wiring errors, and

2) not recommended if the neutral current takes many divergent paths as shown in the house with the electrical service at one end of the house and the water pipe at the other end, and

3) not recommended if there are any other local options (like removing dimmer switches, replacing compact fluorescents or fluorescents in general with standard lamps, reducing the number of digital devices, etc.) available to eliminate the problem.

Irritating harmonic or transient phenomena can manifest themselves through the auditory, visual, tactile senses, or directly by EMF interaction with the cns.

When one considers the benefit of shielding from artificial sources, one needs to consider the detriment of also shielding from the natural planetary electrical background.

Some Indoor Solutions, in order of increasing cost:
1) replace any compact fluorescent lamps with incandescent ones,
2) limit the use of conventional fluorescent lamps, or replace with incandescent ones,
3) limit dimmer switch usage,
4) replace dimmer switches with conventional ones,
5) limit usage of line-powered digital devices (SMPS), including computers,
6) When using digital devices such as computers, use on battery, or use shielded cords,
7) use 120 V Quartz Halogen lamps (modern incandescents), commonly available in various wattage sizes

Some Outdoor Solutions:
1) identify sources and if owned by the electric utility, have them repair same.