How to Protect Your House from Lightning

There are a few ways to protect yourself, and to protect your house, from lightning injuries.

Posted by Chaya Kurtz | Jun 05, 2013
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Lightning hits a suburban neighborhood. (Photo: alographic/ you know that lightning kills more people per year in America than tornadoes and hurricanes combined? Perhaps that childhood fear of lightning was justified after all. According to the University of Florida extension service, around 100 people in the US are killed every year by lightning. According to The Weather Underground, around 400 people per year survive lightning strikes. The University of Florida Extension Service quotes the Lightning Protection Institute, saying, "More lightning casualties occur at home." They rank parts of the house/household activities in which lightning casualties frequently happen. From most to least: On the telephone, in the kitchen, doing laundry, watching television, at a door or open window.

Why would those five locations/activities yield the highest number of at-home lightning fatalities? Now is the perfect opportunity for a tutorial on how lightning travels through a house. Lightning travels through a house like this: First the lightning strikes the house, and then it follows metal (or water) conductors down through the house, until it moves from the structure into the ground. Telephone lines, for instance, are conductors. According to The Weather Underground, lightning can travel "long distances" through telephone lines, especially in rural areas where there are few other electrical conductors. Therefore, talking on the phone during a lightning storm puts a person at an increased risk for getting a face full of extremely strong electrical current.

There are a few ways to protect yourself, and to protect your house, from lightning injuries. First of all, if you want to cut your risk of lightning damage by 90%, install a lightning protection system (otherwise known as a "lightning rod"). The lightning rods of today are not the big, tall, conspicuous (your HOA might not even notice that you installed it) lightning rods of yesteryear. They are about 10 inches high, and they are connected to a series of grounded conductors. If you choose to go this route, be sure to only hire a reputable local lightning protection system company, who is certified by Underwriters Laboratories or the Lightning Protection Institute. To protect yourself, stay away from water, electrical appliances, the phone, metal surfaces, and the basement during electrical storms.

If you choose not to install a lightning protection system on your house, you can still protect your house from lightning. Electrical appliances and devices are often destroyed or damaged by lightning strikes. To prevent such damage, disconnect appliances and devices from power sources before lightning storms. Another way to protect appliances is to have a secondary lightning arrester installed, which guards your home electronics from damage if lightning strikes a nearby electrical line or phone line.

Trees are "natural lightning rods" according to the University of Minnesota Extension Service. One way to prevent damage to trees and to your house via trees is to install a lightning protection system on particularly tall trees. Consult a local arborist to decide on the best way to prevent lightning damage to trees on your property.

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