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.