Historically, lightning rods have been used on homes, barns and other structures where strikes could be a danger. It was initially thought that rods kept lightning away; what was actually happening was electrical current was finding a rod and using its grounding as a straight path to the ground rather than striking the building itself. Although these rods do not necessarily attract lightning, they do stand tall in the air so any electrical charge will move to them and find a path to the ground.
While rods are still in use on many older buildings, there are more sophisticated lightning protection systems available. Modern systems are basically the same idea, just a little more complex and a lot more thorough. The cost is much higher than rods, depending on the size of the home; however, it is money well spent as one lightning bolt strike could cause much more damage to an unprotected home than the cost to safeguard a structure for life.
These modern systems are basically comprised of a series of small copper and aluminum spikes called air terminals that are mounted along the highest points of a home, usually at the top of the roof, chimney and high points on dormers. One house can have as many as ten or more, depending on its size and shape.
Air terminals are wired with cables to each other which are then mounted with metal connectors along the roof and sides of the building, going straight down until being grounded to something metal. Generally, this is either grounding rods for the system or a metal pipe that enters the ground; usually multiple locations are grounded. The purpose is to provide numerous routes for electricity to find the shortest path to the ground so that the current will completely bypasses everything else.
These systems also have surge arresters that mount close to an electrical panel to keep a surge from entering it and blowing the panel as well as potentially entering the building causing surges through all electric apparatus.
Following are a few tips for the installation of a system:
- Entire Structure – Only safeguarding part of a structure by not being completely thorough will not offer a lot of safety.
- UL-Rated System – Use a UL, LPI and NFPA rated system that is installed according to the guidelines laid out by these agencies.
- Inspections – Lightning protection systems should be inspected periodically to check for cables and terminals that might be damaged or disconnected which should be repaired or replaced.
- Replace Surge Arresters – Periodically replace arresters regardless of how they appear.
- Reconnection – When having roofing work done, be sure contractors are aware of a protection system and are legally responsible for reconnecting it once a job is done. Often times this is forgotten and homes which were thought to be safeguarded were not. At least in the event that this happens, the roofing company would be responsible.
- Surge Protectors – Though probably not very effective against powerful surges, use good quality surge protectors on expensive electronics as it could be just enough to keep a trickle of energy from zapping a computer or television.
Lightning and electricity can be extremely destructive and unforgiving if not understood and respected. Having a high-quality, professionally installed lightning protection system is the safest way to prevent damage, injury and even death. Anywhere there is a risk of electrical storms and strikes, homes and buildings should be safeguarded with a lightning protection system!