July 14, 2014 — July is typically the most dangerous month for lightning in the U.S. According the National Weather Service, more than 30 % of all lightning deaths and injuries occur in July. Property losses are typically at their peak in July, as well with lightning losses ranging from fires which destroy entire structures–to surges that damage sensitive home electronics. According the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) lightning strikes cost nearly $1 billion in insured losses in 2013. In an analysis of homeowner insurance losses, the I.I.I. cited the average lightning-paid claim amount at $5,869, while the average cost of a home lightning protection system is $2,500.
Even though a single bolt of lightning can generate heat in excess of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit and a strike to an unprotected structure can cause catastrophic damage, the lightning risk is often overlooked. The function of the lightning protection system is often misunderstood, as well.
The highly conductive copper and aluminum materials used in a lightning protection system provide a low resistance path to safely ground lightning’s dangerous electricity. When the lightning protection network is in place, the lightning strike is intercepted and directed to ground without impact to the structure, occupants or contents.
A lightning protection system that meets national safety standards of NFPA 780 and UL96, UL96A includes the following elements:
* Strike termination network (air terminals or lightning rods)
* Down-conductor network
* Grounding electrode network
* Equipotential bonding network
* Surge protection devices (for incoming power, data and communication lines)
Failure to make proper provisions for special grounding techniques, or any of the above five elements can result in inadequate protection.
Even thought lightning is the weather hazard experienced most often in the U.S., myths and misinformation about lightning protection persist.
July is the perfect time to reiterate a few facts about lightning and lightning protection:
My “whole-house protector” is all I need to prevent a lightning fire.
Contrary to popular belief, surge protection devices (SPD’s) cannot protect a structure against direct lightning strikes. While these devices are important components of a complete system to protect incoming utility lines against infiltration, on their own they do little to protect a home from lightning. However, when combined with a structural lightning rod system, (strike termination devices, bonding and grounding network) SPD’s can prove a valuable and effective means of protection.
Lightning rods don’t work and actually attract lightning.
Another myth commonly associated with lightning is that lightning rods attract lightning. In fact, a lightning protection system acts more as an interceptor of lightning, rerouting a strike and providing a safe path to ground for discharging the dangerous electricity. A lot of our critical facilities depend on lightning protection systems, so if they attracted lightning, we’d be in a lot of trouble, here.
I have tall trees that protect my home from lightning strikes.
The problem with a home nestled under a group of trees is where the best ground path for the lightning might be. Common metallic grounded systems within a home (electric, phone, gas, water) may provide a preferable grounding medium for the lightning. Therefore, lightning can actually “side-flash” from a tree and enter a home as it seeks a more conductive path to ground.
My home is high tech and is already grounded.
The average home is grounded to handle everyday electricity, but not the mega electricity (300 million volts of power) that lightning can pack. As the world becomes more and more tech-savvy, property losses from lightning strikes have actually increased.
I can install a lightning rod myself or get my handy man to put one on my roof. Lightning protection installation is not a do-it-yourself project. Only experienced and reputable LPI-certified and UL-listed lightning protection contractors should install lightning protection systems. Electricians, roofers and general contractors are typically unfamiliar with lightning protection requirements. Installations should only be performed by qualified personnel who are trained and certified in the installation of lightning protection systems in accordance with industry safety standards. Lightning protection installation isn’t a home science experiment.
Lightning rods are big and ugly and will detract from the looks of my home. Lightning protection systems are everywhere and most are barely visible to the untrained eye. An experienced lightning protection contractor will ensure the lightning protection system will not detract from the structure and will blend aesthetically with the roof and chimney composition.
While lightning can occur during any time of the year, July is typically the most dangerous month for lightning. Knowing the facts about lightning and lightning protection can help keep you and your family safe this summer. See https://lightning.org/learn-more/2014-lightning-safety-awareness-week/
for more facts and information about nature’s underrated risk.