Myths abound about lightning and lightning protection, so it’s important to separate fact from fiction. Thunderstorm season is a perfect time for an up-close look at a few frequently asked questions about lightning protection systems.
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: http://lightning.org/learn-more/watch-learn/#video-6
Public Reminded about Dangers of Lightning and Surge Protection Limitations
During National Electrical Safety Month, LPI raises awareness for lightning, an overlooked electrical hazard
HARTFORD, Conn., May 14, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — May is National Electrical Safety Month and the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is joining the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) to raise awareness about the importance of electrical safety—including lightning, an underrated and often forgotten electrical hazard.
Lightning is the rapid discharge of atmospheric electricity that can pack up to 200 kA of electric energy (100 million volts of power). A lightning 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. A single surge protection device or “whole-house” arrester is not sufficient to protect a structure from a direct lightning strike packing extreme electric energy. A grounding network, commonly known as a “lightning protection system” must be implemented, as well to provide safe and effective protection against lightning.
“The electrical ground installed by the electrician for your structure is there to protect the internal workings of the electrical system for everyday electricity—it’s not designed to handle the mega electricity that lightning can pack,” said Bud VanSickle, executive director for the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). “Even though the majority of surges are created from large appliances switching on and offwithin a structure or power grid switching from the electric utility company, lightning is typically responsible for the most powerful and destructive types of surges.”
Prior to the age of electronics, the threat to structures from lightning was primarily fire-related. Enhanced communications lines, power and generation systems and gas and water piping have since created induction problems for today’s structures, allowing lightning’s access through energized lines or system grounds. Decades ago, the introduction of low voltage wiring and electronically controlled building components presented a new vulnerability to lightning. To address these concerns, lightning protection codes and standards were updated in the 1990’s; adding more provisions for grounding and new criteria for lightning arresters and surge protection devices (SPD’s).
“Today’s lightning protection network takes a total package approach which includes a system to ground the structure, a primary SPD (or SPD’s) for the service entrance and sometimes secondary protection at the point of use for high-end equipment or appliances,” said VanSickle. “It’s important that the lightning protection system complies with national safety Standards of NFPA 780 and UL 96A to address requirements for full protection.”
The NFPA and UL safety Standards for lightning protection systems employ practical and tested solutions to protect a structure, its occupants, contents, equipment and operations. A complete system includes: strike termination devices, conductors, ground terminals, interconnecting bonding to minimize side flashing, and surge protection devices for incoming power, data and communication lines to prevent harmful electrical surges. Additional connectors, fittings or bonding for CSST gas piping may be required and surge protection devices for vulnerable appliances may be needed, as well.
Lightning protection is also not a “do-it-yourself” project. Only experienced and reputable UL-listed and LPI-certified lightning protection contractors should install these systems to ensure materials and methods comply with safety Standards.
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) sponsors National Electrical Safety Month each May to increase public awareness of electrical hazards. For more information about ESFI and electrical safety, visit www.esfi.org.