Hurricane Season is a Timely Reminder of the Devastating Effect Natural Disasters Can Have on You and Your Property
We hear a lot about sustainable building design concepts and have witnessed an increase in sustainability being incorporated into construction through green building rating systems. There is certainly a consensus of the importance of implementing resiliency measures to fortify homes and structures to address concerns about most natural hazards. Designers, builders and code officials are typically mindful of practices that provide resistance to natural hazards such as high winds, earthquakes, floods and wildfires–but what about lightning? The risk of lightning and especially fire associated with lightning, is often overlooked and underrated as a potential threat. Even the most safety-conscious designer, may not have considered this risk that affects thousands of homeowners each year. Lightning associated with thunderstorms and sometimes hurricanes can pose a variety of fire hazards. 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.
According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) lightning strikes in the U.S. cost nearly $1 billion in insured losses in 2011. These losses ranged from damage to expensive electronic equipment, to structural fires that destroyed entire homes.
While it’s true that lightning losses are generally a covered peril in most property insurance policies, there are treasured belongings that homeowners can’t replace or restore. 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.
What’s unique about lightning is that it doesn’t discriminate according to the region of the country, as most areas are 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. The upside is that typically, only minimal design modifications are needed to address hazard resistance against this frequently destructive force of nature. For homeowners who don’t want to take a chance with lightning, a professionally installed lightning protection system is a viable idea.
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. The highly conductive copper and aluminum materials used in a lightning protection system provide a low resistance path through which lightning can travel. Providing this low resistance path means the lightning does not try to fight its way through non-conductive building materials like wood, brick, rubber membranes, glass and plastic en route to the ground. Since the resistance encountered in these materials is what produces heat, fires and even explosions, adding a lightning protection system can safeguard a home from the resultant effects of lightning.
It’s important for designers, builders and code officials to include lightning protection among green building practices for natural hazard resistance. Not only is lightning protection effective and affordable, but it provides another measure to improve building resiliency. Since quality control issues frequently arise in building planning and the field, technical support is often necessary to ensure systems comply with national installation safety standards. Of the national authorities who write and revise the lightning protection safety standards, LPI is the only one founded specifically to study lightning protection. The Lightning Protection Institute – Inspection Program (LPI-IP) provides on-site lightning protection system inspection services, follow-up inspection reports and issues certification for systems that comply with national safety standards of LPI-175, NFPA-780 and/or UL-96A. The LPI-IP program was designed to serve a growing industry need for a comprehensive third party inspection approach for commercial and residential projects in the U.S. Visit the LPI-IP web site at www.lpi-ip.com for more information.
New Website Connects Facilities and Patrons with Educational Materials
LPI and the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) have joined forces to launch a lightning safety initiative to provide educational resources for outdoor recreational facilities. The “Safer Design for Safer Play” campaign features a new website, www.lightning-risk.org, that provides best practices for lightning safety and effective lightning protection measures for outdoor facilities such as theme parks, golf courses, playgrounds and sports stadiums. The website is an information warehouse which connects owners, operators, designers and patrons of recreational facilities with useful information about lightning, a deadly yet often underrated threat.
The “Safer Design for Safer Play” initiative dovetails with new efforts by the National Weather Service (NWS) to promote greater lightning safety at outdoor venues. The NWS has created a new “Lightning Safety Toolkit for Large Venues” that details the voluntary steps recreational facilities can adopt to better protect patrons from lightning threats in order to earn NWS recognition for a lightning safety program.
“The National Weather Service is pleased to see the lightning protection industry offer new educational resources to the public and those who design and operate recreational facilities,” said Donna Franklin, NWS program coordinator for lightning safety. “By leveraging our own efforts with the work of the private sector and other disaster safety organizations, we hope to help avert future lightning-related tragedies at outdoor venues.”
Lightning safety at outdoor recreational venues is a special concern, as a significant percentage of lightning deaths and injuries occur in these settings. Last September, a lifeguard at Adventure Island in Tampa, FL was killed while evacuating a water slide as a lightning storm approached. Just a month earlier, eight people were injured by a lightning strike after exiting a water pool at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove in Orlando. Numerous other lightning fatalities and injuries have occurred at golf courses, campgrounds and baseball fields.
Providing lightning protection for recreational facilities with large open areas is difficult but not impossible. The new initiative is designed to connect recreational facility designers and operators with the educational resources they need to help reduce risk and keep patrons safe against lightning. Facility designers can rely on the same criteria that organizations like the FAA, NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense have developed to protect munitions, piers, air fields and camps. These design criteria are described in the National Fire Protection Association Standard, NFPA 780 – Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems. Designers can also turn to LPI and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for more information on effective lightning protection system design. Detailed information about these standards is available at www.lightning-risk.org.
“As summer months carry an increased lightning threat, we encourage patrons of recreational facilities to visit lightning-risk.org to become better educated about how they can protect themselves and their families when visiting their favorite golf course, beach or theme park,” said Bud VanSickle, LPI executive director.
VanSickle also urged people to lend their support to the “Safer Design for Safer Play” initiative by clicking on the ‘Join the Lightning Safety Initiative’ button on the www.lightning-risk.org home page. Individuals and owners, operators or designers of recreational facilities can sign up for emails about upcoming educational and training opportunities relating to lightning safety and lightning protection systems or submit relevant reports, articles or presentations that can be posted on the lightning-risk.org website.
Lightning is an underrated killer. Knowing fact from fiction can save lives and prevent lightning injuries. Here are some common myths about lightning and the actual facts.
Myth #1: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
Fact: Lightning often strikes the same place repeatedly, especially if it’s a tall, pointy, isolated object. The Empire State Building was once used as a lightning laboratory, since it is hit nearly 25 times per year. (Recent video footage in April of 2011 recorded lightning striking the Empire State Building several times in a matter of just a few minutes.)
Myth #2: Lightning rods don’t really work.
Fact: When installed with national safety standards, lightning protection systems will properly protect a building to withstand a multitude of lightning strikes. This is why major buildings like the Sears Tower or the Empire State sustain dozens of strikes a year and are still standing!
Myth #3: If it’s not raining, or if clouds aren’t overhead, you’re safe from lightning.
Fact: Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the thunderstorm, far outside the rain or even thunderstorm cloud. “Bolts from the Blue,” though infrequent, can strike 10-15 miles from the thunderstorm.
Myth #4: Rubber tires protect you from lightning in a car by insulating you from the ground.
Fact: Most cars are reasonably safe from lightning, but it’s the metal roof and metal sides that protect you, not the rubber tires. Thus convertibles, motorcycles, bikes, open shelled outdoor recreation vehicles, and cars with plastic or fiberglass shells offer no lightning protection.
Myth #5: A lightning victim is electrified. If you touch them, you’ll be electrocuted.
Fact: The human body doesn’t store electricity. It is perfectly safe to touch a lightning victim to give them first aid.
Myth #6: If outside in a thunderstorm, go under a tree to stay dry.
Fact: Being underneath trees is the second leading activity for lightning casualties.
Myth #7: A house will keep you safe from lightning.
Fact: While a house is a good place for lightning safety, just going inside isn’t enough. You must avoid any conducting path leading outside, such as corded telephones, electrical appliances, wires, TV cables, plumbing, metal doors or window frames, etc. Don’t stand near a window to watch the lightning. An inside room is generally safe, but a home equipped with a professionally-installed lightning protection system is the safest shelter available.
Myth #8: Wearing metal on your body (jewelry, watches, glasses, backpacks, etc.), attracts lightning.
Fact: Height, pointy shape, and isolation are the dominant factors controlling where a lightning bolt will strike. The presence of metal makes virtually no difference where the lightning strikes. While metal doesn’t attract lightning, touching or being near long metal objects (fences, railings, bleachers, vehicles, etc.) is still unsafe when thunderstorms are nearby. If lightning does happen to hit it, the metal can conduct the electricity a long distance and still electrocute you.
Myth #9: Lightning rods attract lightning.
Fact: Definitely not! A lightning protection system simply intercepts a lightning strike and provides a path to ground for discharging the dangerous electricity.
Myth #10 : Surge arresters and suppressors will protect my home against lightning.
Fact: Surge arresters and suppressors are important components of a complete lightning protection system, but can do nothing to protect a structure against a direct lightning strike. These items must be installed in conjunction with a lightning protection system (air terminals, bonding, grounding, etc.) to provide whole house protection.
Myth #11: Lightning protection is way too expensive for the average homeowner.
Fact: Lightning protection is often one of the least expensive home improvements you can purchase and offers peace of mind and proven protection for your family, home and valuables. If you live in a lightning-prone area, it provides a big return on a small investment.
Myth #12: T.V. antennas and satellite dishes protect structures from lightning.
Fact: No! As antennas are not adequately grounded to safely handle the powerful lightning current, the can actually provide an easy entry for lightning’s harmful current.
Myth #13 : All modern buildings are “grounded” and don’t need lightning protection, right?
Fact: No! This refers to the electrical service being grounded for general electricity. The electrical service is not adequate to handle a lightning strike which can pack up to 30 million volts of power.
Myth #14: I don’t need lightning rods because only tall buildings get hit and my neighbors’ houses are much taller.
Fact: Lower roof levels and structures are often lightning targets, as lightning is just seeking that lowest resistance path to ground. Scientists say that lightning doesn’t pick its strike termination target until within 150 ft. of the striking point.
Myth #15: If trapped outside and lightning is about to strike, lay flat on the ground.
Fact: Lightning induces electric currents along the top of the ground that can be deadly over 100 feet away. While lying flat on the ground gets you as low as possible, it increases your chance of being hit by a ground current. Consult weather forecasts when planning outdoor activities and try to have a plan in place for safe shelter if a storm should approach. Remember, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!”
- There are 1,800 thunderstorms in progress at any given time on Earth.
- Lightning has been known to strike 10 miles from the storm in an area of clear sky above.
- The longest bolt of lightning seen to date was 118 miles long. It was seen in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
- Lightning strikes 30 million points on the ground in a given year in the U.S.
- Lightning injures approximately 1,000 people each year.
- Half of all lightning fires and almost three-fifths of non-fire lightning strikes are reported in July and August.
- The deadliest U.S. fire started by lightning in recent years was the January 2006 West Virginia coal mine explosion that claimed 12 lives. The incident occurred approximately 2 miles from the mine entrance, when methane gas was ignited by a lightning strike that occurred a distance from the mine and followed a cable into the mine.
Electrical Safety Campaign Reminds Consumers that Lightning is an Underrated and Often Forgotten Hazard
When purchasing expensive home electronics how often do you consider the risk of lightning damage? Lightning likes technology, too. As our world becomes more and more tech-savvy, the losses from lightning strikes are increasing. Sensitive home electronics are often susceptible to damage by lightning, as a single bolt of lightning can cause electrical surges capable of damaging or destroying vulnerable electric equipment. Luckily, there are steps consumers can take to prepare their homes and protect their electronics against this unpredictable, yet common hazard. Since May is National Electrical Safety Month, the Lightning Protection Institute is reminding homeowners about the dangers of lightning, an underrated and often forgotten electrical hazard.
“When consumers purchase expensive electronics, lightning danger probably doesn’t even cross their minds,” said ESFI president Brett Brenner. “In reality, a single bolt of lightning can cause electrical surges capable of damaging or destroying sensitive equipment. Luckily, there are steps you can take to prepare your home and protect your electronics from this unpredictable, yet common hazard.”
Today’s homes and businesses have more electronic equipment than ever before, and metal building components are on the rise as well. Internal systems lead lightning toward more valuable, often irreplaceable items and unfortunately people are often put in close proximity with those systems.
A lightning protection system is the best way to dissipate the dangerous electrical discharge to eliminate damage to a structure. The 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 the lightning protection system, damage is minimized or eliminated. When considering lightning protection, the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) emphasizes the importance of contracting with a qualified and experienced LPI-certified specialist.
“LPI-certified specialists are trained to install systems in accordance with nationally recognized safety standards of LPI, NFPA and UL,” explained Bud VanSickle, executive director at LPI. “Quality control is paramount and installation is not a do-it-yourself project. Improper installation can lead to serious consequences, and in severe cses may be worse than not having protection at all.”
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) sponsors National Electrical Safety Month each May to increase public awareness of the electrical hazards around us at home, work, school and play. ESFI is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety. For more information about ESFI and electrical safety, visit www.electrical-safety.org.
Lightning Sparks Concerns for Insurance Industry and Property Owners as Storm-Related Claims Continue to Rise.
Lightning Protection Systems Can Safeguard Against Losses
Tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires have been responsible for major devastation in the U.S.over recent years, but intense lightning storms have also caused their share of share of damage and destruction. In fact, lightning strikes cost more than $1 billion in insured losses in 2010 – a significant increase from 2009, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
An analysis of homeowners’ insurance data provided by the I.I.I. found there were more than 213,000 lightning claims in 2010, up nearly 15 percent from 2009. These losses ranged from damage to expensive electronic equipment to structural fires that destroyed entire homes.
The I.I.I. estimated the average homeowner lightning claim at $4,846 for 2010, while in 2009 the average claim totaled $4,296. The average cost per claim rose nearly 13 percent from 2009 to 2010 and more than 80 percent from 2004-2010, even as the actual number of claims fell by a little over 23 percent in the six- year period. (Note: claims costs for 2011 have not been released yet.)
The I.I.I. explained that the record losses were a result, in part, because of the large number of storms occurring in 2010 year. (According to the I.I.I., catastrophe losses in 2010 totaled $13.6 billion.)
Since 2010 was a record year for tornado activity, and tornadoes are usually accompanied by severe thunderstorms, it was not surprising that the number of such claims increased substantially.
According to the I.I.I., damage caused by lightning, such as fire, is covered by standard homeowners and business insurance policies. Some home and business insurance policies provide coverage for power surges that are the direct result of lightning striking a home or business. The I.I.I. also reminds homeowners that there is coverage for lightning damage under the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.
How Homeowners Can Reduce their Risk of Lightning Damage:
- Have a lightning protection system installed for your home or business.
- Include protection for electrical, telephone, cable or satellite TV lines entering the structure.
- Make sure all equipment is UL-listed and properly labeled.
- Be sure the system is installed in accordance with the building(s) or structure(s), it should be designed and installed in accordance with accepted industry standards and with NFPA, LPI and UL requirements. Contact LPI-IP at www.lpi-ip.com for options re: affordable quality-control home inspection services.
- Check references and work with a qualified, LPI-Certified Lightning Protection Specialist. (A qualified specialist should provide a list of references and affiliation with industry groups such as NFPA, the United Lightning Protection Association, and the Lightning Safety Alliance(LSA).
- Experience counts. Be wary of start-up companies or contractors offering a “price deal” to install, fix or repair your lightning protection.
- When in doubt, contact. www.bbb.org to locate your local Better Business Bureau to obtain reliability report information on a contractor before you hire them.
Lightning protection systems are designed to protect a structure and provide a specified path to harness and safely ground the super-charged current of the lightning bolt. The system neither attracts nor repels a strike, but receives the stroke and routes it harmlessly into the earth, thus discharging the dangerous electrical event. A certified lightning protection system can protect your family and property and save you from an inconvenience and costly insurance claim.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT INSURANCE RESOURCES, VISIT: www.iii.org
Each spring, millions of properties are damaged or destroyed by lightning. A single bolt of lightning can generate heat in excess of 50,000 degrees F which can spark fires or cause surging through electrical circuitry. Lightning losses often include damage to expensive home electronics, as well. Homeowner insurance claims from lightning strikes continue to rise, with the average claim costing over $4,000. Fires caused by lightning represent a serious threat to life and property, but the risk is often overlooked by home and business owners. A lightning strike to an unprotected structure can cause catastrophic damage. Fortunately, there are relatively simple and inexpensive measurers that can be taken to substantially reduce the chances of lightning-related damage and disruptions.
A professionally-installed lightning protection system which meets U.S. Safety Standards will prevent lightning damage by providing a safe electrical path into the earth for lightning’s destructive energy. The system provides a network of low resistance paths which provide grounding without impact to the structure or its occupants.
According to the National Weather Service, there are three main ways that lightning enters buildings: 1) a direct strike, 2) through wire or pipes that extend outside the structure, and 3) through the ground. Regardless of the method of entrance, once inside the structure, the lightning can travel through the electrical, communication, or data wiring, along with plumbing, gas or process piping systems. Lightning can also travel through structural steel framing and reinforcing rods in concrete walls or flooring.
On the outside of the structure, lightning can travel along the outer shell and may follow conductive metal vents, roof drainage elements and external supports as it seeks a path to ground.
While the concept behind lightning protection is relatively simple, the requirements for proper installation are specific and often complex. Specifications, technical information and installation methods should comply with LPI-175, NFPA-780 and UL-96 A, which are the three nationally recognized safety standards for lightning protection installation:
LPI stresses that understanding lightning is a good first step for homeowners to take when considering protection. Considering lightning inspires awe and wonder, and also fear, it is important to separate fact and fiction when it comes to lightning safety.
Lightning is not deterred by surge arresters, suppressors and “whole-house protectors.” Contrary to popular belief, surge protection devices cannot protect a structure against direct lightning strikes. While these devices are important components of a complete system to protect incoming utility lines against infiltration, on their own they do little to protect a home from lightning. However, when combined with a structural lightning rod system, (air terminals, bonding and grounding) they can prove a valuable and effective means of protection.
Lightning rods do not attract lightning. Another myth commonly associated with lightning is that lightning rods attract lightning. In fact, a lightning protection system acts more as an interceptor of lightning, rerouting a strike and providing a safe path to ground for discharging the dangerous electricity.
Tall trees do not protect homes from lightning strikes. The problem with a home nestled under a group of trees is where the best ground path for the lightning might be. Common metallic grounded systems within a home (electric, phone, gas, water) may provide a preferable grounding medium for the lightning. Therefore, lightning can actually “side-flash” from a tree and enter a home as it seeks a more conductive path to ground.
Lightning likes technology. As the world becomes more and more tech-savvy, the losses from lightning strikes are increasing. Today’s homes and businesses have more electronic equipment than ever before, and metal building components are on the rise as well. Internal systems lead lightning toward more valuable, often irreplaceable items and people in close proximity.
A lightning rod on a chimney will not provide adequate protection. A single rod or single air terminal is not adequate to protect a structure against lightning. A complete system which complies with safety standards is needed to provide safe and effective lightning protection performance. Improper installation can lead to serious and dangerous consequences for the homeowner.
Lightning rods are not unsightly on chimneys and roofs. An experienced lightning protection contractor will ensure the lightning protection system will not detract from the structure and will blend aesthetically with the roof and chimney composition.
A professionally installed lightning protection system can provide security and peace of mind. In many cases, homeowners can expect to pay less for lightning protection than a typical security system. For homeowners at risk, lightning protection is an important amenity that can provide a big return on a small investment.
Kim Loehr, a communications consultant for LPI, partners with the NOAA Lightning Safety Awareness Team and is a member of NFPA’s Building Fire Safety Systems Section. She is also a registered course provider with the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) and its national Continuing Education Service (CES). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hurricanes and tornadoes receive the most news coverage, but lightning accounts for more than one billion dollars annually in structural damage to buildings in the U.S. The good news is that lightning losses can be prevented.
“Home and business owners needn’t take their chances with lightning,” says Bud VanSickle, executive director of the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI),” A professionally-installed lightning protection system which meets U.S. Safety Standards will prevent lightning damage by providing a safe electrical path into the earth for lightning’s destructive energy.”
Lightning is electricity. When electricity is confined to a properly designed conductive path, damage can be minimized. Destruction results when electricity encounters resistance, similar to the resistance used in arc welding. When electrical current runs through an arc welder, the resistance it encounters when arcing through air, generates the heat necessary to melt steel. The highly conductive copper and aluminum materials used in a lightning protection system provide a low resistance path for lightning to travel without resistance.
When the lightning protection network is in place, a lightning strike is intercepted and directed to ground without impact to a structure or its contents. Without the presence of the low resistance path provided by a lightning protection system, the lightning will fight its way through non-conductive building materials like wood, brick, rubber membranes, glass plastic, etc., on its way to earth ground. The resistance lightning encounters can produce heat, fires and even explosions.
Standards Govern Installation
While the concept behind lightning protection is relatively simple, the requirements for proper installation are specific and often complex. Specifications, technical information and installation methods should comply with these three nationally recognized authorities that publish safety standards for lightning protection installation:
- Lightning Protection Institute (LPI); Standard of Practice, LPI-175
- National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems, NFPA 780
- Underwriters Laboratories (UL); Installation Requirements for Lightning Protection Systems, UL 96A, and UL 96, Standard for Lightning Protection Components.
Of the above, LPI is the only organization founded specifically to study lightning protection. The LPI was established in 1955 to promote lightning safety, awareness and protection education. The organization provides certification and education programming for lightning protection installation, design and inspection through a “Master Installer” testing program to qualify competence. LPI recently introduced the LPI-IP third-party inspection program for installation quality assurance, as improper design and installation can lead to serious and dangerous consequences for the homeowner.
Importance of System Quality Control
Lightning protection technology is a specialty discipline and expertise is required for system design and installation. Systems for homes and businesses should be installed by trained and experienced LPI-certified and UL-listed specialists. LPI offers these tips for property owners seeking a qualified lightning protection specialist:
- Make sure materials and methods comply with nationally-recognized safety standards of the LPI, NFPA and UL.
- Contract with experienced and reputable LPI-certified and UL-listed lightning protection contractors for lightning protection system installations.
- Check references. A qualified specialist should provide a list of references and affiliation with industry groups such as NFPA, ULPA, LSA and LPI.
- Ask about surge protection. Lightning-induced surges can damage electronics and appliances. A qualified lightning protection contractor can provide
Options for service entrance arresters and surge protection devices.
- Experience counts. Be wary of start-up companies or contractors offering a “price deal” to install, fix or repair your lightning protection.
- Contact www.lpi-ip.com for affordable inspection options, as a third party inspection of your system can ensure proper installation.
- When in doubt, contact www.bbb.org to locate your local Better Business Bureau to obtain a reliability report for the contractor before you hire.
The decision to purchase a lightning protection system is a lot like buying an insurance policy. Homeowners may purchase a system knowing that they will not use it every day, but it will be there to protect them when needed. Often the cost of installing lightning protection is considered minimal as compared to the potential for loss.
For more information on lightning protection or to obtain a list of certified contractors, visit the LPI web-site at www.lightning.org. Visit www.lpi-ip for information on lightning protection inspection services.
Contact: Kim Loehr, LPI communications director @ email@example.com
Note: The LPI has joined with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service to promote public awareness about lightning safety through the National Lightning Safety Awareness Week campaign (June 24-30, 2012). Visit www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov for more information.