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When patients leave family physician Rohini Kanniganti's office in Boulder, they receive a high five. It's a friendly slap of hands, but also Kanniganti's way of reminding the patient of what she believes are the five keys to great health: sleep, hydration, diet, elimination and play.

In her own home, Kanniganti and her husband, Marc Plinke, gave attention to the first item on the high-five list in an unusual way.

The couple recently finished a nearly two-year renovation on their home on Sumac Avenue in Boulder. It's a net-zero home -- it creates as much or more energy as it uses due to green-design elements, such as solar heating, soy foam insulation, thermal mass construction and water-conserving systems and landscaping.

The home's most unique feature, however, is a rarity in residential building: It has a Faraday cage.

With the exception of one room in the 3,000-square-foot home, the walls, floors, ceilings, windows and doors have a system of connected wire mesh, similar in consistency to the wire mesh on a typical screen door. The purpose is to drastically reduce the home's electromagnetic fields.

Electromagnetic fields have been the subject of much research and controversy during the past 35 years. The invisible fields occur naturally as the result of the Earth's magnetic pull, and are created in abundance from electric devices and pathways. We're inundated with electromagnetic fields daily from electrical wiring, power lines and dozens of electrical devices.


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Some believe prolonged exposure to high-level electromagnetic fields can cause cancer. But Michael Dubson, a senior instructor in the CU physics department says, "(Low-frequency electromagnetic radiation) is harmless unless the intensity is so high that you begin to start heating. But there's no chance that kind of radiation can cause cancer. There's no evidence of that."

Cancer wasn't Kanniganti and Plinke's concern, though.

"For us it was just a quality of sleep issue," says Plinke, an environmental engineer. "I didn't want to inundate our sleep with a lot of electromagnetic fields because it would just energize the brain. At least that made sense to me."

The Faraday cage was discovered by 19th century physicist Michael Faraday. A Faraday cage essentially blocks external electrical fields from an enclosed space. It's the same principle that keeps passengers safe from lightning strikes when they are in an automobile. The lightning won't penetrate the metal enclosed car.

Plinke got the inspiration to create a Faraday cage through most of his home from an experiment in a high school physics class he took years ago. Project manager Olivier Goedert, of Simply Remodeling, had to figure out how to install the caging.

During the research phase, Goedert discovered governments use Faraday cages for privacy purposes. And universities have begun outfitting rooms with Faraday cages to curb would-be cheaters, as cell phone texting is disabled in a Faraday environment.

Information about residential Faraday cages was minimal, however, and Goedert had to figure out how to make it work in the home.

Workers installed the wire mesh between two sheets of drywall on the walls and ceilings in the home. The wire mesh was laid in the cement-like flooring material, too. Installing the caging was relatively inexpensive, since the remodel was already underway, Plinke says.

Plinke estimates it cost less than $2,500 dollars to outfit the home with Faraday caging.

"It really wasn't a lot of trouble to include it in the project," Goedert adds.

One of the unintended consequences of the Faraday caging has been limited cell phone reception in the home. Most of the house is a cell phone dead zone. It's not a bad thing, Plinke discovered, at least according to friends with chatty children.

"A lot of parents have said, 'Just for that purpose alone, it's worth doing this,'" Plinke says. "'If my daughter wasn't locking herself in her room and talking to her friends forever (on a cell phone), I would pay any money.' I just had to laugh."

Visitors to the home -- a warm, inviting dwelling with rounded walls, painted with earth tones and bathed in light -- have called it a quiet space, Plinke says. It's not without noise -- the couple's two children, Sitha, 6, and Roan, 4, often fill the home with laughter and loud noises children make. But there's something peaceful about the home, people say.

That resonates with the home's official name. A plaque bearing the words "Ahimsa Platz" adorns the entryway. It comes from the couple's different traditions -- Kanniganti is from India, Plinke from Germany -- and translates to "peaceful place."

But does minimizing a home's electromagnetic fields with a Faraday cage have any real affect on a human? Does it really make a quieter home? Can it make for a better sleeping environment?

"The basic answer is that we don't understand the effects of electric magnetic fields very well, as far as what they do to biology at what level," says Frank Barnes, a professor of electrical engineering at CU.

Kanniganti and Plinke both have scientific backgrounds, and both understand any evidence of creating a quieter environment with a Faraday cage is anecdotal. But that's fine by them.

They point to the fact the day they moved into the home, Sitha and Roan slept through the night for the first time, and have continued to do so since.

"I feel it when I come back into this house," says Plinke, of returning from travel. "Whenever I come back and sleep here, I wake up in the morning and think, 'That was a good night's sleep.'

"But I'm a scientist, too. It's anecdotal evidence. Who knows what is real and what is not real? It's real to me anyway."

Kanniganti, too, says it's difficult to test how vastly reduced electromagnetic fields in their home may or may not affect the family. At some point, though, it's not about empirical evidence; it's about enjoying the experiment.

"You have to take an evidence-based approach, but even in the lack of evidence, you go for the quality of life," she says. "Beyond that (reducing the electromagnetic fields with a Faraday cage) was really fun."

Contact Mark Collins at 303-473-1369 or BDCTheater@comcast.net.

Archived comments

But wait, there's more!

FCC regulations prohibit interference with radio signals.

blacksho89@yahoo.com

6/5/2009 6:52:15 AM

Oooh, Nice to have enough money to spend on Voodoo science. Don't vaccinate your kids while you are at it.

And make sure never to use a cell phone, a microwave oven or a TV in that house. After all that will bring the waves in.

Still this quote from the story is a really convincing, firm argument:

"It's anecdotal evidence. Who knows what is real and what is not real? It's real to me anyway."

stever23@comcast.net

6/2/2009 9:39:47 AM

It's not Voodoo science. Just because you can't see, smell, or hear it, doesn't mean that it's not capable of causing harm. 100 years ago, no one understood the harmful effects of radon gas but now we mitigate our homes against it regularly. When you sleep, your body produces melatonin, a hormone that your body uses to fight cancer. If you are regularly exposed to a high EMF (electro-magnetic field) while asleep, your body will produce diminished amounts of melatonin and you are more susceptible to cancer as a result. This is particularly true for children. I believe that lowering EMF in the home will become more and more common in the future. Personally, I don't believe that our bodies were designed to be exposed to high levels of EMF for long periods of time. While life without electricity would be next to impossible, there are steps that people can take to lower their home EMF if they are educated. The big power companies do not want people to know about this because it would cause them to have to spend millions of dollars moving power lines away from peoples' homes. Let's see what the science journals say in a few more years. In the meantime, I am happy that I have already taken steps to lower my home's EMF as much as possible.

Eloise

6/2/2009 11:00:39 AM

No shielding for neutrons, cosmic rays, gravity pulses? I can't believe this man is willing to live in such a death-trap.

dave@thewils.net

6/2/2009 11:07:57 AM

Quibble:

"...The home's most unique feature..."

Flash! "unique" never, ever takes a modifier. In today's relativistic world, "unique" is... well, unique. Something either is unique, or it is not.

The grammar police never sleep.

jcotto

6/2/2009 11:23:58 AM

Eloise -

Thanks for the classic "But 100 years we did not know..."

What we do know today, is that life expectancy is higher than ever. Except in third world places which have fewer cell phones, m'wave ovens etc.. So maybe EMF waves are good?

Not to mention that they occur naturally.

As for complaining about power lines, that is so 1990....

I will wait for the replies:

* The study was biased

* How do you know for 100% sure?

* Even if there is a tiny chance, we should avoid it until someone can say 100% for sure it will never ever happen.

I guess I am just a sucker for the big businesses that promote flouride in water and vaccinations.

stever23@comcast.net

6/2/2009 11:30:27 AM

My last physics class was in high school, so experts, please correct me, but I was under the impression that a Faraday cage like this will keep external electromagnetic radiation out (such as radio waves), but won't do much to affect electromagnetic fields - EMFs - basically magnetic fields, like those emanating at a right angle from any wire that has electricity moving through it.

In order to meaningfully reduce THOSE, they basically would have had to turn off the power for their sleeping area, or at least reroute the wires from near their sleeping area. I was under the impression that EMFs attenuate at the square or cube of the distance from the source, so basically any EMF source more than a few feet away has to be high tension line powerful to have any effect.

A nightly trip to the circuit breaker box to flip off the switch to their bedroom would do that far more effectively than a Faraday cage, assuming their heads aren't adjacent to a wall of another room that has live wiring on another circuit.

(I suspect the bulk of the relaxation effect they're feeling is a result of the great sound and vibration insulation they now have, with double drywall everywhere, but I'm well known as a skeptical crank.)

It's interesting, and perhaps telling, that the only paragraph that describes electromagnetic /radiation/, rather than electromagnetic fields, is the one that quotes the CU physics instructor. Perhaps the article author isn't clear on the difference? Or is it me? Enlighten me, wise ones!

johnny.sunshine@gmail.com

6/2/2009 12:04:52 PM

At least they don't have to worry that what they do on their computer can be seen by the spooks with TEMPEST machines parked in vans across the street.

in_phase@juno.com

6/2/2009 12:27:22 PM

johnny.sunshine - It's you. The two phrases describe the identical physical thing.

rmsusa

6/2/2009 12:28:25 PM

OK, gotcha. Still, aren't the EMF created by the wiring and appliances inside the house far greater than anything coming from outside, as long as you're not near a cell tower or high tension line?

johnny.sunshine@gmail.com

6/2/2009 1:09:34 PM

Does this Farraday cage also mean their home is protected and safe from the electro magnetic pulse generated by the h-bomb?

Wow, how 1950's!

"Sure, understanding today's complex world of the future is a little like having bees live in your head. But, there they are."

fgd135

6/2/2009 8:58:57 PM

k00k alert!

Make sure your Tinfoil Hats are secure!

The_Most_Interesting_Man_In_The_World

6/2/2009 9:06:43 PM

A good night's sleep? Surely U jest...I've never NOT had a good night's sleep, whether in the old Baker Hall dorm, in a Tank in Northern Germany or lately in a tent in Iraq. I just close my eyes and.....good night's sleep. These people could be yet another family in "The Goode Family" satire cartoon. But then all of Boulder could star in that one.

BoulderOldTimer

6/3/2009 6:32:38 AM

Of course they belong to "boulder home share" while traveling. I found the space okay, but liked it much better when I filled up the kitchen with burnt meat smoke.

I did find that blasting Megadeth and Motorhead at ear-shattering volume resonated quite well off those walls.

The mesh on the windows was nice too for re-breathing in all the carbon monoxide from the six or seven packs of Kools I smoke every day.

marlboroman

6/3/2009 8:29:25 AM

It must be wonderful that nobody can make or receive cell phone calls. So, your house is sorta like heaven?

Wouldn't it be so weird if a mosquito with West Nile Virus nailed you in your home because you put all that screen wire in the walls and floors ... instead of on the windows?

cholla

6/3/2009 12:31:07 PM

A tin foil hat by any other name......

Canyonrunner

6/3/2009 1:15:37 PM

cholla ***It must be wonderful that nobody can make or receive cell phone calls. So, your house is sorta like heaven?***

Sounds more like hell to me.

rmsusa

6/3/2009 3:24:37 PM

The energy needed to mine, refine, and transport all that metal mesh for such a dubious and unsupported claim of effectiveness has thus voided any 'green' aspect to this home.

More greenwashing for the masses. Cant ya just feel the narcissism tho ? How sweet it must be to be you...

JakPott

6/3/2009 8:55:36 PM

Oh, and be sure to save more water...the city will appreciate using it when they approve more high density residential development (all in the good name of green of course !)

JakPott

6/3/2009 8:59:12 PM

Well, I guess I've lost a potential customer for my special Electroreduc pills. Just one a day will protect you from evil electromagnetic rays for 24 hours. You can have a thirty day supply for the bargain price of 150 dollars. (They only look like aspirin because I have to disguise them to fool the government, who, for some reason, don't want you to know about them.)

birdmother15

6/4/2009 12:43:34 AM

I bet potential Homebuyers will be forming a line around the block when this Farada Cage house goes on the market for sale someday. The realtor can boast that it'll go for a song.

cholla

6/4/2009 7:15:20 AM

Why do people think that it is any different for the high tech industry and the military to use emf/rf shielding for their sensitive equipment, but somehow when an ordinary person uses the same material they are crazy to think it would work?

And why do these articles always find scientists who are industry shills? Perhaps if the writers bothered to check with the scientists who perform the studies that prove that emf/rf is non-thermally biologically active they would get educated instead of brain tumors.

Try one of these scientist to find out what is really going on when those microwaves hit your body -

http://www.bioinitiative.org/participants/index.htm

BioInitiative Report: A Rationale for a Biologically- based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields (ELF and RF)

angelaflynn

6/4/2009 11:03:04 AM

List of BioInitiative Participants

Organizing Committee Members

Carl F. Blackman*, Ph.D.

Founder, Former President and

Full Member of the Bioelectromagnetics Society

Raleigh, NC USA

*opinions expressed are not necessarily those of his employer, the US Environmental Protection Agency

Martin Blank, PhD Associate Professor

Former President and Full Member of Bioelectromagnetics Society

Dept. of Physiology. College of Physicians and Surgeons

Columbia University

New York, NY USA

Prof. Michael Kundi, PhD

Full Member of the Bioelectromagnetics Society

Institute of Environmental Health, Medical University of Vienna

Vienna, Austria

Cindy Sage, MA, Owner

Full Member. Bioelectromagnetics Society

Sage Associates

Santa Barbara, CA USA

Participants

David O. Carpenter, MD

Director, Institute for Health and the Environment

University at Albany East Campus

Rensselaer, NY USA

Zoreh Davanipour. DVM, PhD

Friends Research Institute

Los Angeles, CA USA

David Gee

Coordinator Emerging Issues and Scientific Liaison

Strategic Knowledge and Innovation

European Environmental Agency

Copenhagen, Denmark

Lennart Hardell, MD, PhD, Prof.

Department of Oncology

University Hospital

Orebro, Sweden

Olle Johansson, PhD, Associate Professor

The Experimental Dermatology Unit.

Department of Neuroscience

Karolinska Institute

Stockholm, Sweden

Henry Lai, PhD

Department of Bioengineering

University of Washington

Seattle, Washington USA

Kjell Hansson Mild, PhD, Prof.

Former President and Full Member of Bioelectromagnetics Society

Board Member, European Bioelectromagnetics Society (EBEA)

Umea University, Department of Radiation Physics

Umeå, Sweden

Amy Sage, Research Associate

Sage Associates

Santa Barbara, CA USA

Eugene L. Sobel, PhD

Friends Research Institute

Los Angeles, CA USA

Zhengping Xu, PhD

Guangdi Chen, PhD

Bioelectromagnetics Laboratory,

Zhejiang University School of Medicine

Hangzhou . People's Republic of China

Reviewers (partial)

James B. Burch, PhD

Arnold School of Public Health

University of South Carolina

Columbia, SC USA

Nancy Evans, BS

Health Science Consultant

San Francisco, CA USA

Stanton Glanz, PhD

University of California, San Francisco

Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education

Cardiovascular Research Institute, Institute for Health Policy Studies

San Francisco, CA USA

Denis Henshaw, PhD

Professor of Physics

Human Radiation Effects Group

Wills Physics Laboratory

Bristol University, Bristol, UK

Samuel Milham, MD

Washington State Department of Health (retired)

Olympia, Washington

Louis Slesin, PhD

Microwave News

New York, NY USA

angelaflynn

6/4/2009 11:04:10 AM

That's a smart couple. I have two master's degrees in engineering and health and have taken coures in medical school with medical students. The hardest course I have ever taken is classical electrodynamics in physics with the book by JD Jackson. It requires 3-4 years of calculus and statistics with knowledge of graphing software. Biochemistry and anatomy lab are hard in medical school, but medical school is mostly time consuming memorization. Classical electrodynamics requires extreme math expertise, which many medical students do not have. You just can't memorize it to pass the class. Most of you won't like this book. It's hard.

http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Classical-Electrodynamics/John-David-Jackson/e/9780471309321

physicist

6/4/2009 1:31:29 PM

I rented an EMF meter to test my home, and several neighbors. My solar inverter was producing electromagnetic radiation in my bedroom at 10 to 100 times safe levels. I'm going to hire an electrician to move it to a safer location. I also found an AC adapter next to my bed that was over the safe level, I moved it a few feet away and it's now below safe levels. Other AC adapters in the house were in places where I don't linger for long periods. The microwave produced electromagnetic radiation but within safe limits, as long as I don't stand next to it for long periods. The main sources of electromagnetic radiation in a house are transformers (e.g., AC adapters) and electric motors, e.g., the refrigerator. The power drops off with the distance from the source. I looked into making the house a Faraday cage but it would be expensive (unless you're doing remodeling anyway), for less money you can test your house and move sources of electromagnetic radiation to safer places. It's especially important to make your bed safe, as you're there for more time than anywhere else in the house, and electromagnetic radiation appears to interfere with sleep. Your brain's electrical system operates on different frequencies, depending on your state of consciousness. 2-5 Hertz is sleep, 5-10 relaxation, 10-20 is been awake, etc. Household electricity is at 60 Hz, which would be hyperactive for your brain. It seems plausible that bathing your brain in this electromagnetism at this frequency would interfere with sleep.

kehoe@casafuturatech.com

6/19/2009 8:25:03 AM