Although it seems highly unlikely that your home is going to be struck by lightning any time soon – especially in England and Wales, where only an average of 30-60 people are struck each year (compared to America’s 2000!) – the fact remains that lightning certainly does strike. Despite our relatively mild climate the UK has had its fair share of severe storms and thunderclouds and you never know where they are going to hit next.
What is lightning made of?
Lightning is caused by an imbalance between positive and negatively charged particles in the atmosphere and a single strike can prove surprisingly devastating, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage to your home – and that’s if you and your family are lucky enough to have escaped harm yourselves. The sheer force of the strike and subsequent shock waves can leave the foundations, roof tiling and structural integrity of your home in tatters.
Lightning effect on electrical appliances
Even a mild hit can completely destroy all the electrical equipment in your home – that’s televisions, power-showers, laptops and PC’s, DVD players and computer consoles, the toaster, kettle – anything that is unfortunate enough to be plugged in at the time of the strike. Plus the possibility of a fire breaking out is extremely high, while fallen trees or telegraph poles close by also run the risk of damaging your property.
How do lighting protection systems work?
Lightning Protection System’s (LPS) work not by repelling or attracting the lightning, but by simply intercepting and diverting the destructive energy, channelling it onto a low-resistance path and discharging it straight into the ground; leaving the earth to safely absorb the current and protect you, your family and home from any harm! Many architects, building contractors and insurance companies highly recommend this protection, which works through four separate but intertwined components:
1.Lightning rods – these lightning rods or lightning conductors are usually placed at the highest points of the building or your home (i.e. on the roof) and aim to conduct the strike before it has a chance to make contact with your home. The rod is usually made of a metal that is highly conductive, such as copper, and is designed to be stable, durable and waterproof.
2.Grounding conductors – these grounding or ‘bonding’ conductors are usually heavy-gage copper wires that form a path across the rods to connect them electronically and then in the most direct route down the side of the building to the nearest ground terminal.
3.Ground terminals – ground terminals or ‘electrodes’, as they are also known, are solid, copper-clad rods fixed securely into the ground around your home and work to safely dissipate the trapped electricity into the earth and away from your property.
4.Surge suppressors – these can be bought separately from the rest of your Lightning Protection System but also form the final part for those wishing to install a comprehensive system offering full protection. Surge suppressors (or transient limiting devices) are simply plug in, point-of-use units that try to prevent any extreme system overloads or voltage ‘spikes’ that could destroy the electrical equipment in your home.
How much does a home Lightning Protection System cost?
If you are seriously considering getting a Lightning Protection System installed, then you should always opt to use a professional product; a fully trained building contractor or electrician will make sure all the parts are fitted safely and securely. If the job is done properly, such systems are proven to be around 99% effective in most homes.
A lightning protection professional will also be able to check for resistance in the earth, which depends on the type of soil surrounding your home – you never know if your local area might not prove suitable for a protective system.
The professional lightning protection systems should cost somewhere between £1,500 and £3,000, but this will depend on the size of your home – and it never hurts to shop around and compare quotes too! Once installed, you will be able to completely relax during the next thunderstorm – knowing you, your family and home are safely out of harm’s way.
Lightning Rods: Recent Investigations“. National Lightning Safety Institute, September 26, 2005.
Kithil, Richard, “Fundamentals of Lightning Protection“. National Lightning Safety Institute, September 26, 2005.
Nailen, Richard L., “Lightning controversy goes on“, The Electrical Apparatus, February 2001.