Safeguarding the Past and Preparing for the Future: Why Lightning Protection is Important for Historic Structures

Historic structures possess unique characteristics that typically require elevated levels of scrutiny for insurance, safety, building maintenance and risk management. These thorough levels of examination can delve even deeper depending upon whether the structure is a “certified historic rehabilitation” (eligible for tax credits) or a recognized historic landmark that is a designated part of a property, building or locality.

Anyone who has ever owned, managed, maintained or worked on or around a historic building can appreciate the litany of factors involved when it comes to preservation, restoration, and rehabilitation of these properties. It’s not just age that makes these buildings more expensive to replace or repair after damage has occurred; it’s more typically the design, construction and building components found in historic structures that make them more vulnerable to damage—especially by fire. And as we know, a single bolt of lightning can generate up to 200 kA of electrical energy, making the threat of fire from a direct strike or indirect surge, a serious concern for historic buildings and landmarks.

For property stakeholders concerned about lightning, the National Park Service has released a Lightning Protection Preservation Brief, written by Charles E. Fisher, which graciously references acknowledgements to several LPI members and LPI member companies who contributed information and materials. The 20-page, illustrated document provides lightning protection system (LPS) guidance for property owners and trades involved in the preservation of historic structures. Although lightning protection isn’t necessarily a mandatory requirement just because a building is historic, the brief includes a clear reminder regarding the role of lightning protection for these structures: “As an irreplaceable cultural resource, historic structures at risk of damage or loss from a lightning strike merit protection.”

Safety standard-compliant lightning protection systems are often included in renovations of historic properties to help safeguard these irreplaceable structures from a leading weather threat.

LPI-certified lightning protection specialists can meet the special considerations needed for working on your historic structure or landmark.

Just a single lightning strike can eradicate the heritage and cultural value of an unprotected landmark in an instant; making a sound argument for risk prevention against this common weather hazard.

The document also features a wealth of lightning protection information, including detailed reference sections for the following:

* Maintenance and repair of historic and older LPS

* Inspection and evaluation of LPS on historic properties

* Factors to consider when assessing need for LPS

* Historic preservation guidance re: design/installation of new LPS

* LPS and re-roofing concerns for historic structures

* Historical information re: LPS codes and standards

* Spotlight case studies of historical properties

Since lightning makes no distinction between new or old construction, lightning protection should be a serious consideration in terms of risk management and insurance for all structures—but especially for historic buildings, where irreplaceable items, heritage and cultural values could be eradicated in a fraction of a second, if lightning were to strike.