How to Measure EMF
for measuring electromagnetic fields (EMFs)
Left to Right: gaussmeter, AM radio, RF meter, Stetzer meter
Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are invisible, but exist everywhere on Earth. To find them, we use instruments.
There are many types of EMF and no single instrument can measure them all. This article explains what frequencies are and presents low-cost instruments which measure different forms of EMF. It is necessary to use various types of instruments to get a more complete picture of the EMF in a particular place. After that, the question of how much EMF is acceptable is looked into, together with where to check for EMF.
Keywords: How to measure EMF, gaussmeter, TriField meter upgrade, How to measure RF, How to measure dirty electricity, frequency spectrum, limits
EMF radiation is mainly characterized by its frequency and its strength.  Some equipment radiates frequencies to communicate, while other equipment radiates unintentionally. Equipment that communicates wirelessly, such as cell phones and FM radio transmitters, use a variety of frequencies. It is sort of like a symphony orchestra, where some instruments use low-frequency base sounds (like a cello), while others use a higher frequency sound (like a piccolo flute).
The frequency is measured in the unit hertz, which means “cycles per second”. Most people are familiar with hertz from radios—if an FM station advertises that people can find them at “97.9 on the dial,” that means they broadcast on the frequency of 97.9 megahertz (or 97,900,000 hertz). The EMF transmitted by this station is received by radios and turned into music and speech. However, an FM radio is not good at telling us how strong the signal is, or what goes on across the dial at the same time. To measure the radiation from an FM radio station, as well as from cell phone base stations, Wi-Fi/WLAN networks, etc., we’ll need an RF meter.
An electrical wire in a house also broadcasts a signal, though with a much lower frequency than a radio station. Here it sends out the frequency 60 hertz (50 hertz in some countries), which an FM radio cannot pick up, but a gauss meter can. The wires in a house are much weaker transmitters than those on a tower, but they are also much closer.
If there is a lot of “dirty electricity” on the household wiring, the wires will radiate these frequencies as well. The gaussmeter is largely blind to dirty electricity, so another meter is needed to measure that.
If you are trying to measure a radar station, you’ll first need to know more about it, as they can use a very wide range of frequencies. Air traffic radars typically use around 330 MHz, 2.8 GHz or 5.0 GHz, depending on whether they are for guiding aircraft for landing, air traffic control, etc. Radars used on civilian ships use around 9.2 GHz, while military ships have radars using frequencies from 1.2 GHz up to 18 GHz, with much higher frequencies used for some weapons systems.
All sorts of electronic devices broadcast at different frequencies; most do it on many frequencies at the same time.
For a person who is sensitive to EMF, it is important to know the full picture if trying to minimize exposures to EMF.
The figure on page two gives an overview of the frequency bands, and what they are used for.
The gauss meter
The gauss meter measures the strength of the low-frequency EMF radiation, like that coming from electrical wires (50 or 60 hertz). The better models can also show some higher frequencies (thousands of hertz, kilohertz), which come from some electronic appliances, such as power supplies.
In North America, a gauss meter measures the strength of the radiation in the unit milligauss. In other countries, microtesla is used. (1 microtesla = 10 milligauss).
Cheaper gauss meters are usually only able to show EMF levels down to about one milligauss (0.1 microtesla). That is barely acceptable for healthy people, and inadequate for people sensitive to EMF. People who are sensitive to EMF are often affected by levels below 0.1 milligauss, sometimes even below 0.01 milligauss (0.001 microtesla, 1 nanotesla).
A cost-effective gaussmeter is the TriField meter from Alpha Labs, which is available from several mail-order sources, such as NEEDS and Less EMF (see vendor list).
The TriField meter can measure down to 0.1 milligauss and does not contain any digital electronics, so it is tolerable to use, even by the most sensitive people. It has three built-in sensors, so it automatically measures in all three dimensions. Some cheaper models have only one sensor and must be turned around to find the highest reading. This instrument can also measure electrical fields and radio waves, but it is not sensitive enough on those settings to be of any value.
For a general survey of an area, simply walk around with the meter in hand and notice what the levels are.
Areas where much time is spent, such as the bed, the favorite chair and the dining and computer areas should be checked more thoroughly. In these places of longer exposure times, it is important to check for EMF where all the body parts will be, both the feet, the head, and in between. The field can be much stronger on the floor than higher up—either because of wires under the floor, or perhaps from electronic equipment placed on the floor.
The human body appears to pick up EMF in all body parts, but some areas, such as the head, may be more sensitive.
Other places to check with a gauss meter are near the circuit breakers and the electrical meter, space heaters, electric stoves and water heater, and various electronic equipment—including those little plug-in transformers. And remember to check on the other side of the wall from an electrical device. Finally, check the car with the engine running, especially the dashboard and the foot well.
TriField meter with upgrade
By request from the community of electrically sensitive people, Alpha Labs designed an upgrade to their TriField meter, that makes it 100 times as sensitive. This allows it to measure down to 0.001 milligauss (1 microgauss,
This upgrade is only available directly from Alpha Labs, which also sells enhanced meters directly. The upgrade costs about $70 and requires the meter to be mailed to Alpha Labs. Call first (see below). There are no other meters available in this price range with this level of sensitivity.
The upgraded TriField meter is shown in the picture. The wand is an external probe, which does the measuring when plugged in. When not plugged in, the meter works with the standard sensitivity.
With the probe plugged in, the scale on the meter must be divided by 100 when read. For instance, if the instrument knob is turned to “MAGNETIC (0-3 range)” and the dial shows “1” on the middle scale, it is actually 0.01 milligauss. If it shows “0.6”, that means 0.006 milligauss (which is also 6 microgauss).
If the knob is set at “MAGNETIC (0-100 range)” and the dial points to “4” on the top scale, that means the EMF level is 0.04 milligauss (or 40 micro gauss).
The external probe is a little wand. To save money and space, it measures only in one direction. To get an accurate measurement, it is necessary to perform three measurements at each location.
To measure with the wand, first place the wand horizontally and read off the number, once the needle has stabilized. It may be best to remove your hands
from the wand, as any slight movement affects the reading. Then turn the wand ninety degrees in either direction and do another reading.
Finally, stand the wand vertically and do a third reading. The highest reading is the correct measurement for this location.
One of the things this very sensitive wand can pick up is ground currents, which is electricity which runs in the soil. Some people refer to ground currents as “stray voltage” or “stray currents”. Ground currents typically come from grounding rods on electrical power poles, transformers and in buildings. They can be found hundreds of yards away from any human structure.
Large power lines can sometimes be picked up more than a mile away, in very rural areas.
When measuring ground currents, the reading will be the same whether the probe is lying on the ground, or is several feet above it. The EMF-level does not rapidly diminish with distance, as it does with a point source.
The AM radio
To get an idea of what EMF lurks in the middle range of frequencies, a simple AM radio can be used. It does not provide a reading on a dial, but instead it allows one to hear EMF emissions from electronic equipment, electrical motors, arcing wires, GFCI outlets and much more, most of which a gauss meter cannot pick up.
A cheap AM radio is best, as more sophisticated models have circuitry to suppress static—and static is what we want to pick up. Radios with digital controls are unlikely to be useful here. A simple, cheap battery-powered hand held radio is a good choice (I use a Radio Shack model 12-586, which costs about $15).
Simply turn on the radio and set the dial in an area where the least amount of noise is heard, and where there is nothing received from any station. The top and bottom of the dial range usually works very well. Then walk around and put the radio close to electrical outlets in the wall, exposed wires, fluorescent lights, telephone cords, any electronic equipment, GFCI-protected outlets in the bathroom and kitchen, and so forth.
You can use the AM radio to detect dirty electricity by holding it up against electrical wires that are not near any electronic device. Try to open the breaker panel and hold it against the breakers, but not next to the electrical meter. Be aware that American houses newer than 2008 will have an AFCI breaker, which radiates and creates dirty electricity.
The radio will only pick up static when it is close to the source in most cases. Humans may be more sensitive than the radio and need to keep a greater distance.
Try to move the station dial to the other end of the scale and check around again. Some equipment may sound differently or louder on a different frequency setting.
If the speaker is put against a wall or some equipment, the sound coming from it may be reflected back and sound louder than it is, so you may think there is an EMF problem where there isn’t. It is thus best to hold the radio so the speaker is pointed towards you and away from the item being checked.
Metallic surfaces act like antennas. When the AM radio is held near a metallic surface, it may pick up a far-away radio station. When touching metal, crackles may be heard. This is normal and does not mean there is a problem. The metal doesn’t somehow gather and enhance the EMF that was already there; it merely reflects and channels it.
Radio frequency meter
In the high-frequency bands we encounter a soup of EMF from near and far. In our own homes, there may be cordless phones, microwave oven, computers and wireless networks. Some of these emissions can also come in from neighboring buildings. Right outside may be wireless smart meters for your gas, water and electricity. From afar, transmission towers of many kinds contribute to the overall level of electro-smog.
Today, there are virtually no areas free from radio frequency radiation. The question is only how much there is.
A great number of instruments are available to warn us about radio frequency EMF, from a simple pocket-device that beeps when the level rises, to an instrument one can point towards a source which will display what frequencies are being transmitted on.
There are several instruments available below $200 that offer a good compromise between cost, sensitivity and features. They use a variety of units, such as microwatts-per-square-meter (mW/m2), volts-per-meter (V/m), etc. Some instruments have a button to choose the unit.
It is important to get a meter that is as sensitive as you are. Look for sensitivity down to at least 0.1 mW/m2 (0.00001 mW/cm2).
The RF meter should also cover a good range of frequencies, to pick up the most common sources of RF. In most cases, a range from 50 MHz to 3 GHz (3000 MHz) is presently a good compromise. Just be aware that more gadgets are coming out which use frequencies up to about 6 GHz, and radar stations use much higher frequencies. Also, AM radio, shortwave radio, air traffic, maritime radio, etc. may use frequencies below 50 MHz.
Meter for dirty electricity
The AM radio is a crude tool for measuring dirty electricity by holding it up against electrical cables, etc. A more sophisticated instrument is the Stetzer meter (full official name: Stetzerizer Microsurge Meter), which costs about $100. It provides a number on the proprietary Graham-Stetzer (GS) scale, so it is easier to compare readings.
To find sources of dirty electricity, plug the meter into various outlets. The reading will be higher the closer it is to a source.
Dirty electricity is generated by almost all energy-efficient lights (CFL, LED, etc.), light dimmers, all sorts of electronic equipment (computers, televisions, power supplies, battery chargers, sockets for cordless phones, etc.). PLC networks such as HomePlug also generate dirty electricity.
Dirty electricity can also come from the neighbors. To find out, plug the Stetzer meter into an outlet on a breaker-circuit that has no electronics on it, and no GFCI or AFCI on it. Turn off the breakers to all other circuits in the house. The meter should then display what amount of dirty electricity is coming from the electrical meter and the neighbors.
Dirty electricity can be all frequencies, from single-digit hertz to megahertz. In most cases, it falls within the range of the Stetzer meter (4-150 kilohertz). The AM radio has a greater range (about 10 to 1000 kilohertz), but is inaccurate and not as sensitive.
The types of dirty electricity outside the range of the Stetzer meter include several kinds of PLC smart meters, the HomePlug PLC networks, and Broadband over Power Lines (BPL).
Things to try
With these tools in hand, it is like being outfitted with a new set of ears. Here is a list of things to try to measure. When measuring, notice how the reading is higher close up, and how it diminishes rapidly with a little distance, and notice how the different instruments react.
Š Computer, screen and keyboard
Š Wrist watch
Š Electronic thermostat and thermometer
Š Fluorescent light, low-energy light
Š Microwave oven
Š Refrigerator, freezer,
Š Electric water heater
Š Cordless phone, mobile phone
Š Outlets with GFI/GFCI protection
Š Electric fence
Š Car, car electronics
Š Electric power lines
Š Night stand clock
Š Wireless network equipment
Š Battery charger
Tips on measuring EMF
The levels of EMF may change over time, when measuring EMF from the outside. Try to measure on different times of the day, and on both weekdays and weekends.
Some EMF is seasonal. A big power line may give a much higher reading on hot summer afternoons, when everybody runs their air conditioners. Or, the neighbors next door may only generate EMF when they are home and doing certain things.
Radio-frequency radiation can vary dramatically within minutes in areas with many sources, such as cell phones and wireless networks. This can be seen in areas with many shops, apartments, etc.
A common mistake is to walk around with an RF meter and think that certain spots are “hot”, when it is just the ambient level that temporarily peaked. Before considering a spot “hot”, make sure to really verify that with multiple readings, especially if there are no close-by sources.
Some equipment will broadcast on many frequencies. One example is a hairdryer: the heating element will emit EMF on 50 or 60 hertz, while the blower motor will broadcast across many frequencies. Another example is a compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulb.
A computer consists of many parts inside the box and the screen. All parts may generate a multitude of frequencies. There will be a number of transformers inside, which generate the different voltages needed by various parts in the computer. Each transformer emits EMF in the low kilohertz range. The processor chip itself will emit EMF around a few gigahertz (the advertised speed is the frequency of the processor). There are many other components inside the computer case, such as disk controller, network card, etc., which will run (and thus emit EMF) in the megahertz range.
The screen and the cable going to it will have their own set of emitted frequencies.
It is actually possible to tune in to a computer, using special equipment. It is then possible to read what is on the screen, right through walls of a building. Intelligence agencies and spies have used this method for decades.
Beware of out-of-range results
All instruments are limited in how high and how low levels they can measure. If your instrument shows a zero reading, it doesn’t mean there is no EMF, it just means the level is lower than it can detect. There is EMF everywhere on earth, in all frequency bands.
The important thing to consider is whether your instrument is good enough, i.e. can it detect EMF low enough to still be important for health. Many low-cost instruments do not, especially low-cost gaussmeters.
The Stetzer meter can only measure up to 1999 GS units. If the level of dirty electricity is higher, the instrument will display the number “1”. This is unfortunate, as people may think they get a nice, low reading, when the reading is actually very high. It is not unusual to exceed the range of the Stetzer meter in buildings with solar systems or large machinery (such as big HVAC systems). The Stetzer meter does not measure all types of dirty electricity, and will tend to show a too-low value when further away from the source.
Remember, it takes a lot of instruments to get a full picture in some situations. A sensitive person may still not do well in a location where the available instruments show low readings. The instruments mentioned here only provide reasonable coverage of most situations.
How much EMF is too much?
What levels of EMF are acceptable? That is a good question, with no firm answers. Nobody knows for sure, and it also depends on whether it is continuous exposure—perhaps round the clock—or just for shorter periods of time, like in a car. Some people also think that exposures during sleep should be lower than what is acceptable during the day. And then it also depends on whether the person is healthy or electrically hypersensitive.
The official standards for how much EMF radiation is allowed are in the United States based solely on the heating effect on body tissues—the “microwave oven effect”. Any other effects were completely unknown when the standard was set in 1996. Most other countries have similar standards. All these standards are nearly worthless, but industry interests keep them in place.
Independent researchers suggest a long-term power-frequency exposure limit of 1 milligauss (0.1 microtesla) for healthy people. People who are electrically sensitive will need lower levels — some do fine at 0.1 milligauss, while others must live below 0.01 milligauss (0.001 microtesla, 1 nanotesla) to be symptom free.
For the middle frequencies—those picked up by an AM radio—the best advice is to avoid places where any static is picked up—especially for the sleeping area.
For radio frequencies, independent researchers suggest long-term exposure limits of 1000 mW/m2 (0.1 mW/cm2) or even 30 mW/m2 (0.003 mW/cm2) for healthy people. People who are electrically hypersensitive may need yet lower levels.
Researchers keep finding biological effects at lower and lower levels. It may be that there is no level that is fully safe, just as for radioactive radiation. In that case, an “acceptable” level will have to be chosen.
There are no solid standards for acceptable levels of dirty electricity. There is simply too little research available yet. If the AM radio detects dirty electricity, the levels are probably rather high, as such a radio is not very sensitive.
The makers of the Stetzer meter and filters suggest that a reading of less than 25 Graham-Stetzer (GS) units is good, and readings above 50 are “undesirable”.
What the instruments do not tell us
This article covers only the types of EMF that appear to be the most important, and which can be easily measured. Types of EMF that are not fully measured by these simple methods include:
• pulsed radio waves
• AM and shortwave radio
• electrical fields
• ELF/ULF dirty electricity
Digital wireless transmitters, such as digital television and digital cell phones, use pulsed radio waves. Pulsed radio waves have been found to be more biologically active than the old-style analog radio waves. Our current methods and standards use averaging of these signals, which may be inadequate. Some RF meters have the ability to record the peak of pulsed signals, but there are no standards to compare with, and no guidelines for low long an interval to record those peaks for, among other issues here.
Radar is not a problem in most areas, but near airports, military installations, weather radars and harbors, they can be the dominant source of EMF.
AM and shortwave broadcast stations are only located in a few areas, but are often very powerful.
Electrical fields stand between electrical wires and the ground. The field strength depends on the voltage on the wire and the distance between the wire and the ground. The strength is the same whether current runs through the wire or not, the wire only needs to be connected to an electric source (i.e. energized). This field is not the same as the magnetic field, which is measured by a gaussmeter.
Most researchers consider the electrical field much less important than the magnetic field. However, some people do seem to be sensitive to it, especially when there is also dirty electricity present.
ELF/ULF stands for Extremely Low Frequency and Ultra Low Frequency. Some PLC smart meters communicate by these frequencies, which are intolerable to some sensitive people.
To adequately measure all these types of EMF would require several additional instruments, some of which are expensive or complicated to use. Most people would not need these additional measurements.
There can also be natural phenomena, which are poorly understood and not measurable by any of today’s instruments. Called geopathic stress, they can be as bothersome to sensitive people as man-made EMF. The author of this article was very skeptical of geopathic stress until encountering such a case, where no other explanation was possible.
When a person who is hypersensitive cannot live in a place that shows up fine on our instruments, it may simply mean that our instruments and present knowledge are inadequate to the task. We do not understand everything, and we do not have instruments that can measure it all.
For more information
For the rationale behind the EMF limit recommendations, see the 2012 BioInitiative report: www.bioinitiative.org.
For more details on how to measure EMF levels in a house, see our article How to measure the EMF in a house, www.eiwellspring.org/ehs/HowToMeasureHouseEMF.htm.
For articles on how to remedy EMF problems, see our website: www.eiwellspring.org.
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 Other characteristics include the shape of the signal (sinus wave, square wave, irregular, etc.), whether it is continuous or pulsed, and many other factors.
 The more precise number is the geometric sum of the three readings, but such accuracy is not needed, and the instrument is not that accurate anyway. If the three readings were 2,3, and 10, the more correct number is the square root of (2 x 2) + (3 x 3) + (10 x 10) = 10.6.
 The Stetzer meter only measures differential mode dirty electricity, not common mode. Longer wires convert the noise on the line to common mode.