The Downside to Smart Thermostats (and many other smart appliances): Invisible Radiation

Saving money is still a big draw for new products today… save X dollars per month on your electric bill, X dollars per month on your phone bill, etc.  According to many reviews like this one from a prominent online tech magazine, the first “pro” of using a smart thermostat is saving up to 10% on your electric bill.  In the end, it says the pros of using a smart thermostat outweigh the cons. However, the article does not mention Electromagnetic (EMF) Radiation at all.  Is EMF a problem with smart thermostats?

If you haven’t heard of EMF or don’t really know what it is, we’ve written an article to explain that.  EMF radiation, also called dirty electricity, is a byproduct of the many digital and electrical  appliances around our homes, from the microwave oven to our cell phone chargers, and especially wi-fi and all the appliances that communicate with it.  If you’re interested in knowing what some of the highest emitting EMF (but non-smart) appliances are in your home, check out this very informative article.  Spoiler alert: for this homeowner, they were the induction stove and microwave oven.  

Some smart thermostats are made to work with smart home managers.  The problem with smart home managers such as Google Nest is that they are always “on”, monitoring sounds and words so that they can pick up on keywords and execute commands quickly.  This analyzation of words often happens on the cloud because the Nest device isn’t powerful enough to do it locally.  Therefore there is constant upstream and downstream of information from the Google servers. This creates a huge radiation field of exposure, even when it is not actively executing commands. (Do Google Nest Devices Emit EMF Radiation), which proclaims to be “the voice of IT leadership”, includes smart thermostats in a list of appliances that it might not be smart to live with!  In their article “Smart devices may be hazardous to your health”, they write, “Experts are already begging to warn us about the push towards adoption of smart devices at home and at work. WHO has expressed the need for caution siting corroborating evidence of possible radiation induced cancer. Working in smart buildings containing smart devices controlling HVAC, smart thermostats, smart locks, smart cameras, smart computers, smart printers, smart appliances, smart robots, smart, smart, smart may not be smart at all. “

Barrie Trower, physicist and Royal Navy microwave weapons expert on EMF radiation, is very adamant about keeping babies and children away from wi-fi.  In this video, beginning at 3:50, he describes how his physician asked him to investigate whether microwave radiation can cause “cot deaths” (infant deaths).  (Yes, it can.)  He goes on to state that “anyone who puts wi-fi into a school should be locked up for the rest of their life…they’re not fit to walk on the surface of this planet.  Because they haven’t looked at the research, and whatever incentives they have, it is not worth the genetic problems that parents are going to face with their children at birth…You are condemning the families and the children to a life of absolute hell.”  He’s referring to the damage that wi-fi causes to children and their future children because of radiation through damage of DNA in the eggs in young girls’ ovaries.  When an expert in technology that has been used as weapons (he cites several examples of low-frequency attacks on people) uses such strong language, it’s wise to pay attention!

Dave Asprey, who is the father of “biohacking”, a bestselling author and creator of Bulletproof Diet and Bulletproof Coffee, hit the nail on the head when he describes the information about EMFs today being in one of two camps: 

  1. EMFs are harmful and will give you cancer; or
  2. EMFs are totally harmless and those hippies are just trying to scare you

Dave’s in camp #1 by the way, and after describing what EMF radiation can do to your body, puts it bluntly:  Best case scenario (but still bad), your cells are under stress and you’re tired all the time. Worst case scenario, your cells’ DNA get damaged and things go haywire. We’re talking genetic mutations and cancer.  Dave’s advice for using smart thermostats?  If you already have one, “switch to a programmable version that won’t affect your quality of life in the least. Really, you’ll get used to it.”

Here’s Camp 2’s reasoning: according to the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada, which is in agreement with the World Health Organization (WHO), “approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years…Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.”  According to Health Canada, “Research has shown that EMFs from electrical devices and power lines can cause weak electric currents to flow through the human body. However, these currents are much smaller than those produced naturally by your brain, nerves and heart, and are not associated with any known health risks.”

Unfortunately, the “weak electric currents” induced by EMFs are exactly the mechanism that scientists have discovered to cause DNA damage.  Electromagnetic field can activate  voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) in the plasma membrane of cells, which cause large amounts of intracellular calcium (Ca2+) are produced. This excess calcium within the cells produces a chain of chemical reactions leading to the production of free radicals and oxidative stress. The free radicals then culminate in DNA damage.  (Electromagnetic fields act via activation of voltage-gated calcium channels to produce beneficial or adverse effects)  This effect was discovered in 2013, and in 2016, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) published an article affirming that long-term exposures to magnetic fields can lead to both useful applications in treating diseases and to undesired health effects, including changing the growth rate of cells and increased levels of reactive oxygen species and radicals, which have an association with aging, cancers, and Alzheimer’s.  The problem is that these effects are very dependent on frequency, amplitude and time.  The study of EMF radiation is a complex intersection of physics and biology, and when studies find biological effects, they must then be replicated, but if just one parameter is changed slightly, the biological effect can be lost.  In addition, funding is not always available to repeat the studies to verify their results.  Jeromy Johnson, an independent researcher who has had personal health consequences from EMFs, has written an excellent article on this quandary.  He recognizes that there is yet one more reason for industry, government and world agencies to neglect scientific evidence: it may contradict their agenda.   Here are some examples from his paper: 

Aside from EMF radiation, we also note that smart thermostats have one more unintended negative consequence: a 2022 study shows that “despite lowering overall energy consumption, smart thermostat control algorithms can severely increase the winter peak heating demand through load synchronization during the early morning hours, when solar energy is unavailable.”  Although it’s only a simulated effect found by the study, that could be a big problem in this age of extreme weather and overloaded power grids.  It also contradicts the agenda of governments like Ontario to incentivize use of smart thermostats (previous paragraph).   

Where regulatory agencies impose EMF “exposure limits” by time average, this is also a problem, because time-weighted averages are not relevant to the possibility of DNA damage by high-power peaks and spikes.  According to Mr. Pall, who authored the breakthrough study on voltage-gated calcium channels (above), it’s like saying a bullet is not deadly if you average its force over half an hour. 

“You go to the regulatory agency and say, ‘I’m afraid I’m gonna get shot by a high-powered rifle,’” Mr. Pall said as an example, “and their response to you is, ‘Oh, you don’t need to worry about it. Because if you average the forces on your body over a six-minute period or a 30-minute period, the average intensity is dropped by a factor of 100 million or whatever, so it can’t possibly do anything.’” (Artificial vs. Natural EMFs: Why Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Cellphones Are Damaging to Cells)

Phew, that’s a lot of politics…for those who decide they want to save money in more old-fashioned ways, you can cut your home energy use by 50 percent or more without wireless.  Here are the steps from

  1. Turn off lights you’re not using.  You can put reminders near the door or switches until everyone gets into that habit.
  2. Schedule an energy audit, which are frequently done by local utility companies for free, or with a paid professional for a more comprehensive audit
  3. Make sure to run the dishwasher on the “air-dry” setting instead of “dry”, which uses a lot of electricity.
  4. Turn off or unplug electronics, as even “energy saver” options waste much more energy when it’s on all day than if you really turn it off.   When it’s off, you can verify that it’s not creating a “phantom load” by using a Kill-A-Watt monitor.  Simply plug the appliance into the Kill-A-Watt, and plug that into the wall, and you can see volts, amps and wattage while the appliance is on, off or sleeping.  Kill-A-Watt also lets you monitor your electrical usage by day, week, month, or year (leave the appliance plugged into the monitor to get a better picture).
  5. Wash clothes in cold water:  this one makes sense for mildly dirty clothes as many detergents are formulated to work well in cold water.  However, if you’re trying to get rid of dust mites or mold on certain items, hot water is better.
  6. Install a programmable thermostat that doesn’t require wifi.  “Almost half of American households already have programmable thermostats, but only one quarter of their owners actually use them—a big mistake, because they can save you a lot on heating and cooling costs. A programmable thermostat allows you to automate when your heating or cooling systems come on and off—for example, it can be programmed to come on to warm the house shortly before you get up, and to automatically shut off during the hours when you are sleeping or away at work. It will pay for itself in energy savings within a year.” (More Steps to Energy Efficiency)  Honeywell has a series of programmable thermostats that “work” with you: the most flexible one allows you to program each day of the week separately if you have an untraditional work week, or if you have a traditional workweek, the budget version programs in a 5 day-2 day fashion.
  7. Install Energy-Star rated ceiling fans in your most-used rooms.  Ceiling fans can help make your heating and cooling systems more efficient by increasing air circulation, which cools people and pets by evaporation and evens out the temperature in your space.

(We don’t recommend their suggestion to close vents in rooms you’re not using, because it stops air circulation and can promote mold.)

At HypoAir, we’re all for convenience and saving money, but only when it is non-toxic and safe for our families.  Essentially, we do recommend that you do your homework on the effects of EMF radiation before choosing to install a smart thermostat or any other “smart” device in your home, and do your best to limit your childrens’ access to cell phones, microwaves and smart appliances.  Sadly, what we don’t know can hurt us, so caution seems to be the best prescription!