What is Lightning?

Lightning Strike House

Lightning is the phenomenon that accompanies the discharge of atmospheric charges from cloud to cloud or from cloud to earth. As lightning seeks the path of least resistance, it naturally tends to follow the shortest course between the cloud and the earth, such as buildings or towering projections. Positive electrical charges gather in the clouds and negative charges gather in the ground. When the attraction between these two charges are strong enough they come together in the form of the lightning. Lightning rod equipment properly manufactured and installed dissipates these charges.

How Lightning Protection Systems Work

A lightning protection system provides a way for this discharge to enter or leave the earth without passing through and damaging non-conducting parts of a structure, such as those made of wood, brick, tile or concrete. A lightning protection system does not prevent lightning from striking; however, it provides a means for controlling it and preventing damage by providing a low resistance path for the discharge of lightning energy into the earth.

Investment in a lightning protection system will protect your home or organization’s investment in its property and equipment. In addition to structural protection, surge suppressors (also referred to as surge arresters) are devices designed to protect a building’s wiring system and electronic equipment from damage. These are installed in the main service panel and provide protection to every electrical and telephone outlet in the building.

A direct hit to a building, nearby strike to a power line or even a voltage surge origination from your utility company can cause a fire in electrical service panel boxes or seriously damage equipment by frying insulation and sensitive microprocessor components. The combined technology of structural protection (lightning rods) and surge protection minimize damage while providing the highest level of protection for properties. When it comes to the incredible power of lightning the bottom line is:

Lightning protection systems save lives and money!

When Lightning Strikes

Packing up to 100 million volts of electricity, a bolt of lightning has the power to rip through roofs, explode walls of brick and concrete, and ignite deadly fires. Most tragically, lightning kills. The cost of lightning strikes to businesses is staggering. Millions of dollars are spent every year by corporations as a result of lightning damage to their commercial properties. Insurance claims, fire damage, destruction of equipment, production and inventory loss can all result from a single lightning strike.

Most buildings are vulnerable to lightning damage due to increases in utilities, the use of isolated metal building components and the costly hi-tech equipment housed within. In addition to actual property loss, lightning damage to communication lines and computer equipment can result in extended downtime while awaiting insurance adjustments or recovering lost data on computers. Protecting property and people is what lightning protection systems are all about.

Because every building’s architecture is unique, a tailored lightning protection system is designed to meet a structure’s specific needs. Commonly specified during the construction phase of a building, a lightning protection system can be easily installed on an existing building as well.

Who Needs a Lightning Protection System?

Everyone Needs Lightning Protection!

Lightning can strike anywhere on earth – even at the North and South Poles! Thunderstorms occur virtually everywhere and that puts any building at risk. State-of-the-art lightning protection systems are a part of the structural design of thousands of commercial and public facilities worldwide. These systems are designed to maximize protection to both life and property. Risk factors including your location, frequency of thunderstorms, soil composition, and building occupancy determine the need for a lightning protection system.

Lightning storms can occur in any U.S. geographical location. The Northeast US has some of the most violent thunderstorms in the country because that area has extremely high earth resistivity (the earth’s resistance to conduct current) which increases the potential of a lightning strike. Structures in these areas will generally sustain more damage when struck by lighting when there is no lightning protection system present.

Thousands of homes and other properties are damaged or destroyed by lightning each year. Lightning strikes account for more than a quarter of a billion dollars in property damage annually in the United States. Lightning strikes are responsible for more property loss and deaths than all the hurricanes, tornadoes and floods combined. Lightning is the only violent force of nature that we can economically afford to protect ourselves against.

Some properties have a higher risk of lightning damage. Buildings located on high ground or in open spaces that have metal roofs are in a higher risk category for a lightning strike. We will do a free risk evaluation for you.

How to Protect Your Buildings from Lighting Strikes

  1. Install a Lightning Protection System with the UL Master Label that complies with current nationally recognized codes. Lightning protection systems consist of lightning rods (air terminals) and associated fittings connected by heavy cables to grounding equipment which provide a path for the lightning current to travel safely to the ground.
  2. Install UL-listed surge arresters at your junction box and telephone equipment to prevent power surges from entering the home or other buildings on power or telephone lines. Power surges caused by lightning strikes are then diverted to the ground and both wiring and appliances are protected.
  3. Install UL-listed transient voltage surge suppressors in receptacles to which computers and other electronic equipment are connected in order to limit the voltage to 1 1/2 times the normal (maximum for solid-state devices).
  4. By taking these precautions, the next time a thunderstorm strikes your area, you can relax and enjoy this magnificent display of power. Knowing something about how lightning works should heighten your appreciation of that awesome force in the sky.


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