Lightning Protection: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Ugly lightning protection is often characterized by sloppy and careless installation.

“Ugly” lightning protection is often characterized by sloppy and careless installation.

Good lightning protection installation is neat and inconspicuous and follows safety standards for materials and methods without compromising aesthetics.

“Good” lightning protection installation is neat and inconspicuous and follows safety standards for materials and methods without compromising aesthetics.

August 19, 2014 — The provocative title from the classic western starring Clint Eastwood just might reflect a theme that’s become all too common in the world of construction; and sometimes seen in the world of lightning protection, too.  How does a consumer separate the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to lightning protection? Here are a few thoughts on the topic:

The Good

Good lightning protection begins with a specification that calls for materials and methods in compliance with national safety standards of LPI-175, NFPA 780 and UL-96A. The installing company should also be listed with UL, and its contractors trained specifically in lightning protection.  LPI certification denoting, Journeyman, Master Installer, and/or Master Installer/Designer classification is important, as well. Company references and membership affiliation with industry organizations such as: the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI), the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the United Lightning Protection Association are also evidence of a “good” installing company. This type of company should have the professional experience to advise the customer and serve as an industry authority to ensure neat, aesthetically-pleasing and standard-compliant workmanship. The good lightning protection installer will also provide options and make arrangements for a third-party quality assurance inspection of the system.

The Bad

Most trades have their share of vendors who will sell, misrepresent or promise anything in pursuit of the all-mighty dollar. Unfortunately, the same can be said for lightning protection. Practices in the “bad” category range from use of unconventional and non-standard compliant products (some call these “gadgets”), to companies that make slick guarantees in proposals and marketing materials. Here are some tricks of the trade in the bad category:

• Use of lightning protection products or methods that don’t comply with nationally recognized U.S. Safety Standards of NFPA 780 and UL-96/A.
• Use of materials or methods not supported by independent scientists.
• Systems not eligible for a third-party inspection: UL Master Label, Letter of Findings or LPI-IP Master Installation, etc.
• Systems that don’t meet U.S. military standards and are not allowed for use on government projects.
• Vendors who make promises, claims and guarantees re: warranties and lightning quick delivery of third-party inspection certifications and close-out materials.

The Ugly

This category is a little trickier, and the “ugly” may be harder to spot to the untrained eye.  Evidence of the ugly is often seen in sloppy work, little attention to aesthetics and shortcuts in workmanship.  In terms of system installation, ugly often includes:

  • Dangling conductor cable that hasn’t been clipped securely to a structure or hangs loose from one roof level to another.
  • Strike termination devices (air terminals or rods) that are installed lopsided on the roof.
  • Use of aluminum materials when copper is compatible and is more pleasing to the aesthetics of the structure (or vice versa).
  • Down conductors or cable that is carelessly routed throughout a structure without attention to neatness or without regard to concealment.
  • Use of unsightly “flathead” or overly ornamental strike termination devices instead of inconspicuous and industry-standard blunt tip or tapered tip rods.

The Cure

The experienced, LPI-certified lightning protection professional will know how to guide the customer through the specification, design and installation process to ensure safety without compromising aesthetics. Here are some tips to help consumers eliminate the bad and the ugly when hiring a lightning protection specialist:

• Be sure contractors are listed with UL and hold certification with LPI.
• Installation is a specialty discipline; do not assume that roofers, general contractors or electricians are qualified to install lightning protection systems.
• All materials and methods should comply with U.S. Safety Standards.
• Check references to find out if your contractor has experience working on high-profile projects or experience comparable to your project i.e. historic structures, slate roofs, trees, etc.
• If you have CSST gas piping, ask about industry bonding and grounding requirements.
• Check for industry affiliations with groups such as LPI, LSA, NFPA, UL and ULPA which are trusted trade organizations for lightning protection.
• Ask for a written proposal and/or design detailing the work to be performed.
• Ask for a third-party inspection by LPI-IP and request to be present during such.
• Ask for maintenance and close-out materials upon completion of the work.