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.