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Severe Tinnitus Following the Installation of New Electricity Meters

Since new gas and electricity meters were installed in my house on 9 February 2022, I have had a very serious problem with tinnitus. I also have had a feeling of strong pressure on my eardrums. Let me say straight away that this is nothing to do with smart meter communications; the hub responsible for mobile and Wi-Fi signals was removed one week after the meters were installed as a final attempt by the energy company to solve the problem. Various engineers I’ve been in contact with over this matter suspect the problem is most likely to be a switched-mode power supply or capacitors associated with it. I would like to know more about how such a device upset my health to the point that I do not feel it is safe to live in my own home. The energy company have refused to carry out any further work to investigate the issue and state that their meters meet all the current standards and are therefore safe.

I did not have any problems with the traditional analogue meters previously installed. I should add that I’ve been in houses that have smart electricity meters of various types and only in one of those houses do I feel my tinnitus tone is being amplified and none result in any pressure feelings on my eardrums. The first meter, a Landis+Gyr E470 was replaced with a Kaifa MA120 five days after complaining to my energy company. The Landis+Gyr meter was unbearable to live with any longer than that. The Kaifa model has seen me leave home twice for respite despite discovering on how to dampen down the tinnitus and greatly reduce the pressure feeling on my eardrums. The Kaifa makes an awful little noise which if I could hear that while in the living room, I could understand why my ears are being irritated. The Landis+Gyr also made a similar noise but a little quieter. However, should such devices make any audible noise at all? Some people don’t have the ability to hide these away in cupboards. I can hear the Kaifa meter 2 to 3 metres away with the cupboard door open where it is installed. A short recording of the continuous noise it makes can be heard in the following mp3 file:

My tinnitus grew into a significant problem within 24 hours of the Landis+Gyr meter being installed. I’ve had tinnitus in the past and was cautious to blame the new gas and electric meters at first, but I soon noticed this was very different to previous bouts of tinnitus: I found the affect would wane when away from the house and be amplified back to ‘horribly irritating’ upon return. The pressure feeling on my eardrums 'throbbed away' as soon as I got a short distance away from my house, it too would come back very quickly upon returning inside. When the Landis+Gyr meter was shutdown for replacement, it was an hour before the Kaifa meter was switched on. That is the only time I’ve been in the house since the new meters were installed on 9 February that my ears have felt calm, albeit the tinnitus tone only very slowly fades away. Unfortunately that short period of time was to end with a shock when the Kaifa was powered on; I felt a short burst of pain in both ears making me flinch in my seat. I was not watching what the fitter was doing and had to ask him what had just happened. He stated he had just powered up the meter with the distribution board still switched off. I’m horrified that simply turning on the meter could cause me pain, not to mention the fact the tinnitus and pressure feeling came back with this new meter.

With the aid of a friend who is also has a background in electrical and electronic engineering, I made the discovery that the effects of the meter can be reduced by turning off electrical devices plugged into the mains supply and found by turning off the ring main supplying the bedroom overnight, I could achieve better sleep, albeit still not adequate. Suspicion then was that the meter was emitting something being carried around the house via the mains cabling as opposed to just emitting something from itself. I requested help from the local power distribution company who sent out an engineer to check for electromagnetic fields. No unusually strong fields were found, however the engineer said he could perceive a high pitch tone and a bit of pressure on his eardrums. So far the only other person to sense something of what I am experiencing and I at least do not feel alone any more. He asked me to try powering down electrical equipment before turning the distribution board off and we both felt a relief from the pressure as soon as I turned off the television and surround sound system. The surround sound system along with most other audio equipment are now unplugged and the sense of pressure on my eardrums is much less noticeable. The engineer mentioned that tantalum capacitors and switched-mode power supplies can be a source of noise at frequencies in the audible range if they are defective or inadequately filtered.

Unfortunately the tinnitus tone has been gaining strength recently worsening my sleep down to just 2 hours a night. Hence I have had to leave my house again for respite, immediately achieving nearly 7 hours sleep on my first night away despite the tone having hardly subsided. I have used a tone generator to match the tinnitus at 14kHz. Sound analyser applications on my smart phone don’t show anything unusual at this frequency, but there is some low frequency noise below 100Hz and high frequency noise around 20kHz. Both are at low volumes, albeit I hardly think the microphone on a smart phone can be trusted at these low and high frequencies. However, what is interesting is that noise in the 17kHz to 21kHz range is hardly present when I am in other houses with smart meters where my tinnitus is not amplified and it is present in the only other house I know where my tinnitus is amplified. It could be a red herring, but there must be strange harmonics involved one way or another.

I’ve spent a great deal of time researching the Internet trying to find out about the problems with tinnitus and smart meters. I find people reporting life affecting tinnitus within two days of having smart meters fitted and then the forum responses where they posted concentrate on the arguments about Wi-Fi and mobile phone signals, neither of which apply here and then they soon degenerate into conspiracy theories about smart meters. (I’d have been very disturbed by tinnitus for the last 20 years if I had any sensitivity to radiation from mobile phones and Wi-Fi routers.) I’ve been in touch with the British Tinnitus Association and they have confirmed my case is “not without precedent”. I’ve had an email discussion with a specialist audiologist who states that the link between electrical apparatus and tinnitus is not scientifically proven but it is known some people can be hyper-sensitive. I’ve not knowingly been sensitive to any electrical devices in the past. I've had a hearing test which proves my hearing in the normal range is very good for my age, just some mild loss in the 7kHz to 8kHz range. The tone generators I used to match my tinnitus show I can hear tones up to around 15kHz, subject to the quality of these tone generator apps, websites and speakers within my smart phone and attached to my computer.

Maybe the arguments over smart meters and health problems have been clouded by the debate on Wi-Fi and mobile phone signals rather than the quality of the electronics in these meters. The electronics engineers who have pointed out the problem is likely to be the switched-mode power supply or capacitors within the electricity meter have done so independently, based in three different countries, which proves to me there is some concern about these components which obviously are in lots more devices than just meters. There is a difference though: I have two devices which have power supplies, almost certainly switched-mode, that make audible noises, but these can be turned off and would be replaced if I suspected they were causing any health concerns. The electricity meter is not something that can be turned off and replaced by the householder, it has to be changed by the energy company and any interference with it is illegal. I’m currently left in a position where I am reporting health effects coincident with the meters being fitted, locational to my house, affected by household electrical equipment and I'm so afflicted I am renting accommodation at some expense away from home, but being told by the company they are not going to do anything about it. They asked me switch company if I wanted the meter changing again and issued me with a deadlock letter so that I could take my case to the Energy Ombudsman as the only alternative. Either takes more weeks than I would like to contemplate, I've suffered more than enough already.

As switching energy companies at the current time is very difficult and very expensive without having to make the unusual request to remove a virtually new meter, I have started a complaint with the Ombudsman and I need to supply them with as much evidence as possible to prove the electricity meter is causing my health problem. There does not appear to be anyway of enabling the meter to be replaced as a matter of urgency given all my personal evidence as described above. If anyone can provide any advice or evidence that the quality of these meters can result in problems like I am experiencing I would be very grateful indeed. If anyone is researching in this area I would be very happy to help them with my experience, I do not fancy a future where such tinnitus inducing devices are common to every home.

Parents
  • You have my sympathy.  I can see why 'no meter' is raises concerns with the supplier, as they have no idea then what you have used, and it is your supplier who bills you, and needs to OK an unmetered connection, not the DNO alone, who only own up to the company fuse,  but the safety points are not really correct. It is however typical of folk who are not sure what they should do or are allowed to.

    The meter has no current limiting function - as and aside nor does the fuse really more of a time/ total damage energy limit.

    Actually also 2nd hand analogue meters are still around, but ones still in calibration are getting quite rare.

    But I'd be shocked if all models of electronic meters do this to you - I think you have a bad model with an SMPS design that radiates a combination of conducted EM and supersonic acoustic energy, but I'm not sure which is your trigger or if it is the combination.  (generally anything more than 70dB relative to 20uPa RMS is considered too loud for ultrasound, though the HSE limits are quite a bit higher but there are very few devices that can measure this in a well calibrated way.)

    Are their any neighbour's or friends houses where your symptoms abate, and if so what meter type do they have? Or do you know someone well enough to run an extension lead from them for a few lights, and then pull your company fuse for the night ? (or even battery lights and pull the company fuse )

    (I realise this idea too may attract some opprobrium but I am suggesting it more as a diagnostic test to be taken with some forethought and care).

    Mike

  • Thanks as always Mike for your interest and your response.

    I think we had better not consider running extensions between houses when there's a possibility, however big or small, of running unmetered for a while. Our average electricity consumption is 4.6 units a day which at 19.43p per unit is somewhat less than £1 a day. I would be more than happy to pay £1 a day if the meter can be powered off until it is replaced. If someone offered me £1000 per day to have this meter in my house I would turn them down. That's how bad this problem is for anyone who is wondering. In fact no amount of money would be acceptable to live with the symptoms being caused.

    Yesterday was yet another stressful day with the Ombudsman and Octopus. As well as writing a technical paper about what I have experienced, I could write a book on the whole saga. However, let me take the opportunity to say a big thank you to the people in these two organisations who are understanding of my situation and are helping (or have helped previously) in trying to sort out replacing the meter. With their help, I'm hoping the saga is going to come to an end very soon. There's work to do afterwards to get this issue recognised and I hope the messages I have been writing to various organisations, including the IET, will help prevent others suffering similarly in the future. I had no idea this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. The problem is going to get worse with more noisy devices, not just meters, becoming more commonplace if nothing is done.

    Octopus have never replied about taking a second hand meter that is in good condition that has been replaced during the smart meter roll-out, re-certifying it and installing it here. Their fitters told me they all get thrown in a skip when they get back to the depot whatever their condition. I know the meter that was installed prior to 9 February had a certification date expiring in 2024, so I'm about 2 years earlier than I need have been in swapping it, but would it be worse in 2 years time to be in this situation? Maybe others would have blazed the trail for me. I'll never know, but I do know I am not first in suffering at the hands of a meter. I found a case mentioned in Parliament in 2019 of a couple living only 15 miles away from my house where the meter was replaced at a time when it would have been much easier than now to source an old style replacement meter. According to Hansard: "Once that happened, their health dramatically improved".

    I have a friend with a house with a SMET2 meter installation that doesn't seem to induce any symptoms. The meter doesn't emit noise in the LW and MW bands and there's no background ultrasonic noise when I check with my sound analyser app. I'm hoping to get chance to go back and put the oscilloscope on his mains soon for comparison, but unfortunately my friend has recently had Covid and the last thing I need is another health problem at the moment. Asking energy companies if they still fit that particular meter resulted in nothing but negative responses even with the company that fit it. Other friends with smart meters fitted in their houses which appear to be safe have older SMET1 meters. This all fits in with the Norwegian research document (copy in my post: RE: Severe Tinnitus Following the Installation of New Electricity Meters) that states noise suppression is getting less and less with newer generations of meter.

Reply
  • Thanks as always Mike for your interest and your response.

    I think we had better not consider running extensions between houses when there's a possibility, however big or small, of running unmetered for a while. Our average electricity consumption is 4.6 units a day which at 19.43p per unit is somewhat less than £1 a day. I would be more than happy to pay £1 a day if the meter can be powered off until it is replaced. If someone offered me £1000 per day to have this meter in my house I would turn them down. That's how bad this problem is for anyone who is wondering. In fact no amount of money would be acceptable to live with the symptoms being caused.

    Yesterday was yet another stressful day with the Ombudsman and Octopus. As well as writing a technical paper about what I have experienced, I could write a book on the whole saga. However, let me take the opportunity to say a big thank you to the people in these two organisations who are understanding of my situation and are helping (or have helped previously) in trying to sort out replacing the meter. With their help, I'm hoping the saga is going to come to an end very soon. There's work to do afterwards to get this issue recognised and I hope the messages I have been writing to various organisations, including the IET, will help prevent others suffering similarly in the future. I had no idea this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. The problem is going to get worse with more noisy devices, not just meters, becoming more commonplace if nothing is done.

    Octopus have never replied about taking a second hand meter that is in good condition that has been replaced during the smart meter roll-out, re-certifying it and installing it here. Their fitters told me they all get thrown in a skip when they get back to the depot whatever their condition. I know the meter that was installed prior to 9 February had a certification date expiring in 2024, so I'm about 2 years earlier than I need have been in swapping it, but would it be worse in 2 years time to be in this situation? Maybe others would have blazed the trail for me. I'll never know, but I do know I am not first in suffering at the hands of a meter. I found a case mentioned in Parliament in 2019 of a couple living only 15 miles away from my house where the meter was replaced at a time when it would have been much easier than now to source an old style replacement meter. According to Hansard: "Once that happened, their health dramatically improved".

    I have a friend with a house with a SMET2 meter installation that doesn't seem to induce any symptoms. The meter doesn't emit noise in the LW and MW bands and there's no background ultrasonic noise when I check with my sound analyser app. I'm hoping to get chance to go back and put the oscilloscope on his mains soon for comparison, but unfortunately my friend has recently had Covid and the last thing I need is another health problem at the moment. Asking energy companies if they still fit that particular meter resulted in nothing but negative responses even with the company that fit it. Other friends with smart meters fitted in their houses which appear to be safe have older SMET1 meters. This all fits in with the Norwegian research document (copy in my post: RE: Severe Tinnitus Following the Installation of New Electricity Meters) that states noise suppression is getting less and less with newer generations of meter.

Children
  • I think this issue deserves at the least a short article in E&T. That might do a number of things: (a) get it to be taken seriously, as distinct from cranks who "suffer" from "electrical pollution" around them; (b) make it clear that some key stakeholders (installation companies; suppliers;...) are not taking the issue of sound/ultrasound emissions seriously; (c) encourage other people who may well be affected to get in touch.

  • I emailed the IET's Engineering Safety Panel a few weeks ago. I'm not entirely sure if that was the right part of the IET to raise the issue, I asked to be advised if not, but alas I have not yet heard anything back.

    I will certainly consider your idea of contacting the magazine, certainly bolstered with another similar case being reported last last night. (Thank you Mark.) We also have Dan in Perth WA as a third tinnitus afflicted member. I appeal to any other members reading this who have experienced or know of people who have experienced health effects following meter installations to post their experience to this discussion. The more evidence of this from members the better chance of the matter being taken seriously even within the IET. As for outside the IET, yes indeed what a crank I am. I can tell you CEng MIET doesn't stand for much with lots of people I have contacted.

  • I had a second and hopefully what was going to the final appointment to get a traditional analogue meter installed last Monday. I checked and checked that it was going to be analogue meter like the one I had before the smart meter was installed and as requested in my second doctor's letter. When the fitter arrived he came with a digital meter to install not an analogue one as promised. It was an AMPY type 5246C approximately 15 years old. So as it was older and therefore potentially better at noise suppression than the Kaifa meter currently installed, I allowed him to install it. What a mistake; the tinnitus is even worse.

    Complaining the next day after yet another awful night's sleep I got told it was a traditional digital meter and therefore as it was traditional the requirement was met. The Ombudsman told me she was closing the case accusing me of being the problem not the meters - after all the evidence I've presented to them, how can it be anything other than the type of meters installed unless they are reacting to something already on the mains which Western Power don't care about. (I asked them multiple times to check and they won't, nor could they do much about it is the feed was distorted and noisy.) The lady I have been speaking to at Octopus said she would carry on trying to find a analogue meter that could be installed but I have not heard back for two days. The fitter on Monday actually had these meters on his van, he waved one in front of me at the door. These had been taken out of homes but wasn't allowed to fit one of those as they needed testing and recertifying. No one explains why that cannot be done even as a stop gap measure. It seems tinnitus inducing meters have more right to be in my home than I do, providing I want electricity from the grid. The house is not in a position where it could generate all it's own power off grid.

    The end I thought I had has been cruelly taken away twice now, the light at the end of the tunnel has gone. I have contacted my MP asking for help with the policies of Ofgem and the only company I know that has analogue meters in stock - these are reserved for people who wish to remain analogue and cannot be used to return people who have gone digital back to analogue no matter how their health is being affected.

    Peter - I have taken your advice and contacted the technology editor of E&T providing a summary and a link to this discussion. I hope they can highlight the issue and someone somewhere can suggest or make something happen to bring my suffering to an end. It is truly awful and it is no simple matter to move house.

    I have a doctor's appointment tonight after the events with the Ombudsman on Tuesday and after Monday's worsening of the tinnitus literally putting me on the floor. I have to admit I am now struggling with this matter very badly. Why should I have to seek medical attention for the sake of having an electricity meter in my house?