Thunderstorms occur just about everywhere in the world and one of the most potentially dangerous features of a thunderstorm is lightning. Lightning can be as hazardous as it is beautiful as every lightning strike is trying to go deep into the ground along the path of least resistance. Homes and buildings contain many internal and external features that lightning can use as a path from the clouds to the ground including cable and internet lines, phone lines, electric lines, gutters, metal siding or window frames, and just about anything else in your home that is conductive. When lightning strikes a home, it may branch off and follow several different paths to the ground or side flash by jumping from one path to another better grounded path. Side flashes cause the lightning bolt to travel between paths within the home which can be quite dangerous.
It is not necessary for lightning to use a conductive path to reach the ground which is why the risk of a lightning strike is relatively low, but the presence of conductive objects in your home provides a more convenient path for lightning to be grounded. Because of this, lightning is still a threat to strike your home unless a lightning protection system has been installed. These protection systems are normally too expensive to justify due to the low risk of a lightning strike so it is important to know the potential effects of lightning as well as how to protect your home from lightning damage.
The Effects of Lightning Damage
While conductive objects provide lightning with a less resistant path to the ground, it is possible for lightning to travel miles through non-conductive air and objects to reach the ground. This means that all homes and buildings, even those that contain no conductive objects such as cabins, are at risk for a lightning strike. The most common types of damage caused by a lightning strike include the following:
- Fire Damage: A lightning strike is a major fire hazard for a home because it can set fire to building materials that it comes into contact with such as wood, drywall, and insulation. Most lightning related fires start on the roof or in the attic because this is the first area struck by lightning as it seeks a conductive path. Lightning can also cause electrical fires if it travels through wiring.
- Power Surges: When lightning travels through the electrical wiring of a home or building, it causes a power surge that can damage all appliances and devices connected to the system. There are devices that offer lightning surge protection in case your home is struck by lightning but the most effective form of surge protection is to turn off and unplug your appliances and electronics during a storm.
- Shock Waves: The rumble of thunder is actually caused by shock waves from lightning and if lightning strikes at close range, these shock waves can cause significant property damage. Shock waves from lightning have been known to break glass, crack foundations, destroy plaster walls, and split concrete, stone, cinderblock, and brick structures. The debris from shock wave damage can also cause secondary damage as shrapnel.
Lightning Safety Tips to Protect Your Home
Following these safety tips during a thunderstorm will help reduce the risk of lightning damage from a strike.
- Avoid Conductive Paths: As discussed above, there are a number of conductive objects in a home that lightning can pass through and avoiding direct contact with these objects is the best way to keep yourself protected. This means that you should avoid using the water for showers, hand washing, and dishes; avoid wired electronics such as computers, video games, landline phones, and other appliances; and avoid direct contact with metal window frames. Lightning also travels through soil and concrete so make sure to wear shoes when walking on these surfaces. It is definitely possible to be struck by lightning in your home, even though it is rare, and these tips will reduce that risk.
- Protect Your Electronics: Providing complete protection for your electronic appliances is almost impossible because lightning surge protection units are not very effective for direct strikes. Unplugging the electrical appliances in your home is the most effective way to avoid lightning damage but this is quite an effort for such a low risk. If your homeowner’s or renters insurance covers lightning damage, then your electronics and appliances will be replaced if they are damaged. Make sure to save or backup any important data such as work files and photos on an external hard drive that can be unplugged during a storm.
- Lightning Protection Systems: Lightning protection systems that are professionally installed are the most effective way to reduce the risk of lightning damage from a direct strike but they are also expensive to install. Justifying the price of these systems when the risk of a direct lightning strike to your home is low can be difficult. It may be more feasible to get lightning protection in your insurance plan but if you live in an area that has a high frequency for thunderstorms, a lightning protection system may be the better option.
While a lightning strike to your home or building is a pretty low risk, the potential for lightning damage should not be ignored. Having an awareness of the ways in which lightning can cause damage in your home and following the lightning safety tips discussed above can help you greatly reduce the risk of your home sustaining damage from a lightning strike. If your home or building is hit by lightning, make sure to watch for falling debris, avoid using electronics, and check your home for fires. There are storm damage repair professionals that can provide restoration services to cleanup and repair lightning damage so make sure to call a professional immediately if your home is struck. Lightning is a beautiful natural occurrence but it should be revered for its destructive potential.