Electrical Safety Campaign Reminds Consumers that Lightning is an Underrated and Often Forgotten Hazard

When purchasing expensive home electronics how often do you consider the risk of lightning damage? Lightning likes technology, too. As our world becomes more and more tech-savvy, the losses from lightning strikes are increasing. Sensitive home electronics are often susceptible to damage by lightning, as a single bolt of lightning can cause electrical surges capable of damaging or destroying vulnerable electric equipment. Luckily, there are steps consumers can take to prepare their homes and protect their electronics against this unpredictable, yet common hazard. Since May is National Electrical Safety Month, the Lightning Protection Institute is reminding homeowners about the dangers of lightning, an underrated and often forgotten electrical hazard.

“When consumers purchase expensive electronics, lightning danger probably doesn’t even cross their minds,” said ESFI president Brett Brenner. “In reality, a single bolt of lightning can cause electrical surges capable of damaging or destroying sensitive equipment. Luckily, there are steps you can take to prepare your home and protect your electronics from this unpredictable, yet common hazard.”

Today’s homes and businesses have more electronic equipment than ever before, and metal building components are on the rise as well. Internal systems lead lightning toward more valuable, often irreplaceable items and unfortunately people are often put in close proximity with those systems.

A lightning protection system is the best way to dissipate the dangerous electrical discharge to eliminate damage to a structure. The 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 the lightning protection system, damage is minimized or eliminated. When considering lightning protection, the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) emphasizes the importance of contracting with a qualified and experienced LPI-certified specialist.

“LPI-certified specialists are trained to install systems in accordance with nationally recognized safety standards of LPI, NFPA and UL,” explained Bud VanSickle, executive director at LPI. “Quality control is paramount and installation is not a do-it-yourself project. Improper installation can lead to serious consequences, and in severe cses may be worse than not having protection at all.”

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) sponsors National Electrical Safety Month each May to increase public awareness of the electrical hazards around us at home, work, school and play. ESFI is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety. For more information about ESFI and electrical safety, visit www.electrical-safety.org.

Keep Costly Lightning Losses from Shocking Your Wallet!

Lightning Sparks Concerns for Insurance Industry and Property Owners as Storm-Related Claims Continue to Rise. 

 Lightning Protection Systems Can Safeguard Against Losses

Tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires have been responsible for major devastation in the U.S.over recent years, but intense lightning storms have also caused their share of share of damage and destruction.   In fact, lightning strikes cost more than $1 billion in insured losses in 2010 – a significant increase from 2009, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

An analysis of homeowners’ insurance data provided by the I.I.I. found there were more than 213,000 lightning claims in 2010, up nearly 15 percent from 2009. These losses ranged from damage to expensive electronic equipment to structural fires that destroyed entire homes.

The I.I.I. estimated the average homeowner lightning claim at $4,846 for 2010, while in 2009 the average claim totaled $4,296.  The average cost per claim rose nearly 13 percent from 2009 to 2010 and more than 80 percent from 2004-2010, even as the actual number of claims fell by a little over 23 percent in the six- year period. (Note: claims costs for 2011 have not been released yet.)

The I.I.I. explained that the record losses were a result, in part, because of the large number of storms occurring in 2010 year.  (According to the I.I.I., catastrophe losses in 2010 totaled $13.6 billion.)

Since 2010 was a record year for tornado activity, and tornadoes are usually accompanied by severe thunderstorms, it was not surprising that the number of such claims increased substantially.

According to the I.I.I., damage caused by lightning, such as fire, is covered by standard homeowners and business insurance policies. Some home and business insurance policies provide coverage for power surges that are the direct result of lightning striking a home or business.  The I.I.I. also reminds homeowners that there is coverage for lightning damage under the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.

How Homeowners Can Reduce their Risk of Lightning Damage:

  • Have a lightning protection system installed for your home or business.
  • Include protection for electrical, telephone, cable or satellite TV lines entering the structure.
  • Make sure all equipment is UL-listed and properly labeled.
  • Be sure the system is installed in accordance with the building(s) or structure(s), it should be designed and installed in accordance with accepted industry standards and with NFPA, LPI and UL requirements.  Contact LPI-IP at www.lpi-ip.com for options re: affordable quality-control home inspection services.
  • Check references and work with a qualified, LPI-Certified Lightning Protection Specialist.  (A qualified specialist should provide a list of references and affiliation with industry groups such as NFPA, the United Lightning Protection Association, and the Lightning Safety Alliance(LSA).
  • Experience counts.  Be wary of start-up companies or contractors offering a “price deal” to install, fix or repair your lightning protection.
  • When in doubt, contact. www.bbb.org to locate your local Better Business Bureau to obtain reliability report information on a contractor before you hire them.

Lightning protection systems are designed to protect a structure and provide a specified path to harness and safely ground the super-charged current of the lightning bolt. The system neither attracts nor repels a strike, but receives the stroke and routes it harmlessly into the earth, thus discharging the dangerous electrical event.  A certified lightning protection system can protect your family and property and save you from an inconvenience and costly insurance claim.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT INSURANCE RESOURCES, VISIT: www.iii.org

Spring is Perfect Time to Ready Your Property for Weather Hazards like Lightning

Each spring, millions of properties are damaged or destroyed by lightning.  A single bolt of lightning can generate heat in excess of 50,000 degrees F which can spark fires or cause surging through electrical circuitry. Lightning losses often include damage to expensive home electronics, as well. Homeowner insurance claims from lightning strikes continue to rise, with the average claim costing over $4,000.  Fires caused by lightning represent a serious threat to life and property, but the risk is often overlooked by home and business owners.  A lightning strike to an unprotected structure can cause catastrophic damage. Fortunately, there are relatively simple and inexpensive measurers that can be taken to substantially reduce the chances of lightning-related damage and disruptions.

A professionally-installed lightning protection system which meets U.S. Safety Standards will prevent lightning damage by providing a safe electrical path into the earth for lightning’s destructive energy. The system provides a network of low resistance paths which provide grounding without impact to the structure or its occupants.

According to the National Weather Service, there are three main ways that lightning enters buildings: 1) a direct strike, 2) through wire or pipes that extend outside the structure, and 3) through the ground. Regardless of the method of entrance, once inside the structure, the lightning can travel through the electrical, communication, or data wiring, along with plumbing, gas or process piping systems. Lightning can also travel through structural steel framing and reinforcing rods in concrete walls or flooring.

On the outside of the structure, lightning can travel along the outer shell and may follow conductive metal vents, roof drainage elements and external supports as it seeks a path to ground.

While the concept behind lightning protection is relatively simple, the requirements for proper installation are specific and often complex. Specifications, technical information and installation methods should comply with LPI-175, NFPA-780 and UL-96 A, which are the three nationally recognized safety standards for lightning protection installation:

Dispelling Myths

LPI stresses that understanding lightning is a good first step for homeowners to take when considering protection. Considering lightning inspires awe and wonder, and also fear, it is important to separate fact and fiction when it comes to lightning safety.

Lightning is not deterred by surge arresters, suppressors and “whole-house protectors.”  Contrary to popular belief, surge protection devices 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, (air terminals, bonding and grounding) they can prove a valuable and effective means of protection.

Lightning rods do not 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.

Tall trees do not protect homes 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.

Lightning likes technology.  As the world becomes more and more tech-savvy, the losses from lightning strikes are increasing. Today’s homes and businesses have more electronic equipment than ever before, and metal building components are on the rise as well. Internal systems lead lightning toward more valuable, often irreplaceable items and people in close proximity.

A lightning rod on a chimney will not provide adequate protection.  A single rod or single air terminal is not adequate to protect a structure against lightning. A complete system which complies with safety standards is needed to provide safe and effective lightning protection performance. Improper installation can lead to serious and dangerous consequences for the homeowner.

Lightning rods are not unsightly on chimneys and roofs.  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.

A professionally installed lightning protection system can provide security and peace of mind. In many cases, homeowners can expect to pay less for lightning protection than a typical security system. For homeowners at risk, lightning protection is an important amenity that can provide a big return on a small investment.

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Kim Loehr, a communications consultant for LPI, partners with the NOAA Lightning Safety Awareness Team and is a member of NFPA’s Building Fire Safety Systems Section. She is also a registered course provider with the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA) and its national Continuing Education Service (CES). She can be contacted at kiml@lightning.org.

Homeowners Can Prevent Lightning Losses

Hurricanes and tornadoes receive the most news coverage, but lightning accounts for more than one billion dollars annually in structural damage to buildings in the U.S.  The good news is that lightning losses can be prevented.

“Home and business owners needn’t take their chances with lightning,” says Bud VanSickle, executive director of the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI),” A professionally-installed lightning protection system which meets U.S. Safety Standards will prevent  lightning damage by providing a safe electrical path into the earth for lightning’s destructive energy.”

The Role of a Lightning Protection System

Lightning is electricity.  When electricity is confined to a properly designed conductive path, damage can be minimized.  Destruction results when electricity encounters resistance, similar to the resistance used in arc welding.  When electrical current runs through an arc welder, the resistance it encounters when arcing through air, generates the heat necessary to melt steel.  The highly conductive copper and aluminum materials used in a lightning protection system provide a low resistance path for lightning to travel without resistance.

When the lightning protection network is in place, a lightning strike is intercepted and directed to ground without impact to a structure or its contents.  Without the presence of the low resistance path provided by a lightning protection system, the lightning will fight its way through non-conductive building materials like wood, brick, rubber membranes, glass plastic, etc., on its way to earth ground.  The resistance lightning encounters can produce heat, fires and even explosions.

Standards Govern Installation

While the concept behind lightning protection is relatively simple, the requirements for proper installation are specific and often complex. Specifications, technical information and installation methods should comply with these three nationally recognized authorities that publish safety standards for lightning protection installation:

  • Lightning Protection Institute (LPI); Standard of Practice, LPI-175
  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems, NFPA 780
  • Underwriters Laboratories (UL); Installation Requirements for Lightning Protection Systems, UL 96A, and UL 96, Standard for Lightning Protection Components.

Of the above, LPI is the only organization founded specifically to study lightning protection.  The LPI was established in 1955 to promote lightning safety, awareness and protection education.  The organization provides certification and education programming for lightning protection installation, design and inspection through a “Master Installer” testing program to qualify competence.  LPI recently introduced the LPI-IP third-party inspection program for installation quality assurance, as improper design and installation can lead to serious and dangerous consequences for the homeowner.

Importance of System Quality Control

Lightning protection technology is a specialty discipline and expertise is required for system design and installation.  Systems for homes and businesses should be installed by trained and experienced LPI-certified and UL-listed specialists.  LPI offers these tips for property owners seeking a qualified lightning protection specialist:

  • Make sure materials and methods comply with nationally-recognized safety standards of the LPI, NFPA and UL.
  • Contract with experienced and reputable LPI-certified and UL-listed lightning protection contractors for lightning protection system installations.
  • Check references.  A qualified specialist should provide a list of references and affiliation with industry groups such as NFPA, ULPA, LSA and LPI.
  • Ask about surge protection.  Lightning-induced surges can damage electronics and appliances.  A qualified lightning protection contractor can provide

Options for service entrance arresters and surge protection devices.

  • Experience counts. Be wary of start-up companies or contractors offering a “price deal” to install, fix or repair your lightning protection.
  • Contact www.lpi-ip.com for affordable inspection options, as a third party inspection of your system can ensure proper installation.
  • When in doubt, contact www.bbb.org to locate your local Better Business Bureau to obtain a reliability report for the contractor before you hire.

The decision to purchase a lightning protection system is a lot like buying an insurance policy.  Homeowners may purchase a system knowing that they will not use it every day, but it will be there to protect them when needed.   Often the cost of installing lightning protection is considered minimal as compared to the potential for loss.

For more information on lightning protection or to obtain a list of certified contractors, visit the LPI web-site at www.lightning.org.   Visit www.lpi-ip for information on lightning protection inspection services.

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Contact: Kim Loehr, LPI communications director @ kiml@lightning.org

Note: The LPI has joined with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service to promote public awareness about lightning safety through the National Lightning Safety Awareness Week campaign (June 24-30, 2012).  Visit www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov  for more information.