Started in 2001 to draw attention to the dangers that lightning can present, National Lightning Safety Awareness Week is set to be observed June 24-30. With lightning striking in the United States about 25 million times annually during approximately 100,000 thunderstorms, this spectacular display of nature’s force and power is, for most Americans, the most frequently encountered — and the most dangerous — weather hazard that most people face.
In this article, we’ll focus on protecting your home from lightning, but that should by no means diminish the importance of keeping yourself and your loved ones out of harm’s way when severe thunderstorms arise. For tips on staying safe when lightning threatens, check out these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and this brochure from the National Weather Service.
Lightning’s dangers in the home
Lightning can present dangers to a home for some of the same reasons it is a danger to people. The result of a giant discharge of electricity, a single bolt of lightning can carry more than 100 million volts of electricity. This can damage a home and endanger its occupants in a number of ways, such as:
- A direct lightning strike to a building can tear through rooftops and chimneys, demolish brick and concrete and ignite fires. (Lightning-caused fires peak in the summer months, and fire departments across the United States respond to an estimated average of 22,600 fires started by lightning each year.)
- People inside a home during a severe thunderstorm should stay away from windows and doors and avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity, including landline telephones, the leading cause of lightning-related injuries inside homes.
- Contrary to popular misconception, surge protectors do not prevent a direct lightning strike from doing damage in a home. Surge-susceptible equipment such as computers and televisions should be unplugged when severe weather is in the area.
- Even when lightning doesn’t strike a home directly, an indirect strike to a nearby tree or power line can introduce unwanted surges into a home.
- Lightning can also enter the home through cable lines, phone lines and computer modems, as well as through weather vanes, antennas, satellite dishes and other rooftop projections.
Protecting your home from lightning
The best way to protect your home against lightning strikes is to have a professional design and install a lightning-protection system. These systems — not recommended to be installed as a do-it-yourself project — are not intended to prevent a direct strike to the home. Rather, they are designed to “ground” the home by providing a safe path through which the electrical current delivered by a lightning strike can be directed to the ground. When seeking a lightning-protection contractor, be sure to look for companies or individuals listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and certified by the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI).
A typical lightning-protection system will include a mix of the following components:
- Lightning rods: Usually composed of copper or aluminum, these are vertically mounted at regular intervals on the rooftop to intercept lightning strikes.
- Main conductors: These braided cables of aluminum or copper are designed to carry the captured flow of electricity from the lightning rods to the other system components and, ultimately, to the ground rods.
- Ground rods: Driven at least 10 feet deep, these ground terminations direct the dangerous captured current deep into the ground, preventing injury and structural damage.
- Bonds: Bonds connect metallic roof components and grounded building systems to the main conductors, ensuring conductivity and preventing the current from jumping between non-connected objects.
- Surge arresters, suppressors and protectors: Suppressors are installed at electrical panels to prevent excessive voltage from entering and potentially causing a fire, and arresters help protect heavy appliances and prevent fires at service-panel entrances. Surge-protection devices are also often installed as part of the lightning-protection system to prevent voltage spikes from reaching electrical devices.
- Tree protection: Tall trees, especially those in close proximity to homes, are often equipped with lightning-protection systems of their own.
We all know that damage to inside wiring — whether caused by electrical surges, accidental cutting, pests or other unanticipated events — can lead to expensive repairs. In fact, at FTC, the current minimum charge for non-covered wiring and/or equipment repair is $80 for the first hour, not including materials.
To defend their homes (and their wallets) against these unexpected, expensive wiring repairs, FTC customers can sign up for Connection Protection, available for just $4.95 per month. Coveringthe wires and jacks for FTC Voice, Digital TV, Internet and Security services, Connection Protection eliminates service-call costs, including labor and materials, for repairs due to such damages — letting you rest easy knowing that you’re covered when the unexpected strikes. For more info and to sign up, click here or call 888-218-5050.