Let’s Talk about Tending to the Trees. Earth Day reminder that lightning protection helps keep trees healthy & green!
“They are beautiful in their peace, they are wise in their silence. They will stand after we are dust. They teach us, and we tend them.”
– Galeain ip Altiem MacDunelmor
April 22, 2016 — Today is officially “Earth Day” and this year’s global theme is “Trees for the Earth.” Which prompts an important question: Are you tending to your trees?
Even if you aren’t a full-fledged tree-hugger, you probably know that lightning is nature’s most frequent peril and hence a tree’s most-feared predator. Lightning damages and kills more trees than we can account for in the U.S. A single bolt of lightning can carry 100 million volts of electricity, so unless a tree is equipped with a lightning protection system, it can be extremely vulnerable to the common weather hazard. Lightning can injure the tree from a direct hit or side flash (lightning jumping from a nearby object), and problems can vary from light limb damage, to total annihilation.
Lightning’s electrical charge can boil the liquid sap, causing natural gases in the tree to expand, which in turn cause the phloem (bark) to split open or the tree to literally explode. Lightning’s current utilizes the high resistance wood as a conductor, causing massive damage as it transverses tree components on its way to ground. In some instances, the only evidence of a lightning strike may be the internal browning of the xylem (water-conducting woody tissue), which causes a gradual decay of the tree.
In honor of Earth Day 2016, LPI is re-posting these commonly-asked questions about trees, lightning and lightning protection:
Q. Are there risk factors or conditions that apply regarding a tree’s vulnerability to lightning?
A. Geographic location, species/type of tree and height are factors that may apply. According to agricultural specialists, lightning is most likely to strike trees under these conditions:
- lone trees
- tallest trees in a group or tallest tree at the end of a group of trees
- trees growing in moist soil or close to a body of water
- trees closest to a building or structure
Q. Are some trees more vulnerable to lightning than others?
A. Trees most vulnerable to lightning (those with high starch content) include: maple, ash, poplar, pine, oak, hemlock, elm and sycamore. Large oak trees are often vulnerable due to their size or prominence. Trees less vulnerable (those with high oil content) include: birch, beech and chestnut.
Q. Why should property owners consider lightning protection for trees?
A. Any trees that are valued for landscaping, sentimental or historical reasons should be protected, including those trees which add aesthetic value to the property.
Q. How does a lightning protection system protect a tree from damage?
A. A copper cable and grounding system is used to intercept lightning’s harmful electricity and conduct it safely underground and away from the tree, so that no damage occurs to the wood or the roots. The principle employed for tree lightning protection (in accordance with National Safety Standards of LPI-175, NFPA 780 and UL-96A), is the same used to protect structures, homes and buildings.
Q. Does the tree lightning protection system also provide protection for nearby structures on the property?
A. No. The system provides protection for the tree only. Separate lightning protection systems should be considered to protect structures on the property.
Q. What kind of maintenance is needed for a tree lightning protection system?
A. An annual visual check of the tree should be made by the property owner or maintenance manager to ensure all elements of the system remain connected and in place. Occasionally, additional cable runs, air terminals or grounding components may need to be added to accommodate tree growth. It’s also important to check lightning protection cables at the base of the tree to ensure no system interruption or damage has occurred from weed trimming, lawnmowers, or ground excavation.
Q. Who can install the lightning protection system?
A. Be sure to contact a UL-listed, LPI-certified lightning protection specialist or a qualified arborist to ensure your system is installed in accordance with national safety standards.
In most situations, a tree struck by lightning will continue to decline over time and eventually require removal. Most trees succumb to disease or death more quickly if the lightning strike passes completely through the trunk (streaks of splintered bark are typically visible on both sides of the tree when this occurs). Typically, property owners will notice signs of decay within two weeks of a lightning strike. Since few trees survive a direct lightning strike, it may be good insurance for property owners to consider lightning protection for vulnerable trees, specimen trees, historic trees or trees over public shelters.
So in the spirit of Earth Day 2016, “let’s get planting!” And, if you want to keep your trees healthy for years to come, don’t forget the lightning protection. Think of your lightning protection system as the hug that keeps on giving, to keep your tree “green” and living!
The AIA Convention 2016 is the architecture and design event of the year! Join the Lightning Protection Institute at booth #1546 in Philadelphia on May 19-21. #AIACon16 invites you to discover what’s “new, next and cutting-edge” from software to building systems–and of course, lightning protection.
According to the AIA, the expo floor is a hotspot of activity featuring more than 170,000 square feet of booths, galleries and lounges and nearly 800 exhibiting companies. Join us in Philly to discover what’s new in the world of lightning protection and how learn how LPI is helping to build lightning safe communities!
See link here: https://convention.aia.org/Attendee/ExpoHall/BoothDetails/1033454
Lightning Protection Spring Cleaning. Don’t let the clutter of myths and misinformation obscure the facts.
March 14, 2016 – The late, larger-than-life comedian, Robin Williams was known for having said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'”
If the unseasonably warm temperatures are evidence, it seems the “party” has sprung to life in many parts of the country. While March typically means longer daylight hours and warmer weather for most, it also means an increasing potential for severe weather which can put a dangerous damper on your spring party. The risk of thunderstorms ramps up too, with warm and humid air pushing north and stronger jet stream disturbances creating prime conditions for hazardous lightning. With March thunderstorms already threatening many areas of the country, home and business owners from all parts and parties can benefit from accurate information about lightning protection. As new and old myths abound about lightning and lightning protection, it’s not always easy to know the facts–especially when misinformation is repeatedly circulated on the internet and through social media. To help keep you grounded in reality and separate fact from fiction about lightning protection systems, LPI is providing a little spring cleaning to shine the light on four fallacies:
Fallacy: Lightning rods are outdated and a thing of the past.
Fact: Lightning protection systems are installed more today than ever before. According to Underwriters Laboratories, lightning accounts for more than one billion dollars annually in structural damage to buildings in the U.S. This statistic does not include costs due to loss of business, downtime and repairs. Protecting occupants, structures and critical systems is an increasingly important part of the building design phase, which is why construction planners are specifying lightning protection more now, than ever before.
Fallacy: Today’s smart homes and eco-friendly structures are built to be grounded for lightning.
Fact: The growth of sustainable energy technology and eco-friendly building has prompted upgrades and improvements to the electrical infrastructure of today’s homes and buildings; making them more susceptible to lightning. These “smart structures” are characterized by a high degree of automation and various interconnected systems which typically rely on sophisticated energy collection methods. While building designs have included upgrades to increase resiliency from disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding, lightning is often overlooked as a significant weather threat–despite the fact that lightning hits the earth over 100 times a second! Even though these automated systems are grounded, they are still highly vulnerable, since a direct strike can spark a fire and an indirect surge of current can pass through the wiring of a structure in any direction. Lightning can initiate a domino effect path of transient overvoltage which can disrupt, degrade and damage multiple electronic systems and connected equipment, making lightning protection systems significantly important for smart structures.
Fallacy: A whole-house surge arrester can provide adequate protection against lightning.
Fact: Surge protection is only one element of a complete lightning protection system. Since a typical bolt of lightning can generate up to 200 kA of electrical energy, a direct strike or an indirect electrical surge to an unprotected structure can be disastrous. A single incident can cost thousands of dollars, with losses ranging from damage to expensive electronics to fires that destroy entire buildings. Unfortunately, no surge protection device or “whole-house” arrester alone can protect a structure from a direct strike packing lightning’s mega electricity. A grounding network for lightning (lightning protection system) must be implemented to provide a safe, conductive path to discharge lightning’s electricity. Surge protection + the grounding network = a complete lightning protection system.
Fallacy: Lightning protection is simple and easy to install yourself.
Fact: This is not an experiment you want to attempt! Lightning protection is a highly specialized trade that is governed by industry safety Standards. Design and installation is typically not within the scope of expertise held by general contractors, roofers or even electricians, which is why the work is typically subcontracted out to specialists. Trained experts like LPI-certified contractors that specialize in lightning protection and utilize UL-listed components and equipment should be hired to design and install these systems. The highly conductive copper and aluminum materials used are not readily available in hardware stores and design and installation for systems is complex and not a do-it-yourself project.
Lightning is a phenomenon of nature that is spectacular and awe-inspiring; thus its power is often misunderstood. Thinking back to Robin Williams and his lightning quick wit, I’m reminded of an analogy offered by James Lipton during an episode of Inside the Actors Studio: “Trying to categorize [Williams] is like trying to catch lightning in a butterfly net.”
Even though the duration of a lightning strike lasts only microseconds, a professionally installed, code-compliant lightning protection system can safeguard a structure against a lifetime of thunderstorms. What better way to keep the party-goers safe and the party places sustainable to weather the storms for season after season?
Learn more about lightning protection system installation by viewing LPI’s short video at: http://lightning.org/learn-more/watch-learn/#video-9
Consumer Scam Alert! LPI Offers Lightning Protection Guidelines to Help Protect Homeowners Against Fraudulent Contractors
February 8, 2016 — Authorities in several mid-west counties in the U.S. are warning homeowners about men posing as lightning rod subcontractors who scheme unsuspecting victims into paying money for unsolicited repair work.
According to the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin, the fraudulent contractors operate the scam by targeting homes with lightning protection systems, telling the owners that it looks like they’ve been victims of a recent strike, and advising that their “lightning rods will be in need of replacement.” The fraudulent contractors then offer to handle the repairs on the spot or come back to perform them at a later time.
Targeted homeowners have reported hearing the men working on their roofs before coming back to collect payments. According to authorities, the fraudulent contractors aren’t actually doing proper repair work, if any at all. The scammers have also been known to prey on elderly residents; extorting over $3,750 from a 65-year-old woman and another $14,000 from an aging farmer, both residing in rural communities in Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, the marketplace is full of scammers inventing new tricks and schemes to rob unsuspecting consumers of their hard-earned money. To help protect homeowners from falling prey to a lightning rod scam, the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is providing important tips and guidelines for consumers to keep in mind when hiring a lightning protection specialist:
- Be sure the contractor is listed with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and holds certification with LPI. (It’s always a good idea to ask for UL-listing number and evidence of LPI credentials.)
- Ask for a written proposal and/or design detailing the job to be performed prior to agreeing to have any work performed. Check to be sure materials and methods will comply with U.S. Safety Standards for Lightning Protection Systems such as LPI-175, NFPA 780 and UL96/96A. (Make sure your contractor can cite these standards.)
- Check for industry affiliations with groups such as LPI, LSA, NFPA, UL and ULPA which are trusted trade organizations for lightning protection. Experience counts, so be wary of start-up companies or contractors offering a “price deal” to install, fix or repair lightning protection.
- Check references to find out if your contractor has experience working on high-profile projects i.e. historic structures, slate roofs, trees, etc.
- Ask for maintenance and close-out materials upon completion of the work.
- Walk away from high-pressure sellers who tell you that you must make a decision right away. When in doubt, contact www.bbb.org to locate your local Better Business Bureau to obtain a reliability report for a contractor before you hire.
Lightning protection installation is a specialty discipline, so homeowners should not assume that roofers, general contractors or electricians are qualified to install lightning protection systems. If your home is equipped with corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST gas piping), you will also want to review applicable industry bonding and grounding recommendations with your lightning protection contractor. Finally, homeowners concerned about quality control can contact www.lpi-ip.com for affordable inspection options, as a third-party inspection of the lightning protection system can provide peace of mind and help ensure proper installation.
For more information on lightning protection or to obtain a list of certified contractors, visit the LPI website at www.lightning.org.
Building Lightning Safe Communities Project Provides Critical Relief to Charity Organization in Kenscoff
HARTFORD, Conn., Jan. 11, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Haiti is no stranger to natural disasters and severe weather, as devastating earthquakes, hurricanes and floods have taken their toll on the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Located some 700 miles off the Florida coastline, Haiti is also extremely vulnerable to lightning, which is a common weather threat that impacts the lives and livelihood of many Haitians on a frequent basis.
For years, Haiti’s St. Helene’s Home (NPFS) and Orphanage has suffered repeated lightning strikes to its facility, which consists of 29 buildings on a 13-acre compound. Located 5000 ft. above sea level on the top of the highest point in the Kenscoff mountains, the compound is especially vulnerable to severe thunderstorms with frequent lightning posing serious safety concerns for the children—including many who are severely handicapped and disabled. Thanks to an outpouring of support from two nonprofits in the lightning protection industry, St. Helene’s Home and Orphanage will soon enjoy relief from the dangerous and costly weather hazard which has routinely destroyed life-sustaining electrical equipment, critical appliances, computers and lighting systems; while also threatening essential housing structures located on the premises.
In 2012 when the orphanage was besieged by an especially severe thunderstorm, Gena Heraty, director of special needs programs for NPFS, began researching what could be done to protect the children and the property.
“I had heard people talk about lightning rods, but knew nothing about what they were or how they worked,” said Heraty. “So when my internet investigations found a nonprofit organization that actually responded to my chance email AND offered a solution, I was surprised and truly amazed!”
The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI), responded to Heraty’s email and quickly enlisted support from its partners at the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) to plan a relief mission known as the “Building Lightning Safe Communities Haiti Project” to provide essential lightning protection systems for the orphanage’s critical buildings. Launching the first phase of the project, volunteer board members from the two nonprofits (Mitchell Guthrie, Guy Maxwell and Mark Morgan), traveled to the orphanage in 2013 to survey the site and outline the necessary manpower, materials and cost to provide lightning protection systems for the various facility structures.
“The July 2013 site visit to the orphanage unveiled serious challenges in terms of terrain, grounding and deteriorating conditions with the electrical grid—a host of problems that our lightning protection team has not had a great deal of experience in dealing with,” said Guy Maxwell, LSA president and owner of Maxwell Lightning Protection of Florida.
Maxwell, a LPI-certified Master Installer/Designer whose firm has provided countless systems for structures and rides at Walt Disney World, worked meticulously for months to prepare 30 pages of detailed lightning protection designs for the orphanage complex. “The challenges we uncovered at the Kenscoff complex made it necessary to reevaluate the scope of the lightning protection plan and prompted a need to expand the industry team to include more installers with electrical expertise,” explained Maxwell.
In addition to the challenges posed by the terrain and site conditions, funding for the lightning protection materials, tools and crew travel was a costly concern for project organizers. As plans developed, it became clear that the success of the lightning protection mission would ultimately rely on industry donations of money, time and talent.
“It is amazing to think that a call to action email to LPI and LSA members helped secure nearly $50,000 in cash and material donations to make the project a reality for the orphanage,” said Jennifer Morgan, principal at ECLE, a Connecticut-based lightning protection equipment manufacturer responsible for overseeing the Haiti project logistics.
Answering the industry’s petition, an outpouring of donors and volunteers, dubbed the “Honor Roll of Haiti Project Sponsors”http://www.lightningsafe.org/haitiproject8.html came together to donate the necessary funds, equipment and labor. Under Morgan’s guidance, ECLE secured additional donations of relief supplies, clothing and essential resources, which were packed with the lightning protection materials and shipped from Winsted, Connecticut to NPH’s US-based office in Miami for delivery to the Haiti orphanage.
“There has never been a project like this in my years in the lightning protection industry; it is truly an historic endeavor,” added Morgan.
Now that years of planning are complete, the volunteer team of ten lightning protection installers is departing for Haiti this week to complete the most important phase of the project, and Heraty is anxiously awaiting their arrival.
“I hope the lightning protection crew will pass on some maintenance skills to our local team, fall in love with our place and find some small ways to continue to support us when they go back home,” said Heraty. “Here in NPFS Haiti, we are very committed to what we are doing and are so grateful to everyone that helps us. I only wish I could look every single person that has helped us in the eye and shake their hands to have them feel just how much I appreciate their support!”
The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is a not-for-profit, nationwide group founded in 1955 to promote lightning safety, awareness and education and is a leading resource for lightning protection information and system requirements. Visit the LPI website at www.lightning.org for more information.
The Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) is a nonprofit, national league of lightning protection professionals and consumers dedicated to the promotion of lightning protection and lightning safety. Visit the LSA website at www.lightningsafetyalliance.org for more information.
St. Helene’s Home and Orphanage in Haiti is home to over 400 children, hosting primary and secondary schooling on its property to provide education for its patrons and an additional 350 children from the Kenscoff community. The Kay Christine facility, also located inside the St. Helene’s complex, provides care and housing to over 30 children and adults with neurological conditions and special needs. Visit https://www.nph.org/haiti or https://nphspecialneedshaiti.com/ to learn more about the orphanage and discover ways that your donations or sponsorship can make a difference.
CONTACT: Kim Loehr, LPI/LSA Communications Office, email@example.com 804-314-8955
“Building Lightning Safe Communities Haiti Project” Design Charrette to Brief Volunteer Team for Lightning Protection Mission
Project Will Provide Critical Relief to Kenscoff Orphanage Besieged by Lightning
Contact: Kimberly Loehr, LPI/LSA Communications Office / Phone: 804-314-8955 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: kimberly loehr@lightningkim
Who: Lightning protection experts from the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) and the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA):
Jennifer Morgan, Educational Coordinator, LSA
Mark Morgan, Lightning Protection Technical Committee, NFPA 780, LPI/LSA Board
Guy Maxwell, President, LSA, LPI Master Installer/Designer
Mitchell Guthrie, LPI Consulting Engineer/Technical Committee, NFPA 780
Haiti Project “Dream Team” of 10 Volunteer Lightning Protection Installers
What: An all-day Lightning protection design charrette and team meeting to finalize plans to provide essential lightning protection systems for St. Helene’s Home Orphanage compound in Kenscoff, Haiti.
When: Saturday, January 9, 2016, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Where: “Oak Meeting Room” SpringHill Suites, Fort Lauderdale Airport & Cruise Port, 151 Southwest 18th Court, Dania Beach, Florida 30004
Why: For years, Haiti’s St. Helene’s Home (NPFS) and Orphanage has suffered repeated lightning strikes to its facility, which consists of 29 buildings on a 13-acre compound. Located 5000 ft. above sea level on the top of the highest point in the Kenscoff mountains, the compound is especially vulnerable to severe thunderstorms with frequent lightning posing serious safety concerns for the children—including many who are severely handicapped and disabled. Lightning has routinely destroyed life-sustaining electrical equipment, critical appliances, computers and lighting systems; while also threatening essential housing structures located on the premises. After four years of planning, a mission trip funded by LPI and LSA will depart for Haiti on 1/10/16 to install life-sustaining lightning protection systems for the orphanage’s critical buildings.
The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is a not-for-profit, nationwide group founded in 1955 to promote lightning safety, awareness and education and is a leading resource for lightning protection information and system requirements. Visit www.lightning.org for more information.
The Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) is a nonprofit, national league of lightning prot4ection professionals and consumers dedicated to the promotion of lightning protection and lightning safety. Visit the LSA website at www.lightningsafetyalliance.org for more information.
St. Helene‘s Home and Orphanage in Haiti is home to over 400 children, hosting primary and secondary schooling on its property to provide education for its patrons and an additional 350 children from the Kenscoff community. The Kay Christine facility, also located inside the St. Helene’s complex, provides care and housing to over 30 children and adults with neurological conditions and special needs. Visit https://www.nph.org/ws/homes/home.php?lang=en&haiti or https://nphspecialneedshaiti.com/ to learn more about the orphanage.
Dealing With Lightning Protection: Quality control relies on specification, installation, and inspection.
By Kim Loehr
December 1, 2015 — Lightning packs a powerful punch. A single bolt carries up to 100 million volts of electricity and has the power to rip through roofs, explode walls of brick and concrete, wreak havoc with circuitry and ignite deadly fires. It is no wonder experts with the U.S. National Weather Service have dubbed lightning as “the most dangerous and frequently encountered weather hazard experienced by most people each year.”
While lightning poses significant safety and economic concerns, there is good news for design/construction professionals and property owners. Unlike threats posed by tornadoes, hurricanes, or floods, lightning is a force of nature for which affordable and reliable protection is available. A lightning protection system that meets all applicable safety standards from the onset will ensure system reliability for the future.
As long as lightning’s electricity is confined to a conductive path (i.e. the quickest route to the ground), it will not cause damage, explains Bud VanSickle, executive director for the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). “Only when electricity encounters resistance does it cause destruction,” he says. (LPI is a leading resource for lightning protection and lightning safety information. Visit www.lightning.org for a list of certified contractors in Canada and the United States Information about follow-up, third-party inspection services is available at www.lpi-ip.com.)
Resistance is the concept behind arc-welding. When electrical current runs through an arc-welder, the resistance it encounters while arcing through air generates the heat necessary to melt steel. Unlike the arc welder, the highly conductive copper and aluminum materials used in a lightning protection system provide a low resistance path to safely ground lightning’s dangerous electricity without allowing it to ‘jump’ or ‘sideflash.’ When the lightning protection network is in place, the lightning strike is intercepted and directed to ground without impact to the structure, occupants, or contents.
Lightning protection standards
Lightning systems must include the following elements:
• strike termination network (i.e. air terminals or lightning rods);
• down-conductor network;
• grounding electrode network;
• equipotential bonding network; and
• surge protection devices (for all incoming power, data, and communication lines).
Failure to make proper provisions for special grounding techniques of these five elements can result in inadequate levels of protection.
Construction managers, engineers, and affected consumers should familiarize themselves with the fundamentals of lightning protection specification, installation, and inspection. While reference to the safety standards is crucial for proper installation and application, recent changes in Canadian regulation regarding inspections for lightning protection may be a source of confusion and misinformation about the trade and industry best practices.
In January 2011, the Government of Ontario repealed its Regulation 712, also known as the Lightning Rods Act. The repeal ceased the administration of lightning rod inspections by the Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM). The act was first introduced in 1922 to address concerns about inadequate lightning protection system installations in Ontario. While the regulation did not require system installations, it provided a licensing system for distributors and installers and authorized the OFM to inspect systems.
Although the inspections will no longer be provided by the fire marshal, OFM continues to offer guidance for lightning protection system installations and is still recommending compliance with established safety standards—the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Underwriters Laboratory (UL).
“There is nothing currently in the building code about lightning protection installation or inspections for structures in Alberta,” said Carol Henke, public information officer at the Calgary Fire Department.
Henke explained different provinces in Canada have different codes that can be augmented with bylaws to respond to the needs of a particular region. She said fire safety officials support lightning protection efforts in Canada regardless of building code requirements or omissions.
“Our department is committed to serving the community through excellence in prevention, education, and protection and by delivering fire safety outreach to Calgarians,” said Henke. “Naturally, we are very supportive of safety measures that go above and beyond to protect citizens.”
The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is also increasing efforts to improve the best practices for lightning protection in Canada.
“LPI membership includes installation companies in Canada committed to bringing this high level of service to their markets, along with U.S. member contractors who work in the provinces,” said VanSickle. “We believe the market for lightning protection is going through a transitional period and LPI plans to be an active partner in developing professional quality solutions that eliminate concerns for all users of lightning protection.”
Excerpted from Construction Canada. To read the full article visit http://www.kenilworth.com/publications/cc/de/201512/files/100.html
Advancing Building Safety: Why it’s important to include lightning protection in the resilient “smart home” model.
November 11, 2015 — Lightning is the weather threat that affects most people, most of the time in the U.S. Yet, lightning is not considered to be a “natural disaster” and despite its impact to people, property, homes and businesses, this common weather peril is often overlooked as a threat worthy of mitigation.
A recently released “Natural Disaster Housing Risk Report” by RealtyTrac® (www.realtytrac.com), the nation’s leading source for comprehensive housing data, found that “35.8 million U.S. single family homes and condos are located in counties with high or very high natural hazard risk.” Statistics like these sound the alarm to end the “build-destroy-rebuild” cycle of the past, which has only served to cost taxpayers money without providing a mechanism for much-needed prevention. While specific weather threats may be rare in certain regions of the country, lightning is prevalent just about everywhere, so its impact should be considered and addressed.
When the goal is comprehensive resiliency for homes and structures, it’s not just an “ounce of prevention” that will provide the cure. Designers, builders and code officials are increasingly mindful of practices that provide resistance to natural hazards such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and wildfires–but what about lightning? Even the most safety-conscious designer, may not have considered this risk that affects thousands of homeowners each year. The massive power of lightning’s electrical charge and intense heat can induce destructive power surges through home circuitry, burn holes in CSST gas piping, explode brick and roofing materials, and ignite house fires. Lightning is also unique in that it doesn’t discriminate state by state, as most regions in the U.S. are highly susceptible to lightning strikes. Since lightning strikes more than 250,000 times per year and the vast majority of homes in the U.S. do not have lightning protection systems, there is a real potential for danger and destruction.
While it’s true that lightning losses are generally a covered peril in most property insurance policies, no homeowner relishes the idea of having to replace treasured belongings and valuable electronics due to a lightning-induced fire or power surge. Lightning protection is often one of the least expensive improvements that homeowners can purchase, and it can provide the best type of insurance–peace of mind and protection for family, home and valuables.
A lightning protection system provides a network of low resistance paths to safely intercept lightning’s dangerous electricity and direct it to ground without impact to the structure or its occupants. When lightning’s electricity is confined to a properly designed conductive path via a lightning protection system (e.g. roof network, grounding, bonding and surge protection) damage can be minimized or eliminated. Providing this low resistance path means the lightning does not try to fight its way through non-conductive building materials like wood, brick, rubber, etc. which can spark fires and even explosions.
When advancing building resiliency and disaster safety, it’s important that designers, builders and code officials don’t overlook lightning protection as part of the “smart home” model. Just as smart homes provide the ultimate in safety and comfort, lightning protection systems provide the ultimate in peace of mind to ensure those state-of-the-art energy collection methods and home automation systems don’t fall prey to damage by direct or nearby lightning strikes. Lightning’s harmful surges can zap, interrupt and damage these internal building systems and the ensuing repairs can result in homeowner headaches and costly service fees. A single bolt of lightning can pack over 100 million volts of electricity—which can strike a serious blow to even the smartest home. (Smart home automation systems can have a hard time functioning on on lightning-fried brain cells!)
Not only is lightning protection effective and affordable, but it provides another measure to improve building safety, resiliency, sustainability and efficiency. Specifying lightning protection systems for smart homes is an important way that designers can help build lightning safe communities. With lightning hitting the earth over 100 times per second, underestimating the lightning risk or overlooking the lightning protection for the smart home is just plain stupid.
Fire Prevention Month is the right time to assess the benefits of smoke alarms and lightning protection systems.
Do you have a working smoke alarm in your bedroom? Can you “hear the beep where you sleep?” If not, now is the time to assess your smoke alarms—and it’s not enough to just check or replace the batteries.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), one quarter of home fire deaths are caused by fires that originate in the bedroom. It’s a scary statistic, and it’s the reason NFPA’s Fire Prevention Month campaign is encouraging homeowners to install smoke alarms in every bedroom and on every level; including basements and attics. NFPA is also stressing the importance of testing smoke alarms monthly and urging families to make an escape plan a priority, since in a fire situation, every second counts!
The NFPA estimates that home fires account for $7 billion in property loss in the U.S. Thunderstorm-sparked fires that occur in the darkness of night, can be difficult to detect; especially if the fire originates in the attic, basement or electrical panel. These fires can be especially destructive, when lightning ignites a home fire in one of the following ways:
- Through a direct strike
- In an arc discharge between two conductive objects at different induced potentials
- By a current surge in circuitry and electrical equipment
- By the overflow of substantial electrical current which causes overheating, melting or vaporizing of metal
- By arcing of lightning current from conductors at high-resistance grounds
- Through lightning puncturing pinholes in CSST gas piping
A typical lightning strike can pack up to 200 kA of electrical energy (100 million volts of power), and it’s not uncommon to read news accounts about lightning igniting late night home fires in many areas of the country. Just prior to posting this blog, lightning struck a home in Ancaster, N.Y., sparking a 2:00 a.m. fire in the home’s electrical box. Thankfully for the homeowners, firemen responded quickly, preventing injuries and total destruction.
What many homeowners may not know, is that a lightning protection system can provide a safe and effective grounding network to protect a structure from this type of preventable fire. When installed by a certified specialist, lightning protection systems meet the needs of safety, technology and design. A complete system includes: strike termination devices, conductors, ground terminals, interconnecting bonding to minimize side flashing, and surge protection devices for incoming power, data and communication lines to prevent harmful electrical surges. Methods and materials for lightning protection are reviewed regularly through a national safety standard process, which means the science of lightning protection keeps pace with our ever-changing technology. The NFPA 780 Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems is recognized as the most comprehensive resource for reducing lightning risks. The 2014 Standard includes 12 chapters and 15 annex sections to provide a thorough overview of design requirements and applications for lightning protection systems.
NFPA ‘s Fire Prevention campaign is believed to be the longest running public health and safety observance on record. Since 1922, the country has seen huge progress in the fire safety movement with the construction of fire-resistant buildings and improvements in fire suppression techniques. Fire Prevention Month is also a good time to remind homeowners about LPI’s newly released video about the lightning risk and the benefits of lightning protection systems for homeowners: http://lightning.org/learn-more/watch-learn/#video-3
More information about fire safety and NFPA’s annual campaign is available at www.firepreventionweek.org.
This October, help LPI build lightning safe communities by learning more about lightning protection and fire safety. Make sure you can “hear the BEEP, where you SLEEP!” And when you have a lightning protection system installed by a qualified LPI professional, you and your family can enjoy the peace of mind to rest easy!