Industry Experts Say Quality Control is Key Component of Lightning Protection System Installation

Lightning protection systems that comply with national Safety Standards can safeguard structures against a deadly and destructive weather threat.HARTFORD, Conn., Jan. 9, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is expanding its commitment to increase best practices in lightning protection specification, installation and quality control.

When a diverse group of lightning protection experts, engineers and safety directors met at the 82nd annual LPI/ULPA Lightning Protection Conference in Singer Island, Florida last February to discuss industry issues, “quality control” was a central theme that dominated presentations and discussions. Several months later, a smaller group of lightning protection experts met in Kansas City for the LPI board meeting to review a range of industry issues. Once again, the importance of quality control for lightning protection was highlighted as an industry priority for 2015 and beyond.

“The need for quality control is not a new concept, but concerns about quality control are increasing,” said Bud VanSickle, executive director for LPI. “A trend is developing with outside trades like electrical and roofing contractors attempting to grow their business by dabbling in lightning protection installation. This is a problem, as lightning protection specifications call for installation in accordance with national safety standards (NFPA 780 and UL 96/96A), UL-listed materials and work performed by LPI-certified lightning protection specialists,” explained VanSickle.

The International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) reiterates the importance of LPI-certified and UL listed installers for lightning protection applications.  IAEI devoted a new chapter called “The Fundamentals of Lightning Protection” to its 10th edition of the “Soares Book on Grounding and Bonding” in 2008, which was updated and expanded in the 11th edition, released in 2011. The handbook now includes a reminder to electrical contractors that “installation of a lightning protection system is much different from the installation of electrical service wiring.”

According to the Soares handbook: “specialized material and installation methods such as that specified in NFPA 780 and UL 96 are required and the system should only be installed by qualified personnel trained and certified in the installation of lightning protection systems.”

“Intertek is in favor of the lightning protection industry’s position to promote installation by specialized and qualified contractors,” saidGary Flom, service line leader, U.S. Field Services at Intertek in Atlanta. “Many state regulations are not stringent where lightning protection installers are concerned, which is why LPI’s emphasis on third party inspection for quality control is healthy for the industry and beneficial for the consumer.”

Intertek is a leading quality solutions auditing, testing, training and inspection provider to industries worldwide. Its network includes more than 1,000 laboratories and offices in more than 100 countries. Intertek provides third party lightning protection inspection services for the Lightning Protection Institute Inspection Program (LPI-IP), which facilitates on-site inspection services, follow-up inspection reports and the issuance of certification for lightning protection systems that comply with LPI, NFPA and UL Standards. According to Flom, Intertek’s inspection and field services are built around requirements of OSHA Standards.

As in most service industries, issues regarding counterfeit and fraudulent third party inspections can be of special concern for lightning protection quality assurance, as well.

UL senior project engineer, Eric Boettcher, shared information with the February LPI/ULPA conference attendees about UL’s “Market Surveillance Group” which investigates fraudulent violations pertaining to third party inspections of lightning protection.  According to Boettcher, UL has an “aggressive stance against counterfeiting” to promote quality control in the marketplace.

“Counterfeiting hasn’t been an issue with our lightning protection inspection program, but it is always a concern for Intertek,” said Flom. “We invest in the education of authorities having jurisdiction and our inspectors are qualified and equipped to understand lightning protection requirements in the field. Intertek’s speed to schedule inspections and consumer-driven service are important aspects of our quality assurance program,” explained Flom.

“Lightning can generate up to 200 kA of electric energy, so quality control for lightning protection is crucial,” said Tim Harger, program manager for LPI-IP.  “The experienced and certified lightning protection specialist will know how to interpret the safety standard requirements, as well as initiate the proper third party inspection process for quality assurance closeout.”

Just as inspections are a standard practice in the world of construction, it’s understood in the lightning protection industry that lightning protection systems must be inspected following completion of their installation. Third party inspection is the cornerstone for quality assurance.  Independent review provides the purest evidence that the installing contractor has met all industry guidelines and complied with recommended practices and safety standards for the lightning protection.

Since lightning protection is a specialized industry, it can be difficult for the owner or project manager (PM) to know what to expect when it comes to third party lightning protection inspections. Here are a few guidelines to help demystify the inspection process:

Why do I need the lightning protection system inspection?
The lightning protection is an important amenity which provides protection against a leading cause of property damage. The third party inspection can identify the need for system oversights, repairs or recommended maintenance.  An independent inspection provides peace of mind to ensure materials and methods comply with recommended practices and industry safety standards.

Do I need to be onsite or present for the inspection?
If possible, it’s always a good idea for an owner or PM to be onsite during the lightning protection inspection.  This gives the owner or PM an opportunity to observe the inspector and understand more about the system and its components. It’s likely that the lightning protection contractor will want to be present, as well, in the event that minor repairs or upgrades to the system are needed. 

What if the inspection report reveals problems or issues with the system?
Depending upon the project, the inspector will issue a certification or report several days/weeks after the inspection. Most lightning protection contractors address installation repairs or issues during the inspection, but if this is not feasible; the inspector will forward a variance or noncompliance letter to the contractor. This variance report summarizes issues and corrective measures needed for system compliance. A follow-up inspection or appropriate documentation of corrective measures is typically required to verify compliance so that inspection certification can be issued.   

How much do inspections cost?
Lightning protection inspection services typically base their costs on the perimeter size of the structure.  Geographic factors may need to be considered and minimal fees for additional services such as ground tests or follow-up reports, may apply, as well.  It’s always a good idea to ask about inspection costs, as well as professional affiliations and references prior to contracting with the lightning protection installer. While a third party inspection may add an additional cost to the contract, it shouldn’t be a deciding factor with the consumer. Quality assurance often comes with a small price, and as we know, the lowest priced services don’t always equate to a bargain.

What do I need to know about guarantees and warranties for lightning protection?
Most reputable contractors will provide warranty information and industry recommendations for periodic inspections and follow-up services, but beware of a contractor who advertises guarantees for services; especially guarantees pertaining to third party inspections. Time tables and arrangements for third party inspections are controlled by the inspection entity (LPI-IP or UL) and notmandated by the lightning protection installer—it’s called an independent inspection service for a reason!  As always, buyers should beware of contractors who make promises or guarantees that sound too good to be true.  

In terms of damage, lightning accounted for about $1 billion in homeowners insurance claims each year from 2010 to 2012, according to an analysis by the Insurance Information Institute. (Note: damage statistics for non-residential structures is not readily available.) In 2013 homeowners insurance claims fell 30.5 percent to $674 million. The I.I.I. attributes the drop to a decline in thunderstorms and an increase in lightning protection specification.

Lightning protection is one of the least expensive improvements you can purchase for your home or business, yet it offers the best type of insurance—peace of mind. An experienced LPI-certified lightning protection specialist will ensure your system is installed using UL-listed materials and make sure methods comply with national safety standards of LPI, NFPA and UL.

The LPI-IP Inspection Program provides system certifications with a three-year expiration date to complement the NFPA three-year code review process and keep pace with new technology. The LPI-IP Inspection Program is serving a growing need for property owners, insurers and builders as a comprehensive third party inspection approach for commercial and residential lightning protection projects. LPI-IP inspections are accepted in MasterSpec as a quality control inspection option for lightning protection.  More information about the program is available at the LPI-IP web site at www.lpi-ip.com.

LPI is a not-for-profit, nationwide group founded in 1955 to promote lightning safety, awareness and protection education.  The organization provides a certification program to qualify competence in lightning protection installation, design and inspection. Visit the LPI web site at www.lightning.org for more information about lightning protection.

The Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) is a non-profit, non-stock national business corporation which supports the efforts of LPI and quality control for lightning protection. The LSA provides a comprehensive and focused evaluation and response to legislative, administrative and regulatory issues facing the industry. The LSA also acts as an informational clearinghouse for membership and provides educational programming on lightning protection and lightning safety. Visit www.lightningsafetyalliance.org for more information.

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SOURCE Lightning Protection Institute

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