Advancing Building Safety: Why it’s important to include lightning protection in the resilient “smart home” model.

This “Smart Home” model which includes lightning protection, was featured in a recently released paper by the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes-FLASH. The paper, “Understanding the Intersection of Resilience, Big Data, and the Internet of Things in the Changing Insurance Marketplace” reveals how the disaster-resilience movement is being advanced through the creation and sharing of valuable data and resources. Visit www.flash.org to access a copy of the full report.

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.