Last Updated on April 14, 2021
From smartphones to smart homes—which include smart meters—smart devices are electronics that can wirelessly transmit data. Basically, these devices can communicate with each other similar to humans, hence the “smart” component.
However, different from humans talking to each other, smart devices must emit EMF radiation to communicate.
EMF radiation, short for Electromagnetic Frequency radiation, is a range of low-frequency emissions coming from all electronic devices, large and small. Two types of radiation emit from smart devices specifically: Extremely Low Frequency radiation (ELF), which is a by-product of a power source, and Radio Frequency radiation (RF), which comes from the wireless data transmission.
Health effects stemming from these non-ionizing radiations come from long-term damage to a cell and its DNA. This happens after chronic exposure wears down the cell’s protective exterior membrane, allowing excessive calcium to penetrate the cell & create chemical changes.
This emission is exponentially stronger the closer you are to the EMF source.
In terms of smart devices, are smart meters a source you should be worried about? Is your smart meter subjecting you to more or less EMF emissions than smaller smart devices, like your cell phone?
What are Smart Meters?
First off, what is a smart meter?
A smart meter is an electronic device on the outside of your residence that is connected to your home’s electrical system. It measures and records information such as consumption of electricity, voltage levels, current, and power factor.
The electrical wiring for your entire home merges at this meter. The meter monitors the power flowing through these wires, then transmits this data wirelessly to both the consumer and the power company.
The electrical consumption information is needed by the consumer for monitoring, and the electrical company for billing.
Smart Meter Usage
In the U.S., smart meters began replacing regular meters in 2006. By sending messages to the power company wirelessly, it eliminates the need for employees to physically check each home’s meter.
California’s Pacific Gas & Electric began the introduction of smart meters by rolling out 9 million units in Northern California. In the last fifteen years, the number of units has grown to nearly 80 million—almost half of electricity users in the U.S. are using a type of smart meter, with the rest still using analog meters.
Smart meter usage varies greatly between states.
Washington D.C. has the highest percentage of users: an outstanding 97% of electrical consumers have some form of advanced metering infrastructure. On the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia, New York, and New Jersey all reported less than 1% of their populations using a smart meter. The variation between states is due in part to state regulations and legislation.
Wireless EMF Radiation Emissions from Smart Meters
Smart meter transmissions closely match the technologies of a cell phone, pager, satellite, radio, power lines (PLC), WiFi or Internet (TCP/IP). These are all types of Radio Frequency (RF) radiation, used in wireless smart devices.
But, unlike cellular devices that are signaling quite frequently, smart meters only transmit RF signals 1% of the time, some devices even less than that.
The only time smart meters transmit RF signals for an extended period of time is during maintenance mode, in which the smart meter is updating information and can be transmitting RF signals for up to an hour. Even then, it is no match for your cell phone pinging constantly in your hand for most hours of the day.
Time and distance are the two most important factors in EMF radiation exposure. In terms of distance, a smart meter is typically located on the exterior of your house, and oftentimes away from your typical living space.
Looking at some of the numbers, U.S.-style smart meters during a transmission period have a power density of 100 to 400 mW/m2 at 1 meter away. Increase the distance to 3 meters, and the power density decreases to 10 to 40 mW/m2.
So Are Smart Meters Safe?
Well, there are still some concerns with smart meters, including its location and the ELF emissions coming from them.
If you have a smart meter on the wall right up against your bedroom or living space, you might be increasing your exposure risk. Especially while you sleep, it is important to keep your bedroom free of EMF radiation. In some apartment complexes, there may be a wall of smart meters near your apartment measuring power consumption for the whole building, and this increased exposure could be potentially harmful.
ELF Emissions From A Meter’s Wiring
RF exposure from your smart meter is very low, since the signals are infrequent. However, a different frequency, called Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) radiation is emitted 24/7 by the wiring going to both smart meters and regular meters. ELF is an even lower frequency than RF, but it still shows some researched health effects with chronic exposure.
The meter itself is just a small box monitoring power levels. Its ELF emissions are 2 milligauss or less. However, the meter connects to a box that the main house wiring passes through. This wire contains the power for your entire house, as mentioned earlier.
This wire emits ELF at around 10-15 milligauss, regardless of whether it’s connected to a smart meter or analog meter. This is relatively high for ELF (the EPA recommends under 4 milligauss), but as long as you are a couple feet away, ELF exposure drops exponentially.
What makes ELF different from RF is that it does not travel from one device to another as an electromagnetic frequency. It just emanates out from anything with an electrical current, as a by-product. This means that it is a much lower power level, and it doesn’t travel nearly as far.
Think of a water gun versus a constant water leak: the gun is more powerful and can travel farther, but if you are really close to the source, the water leak might get you more wet than one spray from a water gun.
This means that even though smart meters are only sending wireless signals 1% of the time, they are constantly emitting ELF radiation. This, coupled with having a smart meter very close to where you sleep or spend a lot of your time, could have biological effects on your body.
Research Showing Health Concerns
In 2012, the state of Vermont released a report addressing health concerns related to smart meters as they were introduced in the state. Part of that report included radiation measurements from residential smart meters.
This is what the health department found:
“Measurements of RFR during transmission ranged from 50 to 140 μW/cm2on contact with the smart meter in the vicinity of its transmitting antenna. Measurements at 12 inchesfrom the smart meter during transmission ranged between 10 and 50 μW/cm2. Measurements at distances of three feet or more away from the smart meter were at or near the background level.”
With the implementation of smart meters happening rapidly, oftentimes without household occupants being aware of the new technology, many people are reporting new health problems, ranging from sleep issues to cardiac problems to skin rashes.
Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome (EHS) sufferers may have a more severe reaction to the new smart meters, since these individuals are already prone to symptoms and sickness from EMFs. Being within close proximity to the meters, especially over long periods of time, may cause health problems.
A Bit of Perspective
Smart meters emit RF frequencies at similar power levels of cell phones, but only 1% of the time. That being said, your cell phone is a much bigger source of RF Exposure than your smart meter.
In terms of ELF frequencies, the meter itself (smart and analog) is below the EPA’s exposure limit of 4 milligauss. The wiring going into and out of the meter emits 10-15 milligauss. While this is higher than the EPA limit, by the time the radiation reaches your body, it should be low enough to not be much of a concern due to the exponential decrease in emissions as you get farther away from a device. Usually, by 5 feet, your exposure is low enough to not be a problem.
To compare to other ELF-emitting household devices, the smart meter is pretty low on the list in terms of ELF exposure.
Reducing Your Smart Meter Exposure
Simply put, smart meters are not a primary source of EMF radiation in your home. However, if the smart meter is very close to your bed or somewhere you spend a lot of time, it might be a problem for you. If you suffer from EMF Hypersensitivity, smart meters can affect you more than the average person.
We advise as a conservative precaution to sleep at least 5 feet (preferably 10 feet) away from a smart meter. If it is right on the other side of your bedroom wall, you can ask for regular meter replacement to help decrease exposure levels. This might require an extra fee to install the analog meter, and for monthly monitoring.
Additionally, you can put a shielding material like aluminum or copper directly on the wall with the wiring going to the smart meter, so that the radiation does not penetrate into your immediate living space. The shielding material should be able to block ELF, not just RF.
For a higher cost, you can get an electrician to move your smart meter to a different part of your house, but it probably wouldn’t be worth the expense, since it is not a very prominent source of EMF. In our hyper-connected digital world, smart meters are not something you should be overly worried about.