Healthy Lighting Choices
This page last updated July 22, 2016.
We recommend that you use incandescent light bulbs (preferably full spectrum) instead of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Incandescent bulbs made with tungsten filaments are highly energy inefficient (90% of the electricity was wasted as heat for the decades that we used them), which is why they are no longer available in stores.
Tungsten filament incandescent light bulbs have been replaced by an array of highly energy efficient light bulbs including compact fluorescent lamps, LEDs and incandescent light bulbs made with a halogen filament.
Each of these light bulbs has its pros and cons, besides cost and how much light they produce. First of all, CFLs contain mercury, making them quite dangerous if they break. See "Broken CFL Cleanup Guidelines" on my website by clicking here. LEDs and halogens have no mercury. There are mercury-free CFLs on the market.
From an EMF standpoint, which is what we are interested in, the main concern we have is whether and how much any of these low energy replacement bulbs produce so-called "dirty electricity," which is the one type of EMF produced by any of these bulbs.
Dirty electricity is defined as harmonics of a fundamental frequency, which is 60 Hz in the case of these bulbs. 60 Hz is the frequency of alternating current (AC) electricity supplied by the power company and carried on the circuits in your house. These harmonics (120 Hz, 180 Hz, 240 Hz, etc.) ride on top of the 60 Hz base frequency. More importantly from a health standpoint, they emit several feet into our rooms, radiating off circuits and AC power cords causing ill health for some people. I discuss dirty electricity in more detail in a separate article, available by clicking here.
As far as lighting choices and dirty electricity is concerned, the reason that certain bulbs create dirty electricity is because these light bulbs do not operate at 120 Volts, and therefore they need a transformer to change that voltage. The transformer inside these bulbs is a chip-based version of the linear transformer used for electronic appliances, such as your cell phone charger, computer or television set. Linear transformers are inside the black plastic box plugged into an outlet, the so-called "wall wart," or in the box in the middle of your laptop AC power cord. They step 120 Volts down to 19 Volts for the laptop or even lower voltage for electronic devices.
The base of a light bulb, however, is too small to house a linear transformer. To change the voltage, manufacturers use small, chip-based transformers that fit into the base of these bulbs. These are called "switched mode power supplies" because they change voltage and they also convert electricity from AC to DC, thereby switching the mode of the power because the bulb itself runs on low voltage DC.
The problem with switched mode power supplies is that they reduce voltage and covert from AC to DC by squaring off the sine wave of 60 Hz AC electricity, thereby producing harmonics of dirty electricity as a side effect. These harmonics then radiate off circuits in your walls running throughout the house and from AC power cords that you plug into outlets. These harmonics even travel on incoming power from dimmer switches, CFLs and other sources of dirty electricity in your neighbors' homes, moving from house to house.
Some say just plug in filters into various outlets around the house to control dirty electricity. We recommend removing and replacing sources of dirty electricity in the first place wherever possible, and then use filters for what comes in from outside the house, if the reading is high enough. This is discussed below.
As for lighting, as mentioned above, some energy-efficient bulbs cause dirty electricity, and some do not. In general, halogen incandescent light bulbs are completely clean because they run straight off 120 Volts, and have no switched mode power supply in them. You an purchase them now at grocery stores. The halogen incandescent light bulbs sold by GE say, "Uses 28% less energy" at the top, and at the bottom, you will see the words, "Halogen Bulbs." See them by clicking here. You can purchase them at grocery stores, or from Amazon by clicking here. This link is for a Reveal version of halogen bulbs, meaning it has a light spectrum more like that of the sun.
Use these bulbs wherever you used tungsten incandescent light bulbs. They screw into what is called an Edison light socket, which we have had for 100 years with tungsten filament incandescent light bulbs.
There are other applications where halogens are used that do produce a significant amount of dirty electricity. These are generally fixtures that have transformers and are usually custom installed by an electrician, such as under counter lighting. They can include halogen spot lights in overhead can fixtures, particularly the kind that push into the fixture.
As for LEDs, some can be screwed into an Edison light socket while others come in strip lighting or other configurations. Since LED bulbs have a switched mode power supply, they can produces dirty electricity but not always. You can purchase a Stetzer microsurge tester (High Frequency Pollution Meter) from LessEMF in New York (Catalogue #A803-NA; 888-537-7363; order by clicking here) for $99 or a Greenwave EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) Meter for $149 from Greenwave (measures higher amounts of dirty electricity than Stetzer meter, has sound, gives percentage of reduction when you plug in a Greenwave filter; order by clicking here) and test LED and CFL light bulbs for dirty electricity yourself.
First purchase an outlet-to-lampholder adapter from a hardware store or Amazon to plug into an extension cord. Plug the Stetzer microsurge or Greenwave EMI tester into another outlet at the end of the same extension cord with the bulb. Unscrew the bulb you are testing a few turns (thereby making it dark) to get a baseline reading of dirty electricity on the circuit you are plugged into. Then screw in the LED or CFL light bulb and see if the measurement of dirty electricity increases or not. If not, it is clean and you can go ahead and use the bulb. If it does, we would not recommend that you use it.
You cannot use this apparatus to test push-in LED bulbs. This method only works for LED or any other bulb you want to test that screws into a regular Edison light bulb socket. You can have your electrical contractor arrange a set-up whereby he or she can hardwire a push-in fixture that can test various low voltage bulbs for dirty electricity, using the EMI meters listed above.
For under cabinet lighting, you can purchase fixtures that contain longer incandescent bulbs, like piano lights. These have no magnetic or radio frequency fields because they have no transformers or ballasts. You can also use transformer-less strip LED lamps.
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