Myths continue to abound about lightning and the science of lightning protection. It’s not always easy to know the facts when misinformation is circulated on the internet and through social media. Now that thunderstorm season is in full swing, home and business owners can benefit from accurate information and reality reminders about lightning protection. Here are four answers to frequently asked questions to help separate fact from fiction about lightning protection systems.
Q. Aren’t lightning rods a thing of the past?
Lightning protection systems are installed more today than ever before. According to Underwriters Laboratories, lightning accounts for more than one billion dollars annually in structural damage to buildings in the U.S. This statistic does not include costs due to loss of business, downtime and repairs. Since today’s homes and buildings are equipped with a variety of sensitive electronics, lightning protection systems serve an important purpose. Protecting occupants, structures and critical systems is an important part of the building design phase, which is why construction planners are specifying more systems. Lightning protection systems increase a structure’s sustainability against a common and often costly, weather threat.
Q. Don’t trees protect a structure against lightning
No, trees don’t provide protection from lightning striking your home or business. Actually, lightning can side-flash from a tree and hit a nearby structure, so sometimes trees around a structure and provide an easy entry for lightning’s destructive electricity. Lightning traveling along tree roots can enter a structure by jumping onto nearby telephone, cable and electrical lines, introducing harmful surges. Lightning can also injure a tree from a direct strike that can cause heavy limbs to split and fall onto a nearby structure. Lightning kills and damages more trees than we can account for in the U.S., so unless a tree is equipped with a lightning protection system, it can be extremely vulnerable to damage—with the nearby structure vulnerable, as well.
Q. Isn’t a whole-house surge arrester enough protection against lightning?
Surge protection is only one element of a complete lightning protection system. Since lightning can pack 100 million volts of electricity, a strike to an unprotected structure can be disastrous and a single incident can cost thousands of dollars, with losses ranging from damage to expensive electronics to fires that destroy entire buildings. Unfortunately, no surge protection device or “whole-house” arrester alone can protect a structure from a direct strike packing lightning’s mega electricity. A grounding network for lightning (lightning protection system) must be implemented to provide a safe, conductive path to discharge lightning’s electricity. Surge protection + the grounding network = a complete lightning protection system.
Q. Can’t I install the lightning protection myself?
This is not an experiment you want to attempt! Lightning protection is a highly specialized trade that is governed by industry safety Standards. Design and installation is typically not within the scope of expertise held by general contractors, roofers or even electricians, which is why the work is typically subcontracted out to specialists. Trained experts like LPI-certified contractors that specialize in lightning protection and utilize UL-listed components and equipment should be hired to design and install these systems. The highly conductive copper and aluminum materials used are not readily available in hardware stores and design and installation for systems is not a do-it-yourself project.
Learn more about lightning protection system installation by viewing LPI’s short video at: https://lightning.org/learn-more/watch-learn/#video-6