Is this substation a problem?
June 4, 2007 2:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering buying a house that's right beside a small electrical substation (just a small path between it and the wall of the house). Are there any risks attached to this?

I'm primarily concerned about two things..

1) Health: I've read plenty of stuff over the years about the health effects of living near electrical infrastructure, but never paid enough attention to know if they were just meaningless scare stories

2) Interference: Is there any risk of interference with electrical equipment, or with tv/radio reception, or with a wireless network, for example?

In relation to the actual substation - it's quite small, total area is no more than about 8 square feet. It gives off an audible buss, but nothing that you would be able to hear from inside the house, for example.

I know it's hard to generalise with this stuff, and that I'm not giving you much info about the nature of the substation, but I don't have anymore information at this stage. Any advice appreciated.
posted by ascullion to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have one of these things near to my house too and had more or less the same concerns at the time of purchase. It does give off a hum that is audible from maybe 10 feet away on a quiet day. No interference. Personally I don't worry about it from the point of view potentially hazardous electrical fields - more especially since it has a study brick cover. If somebody would show me a properly conducted study that indicated I should be concerned I am all ears. A potentially bigger - but still negligible - hazard involves having some curious kid break to the housing and electrocute themselves.
posted by rongorongo at 2:51 AM on June 4, 2007

I used to live at about the same proximity from onw. The buzz on a warm summer's night when you have all the windows open can be quite annoying but other than that it was fine as far as wireless networks and tv reception go.

The only pisser is if the power company need to do any work on it (it is usually at weekends and it can make for a noisy couple of days). Otherwise, it is fine.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 3:08 AM on June 4, 2007

A sturdy brick cover won't bother an EM field, were one present. Tra la la, right through. Wouldn't attenuate things too much. Maybe if it were laden with iron filings, or otherwise had a larger than normal iron content. I still get great cell reception in a brick home. Rebar-reinforced concrete would be another matter.

Have you ever seen a substation blow? It's like one of the pole pigs (transformers on a power line) blowing, only larger. Had one blow six months ago, you could see it from a distance. Pretty glow.

What you should really do is ask the electric company for their stats on substations blowing, and any meter readings of fields. They probably even have to provide such data. It's the only way you'll be satisfied, in any case.
posted by adipocere at 4:07 AM on June 4, 2007

PCB contamination. Those old transformers are/were filled with 'em. Even if it is next door, a spill could have gotten into the groundwater. A concern if you have a well.
posted by Gungho at 4:50 AM on June 4, 2007

One thing to consider as you are in the buying process - whatever concerns (valid or not) a future buyer will have (should you ever sell).

We considered a house right next to some high-voltage lines, and there was a buzz (that rongorongo refers to above) that was particularly noticeable during the damp evening hours. While EMF isn't a concern the fact that the wires were an eyesore as well as the buzz caused us to pass on that property. Several years later I'm glad we passed on it - we found something much more suitable.

Besides, the house had a number of other problems with its layout irrespective of the power line thing.
posted by scooterdog at 5:19 AM on June 4, 2007

Absolutely do not be concerned about EM fields or the like. Not a concern whatsoever. Unless you live your entire life inside a Faraday cage, you are constantly exposed to fields many times stronger than whatever it's generating.

The hum, however - my family had a summer house for a little while when I was little and the hum from a set of transformers nearby drove me mad every night. Nobody else even heard it.
posted by dmd at 6:03 AM on June 4, 2007

As Gungho points out, there are some pretty harsh chemicals used in the transformers. You can read some information here:
From "PCB Contamination of Food:
Today PCBs are found mainly in transformers and capacitors manufactured before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the production of PCBs in 1977...

The public has encountered PCBs through illegal roadside dumping of hazardous waste oils and through inhalation of smoke and soot from transformer or capacitor fires.
From "Reduce PCB Exposure"
Old electrical transformers and capacitors are STILL allowed to contain old PCB oil, for the life of the equipment. New ones do not.
Perhaps the best thing to do would be to inquire with the local electrical utility to find out when the transformers at that particular substation were manufactured, and if they (or any other equipment onsite) contain PCBs.
posted by skwm at 6:43 AM on June 4, 2007

Also, you may want to test the soil yourself with a PCB test kit.
posted by skwm at 6:46 AM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Remember the rules of real estate: location, location, location. If you're waffling about buying it, consider what a future buyer might be thinking. Reselling might be difficult down the road.
posted by orangemiles at 7:12 AM on June 4, 2007

Uh, I really wouldn't worry about the electric fields affecting your health. If you're an audiophile you might want to worry about your hifi.

What I'd really worry about is this.
(explanation and original clip are here)
posted by Luddite at 7:22 AM on June 4, 2007

The hum or buzz from one of these next door drove me to move out. I'd keep looking.
posted by Hobgoblin at 7:45 AM on June 4, 2007

I lived next to one for a couple of years and never noticed the buzz, and i have yet to get cancer and die.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:53 AM on June 4, 2007

I've read plenty of stuff over the years about the health effects of living near electrical infrastructure, but never paid enough attention to know if they were just meaningless scare stories.

Some scare stories, but also some peer reviewed papers that might make me uneasy, especially if young children were going to live in the house. E.g., Int J Cancer. 2006 Aug 1;119(3):643-50 ("additional" evidence that high magnetic field exposure "was associated with a higher risk of childhood leukemia"). If it were my decision, I'd want to do more research based the specific situation.
posted by Dave 9 at 9:51 AM on June 4, 2007

I don't know much about the health concerns. However, I do know that it was hard to sell my old apartment because the electrical poles were about 6 feet below our fourth-storey window. A lot of people were freaked out -- and those are just the normal electrical wires you have on any street. So you might consider the resale issues.
posted by acoutu at 3:40 PM on June 4, 2007

This is just anecdotal but my family lived right next door to an entire field of those giant electrical grasshopper thingies when I was a kid for about five years (My parents got the house real cheap due to the fears you cite). None of us ever got leukemia and we're all still pretty healthy 20 years later.
posted by Jess the Mess at 5:55 PM on June 5, 2007

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