Many people regard the chances of their home getting struck by lightning as highly unlikely. This may be true, but it depends on your circumstances. If your house is on a hill, in an open area, or has tall trees next to it, then a lightning strike is a greater possibility. Another risk factor is geographic location, and it doesn’t help that our beautiful state of Florida has the highest incidence of lightning activity in the United States. We also rank as the fourth most lightning prone area on earth.
When lightning strikes an unprotected home, it may cause a fire or even make the wood structure explode when the lightning bolt instantly vaporizes moisture in the wood. While the probability of your home getting hit by lightning is low, the consequences can be high such as structural damage or a house fire.
Home Electronics at Significant Risk
Another risk is damage to expensive electronic items in your home such as computers, home entertainment systems, and security systems. The value of these items can range from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars and this doesn’t include the value of personal and business data stored in computers.
Unlike a direct strike on your house, your electronics are at a greater risk of damage because lightning has many avenues of reaching them. The lightning only has to strike outside power and telephone lines which provide an electrical path to your home’s electronics. Power and phone lines are often elevated high off the ground and have extensive exposed networks.
Lightning can also find other pathways to your electronics such as through an external air conditioning unit, external lighting, and security systems. Anything in your yard that’s electrically connected to your house is a possible pathway. Of course, a direct hit to your house may also damage your electronics since the current can follow your home’s electrical systems.
Protecting Your Home from a Direct Strike
Many new homes are built to withstand a lightning strike. However, this doesn’t guaranty complete protection. If you hear a loud explosion, lightning has likely struck. There is a chance that a fire may have started, especially in the attic. Sometimes it starts as smoldering which progresses to a fire. Don’t wait until you see a fire or smell smoke. Call the fire department immediately after the strike. If you have an old house, have its vulnerability to lightning strike assessed and decide from there whether to have a lightning protection system installed.
Lightning protection systems typically start with rods positioned at intervals along the apex of your roof. These are attached to electrical cables that run down the side of your house to ground rods that extend deep into the earth. This allows lightning to travel around your house to the ground. However, stray current can still make its way into the other conductors of your home such as its electrical wiring. These systems don’t prevent lightning from striking and won’t protect your electronics from surges. They will prevent fires and structural damage since the cabling diverts current away from your home’s wood.
Protecting Your Home Electronics
The first line of defense is unplugging your electronics. Unplug your land line phones, computers, television sets, and other valuable electronics. Be sure to disconnect all of their connections. For example, your computer may have both a power hookup and a line that connects to the Internet. Prevent data loss in your computer by making frequent backups to an online cloud based storage or a separate hard drive. Be sure to disconnect the hard drive from your computer after doing the backup.
Don’t rely on switched off power strips or surge protectors because they can’t protect against the high voltage of lightning (sometimes millions of volts). Do this at the first approach of the storm. Consult the weather forecast before leaving your home and unplug when a storm is predicted during your absence.
Don’t believe any claims made by lightning protection system installers of providing 100% protection against electrical surges. This is impossible because lightning will travel through all possible pathways on its way to the ground. A lightning protection system will simply divert most of its current, perhaps 99.9%. This leaves 0.1% traveling through your electrical system. Although this looks like a small percentage, lightning can carry thousands to hundreds of thousands of amps of current. This means that anywhere from a few amps to hundreds of amps can reach and destroy your sensitive electronics such as your computer.
Get Adequate House Insurance Coverage
Even if your home’s risk of direct lightning strike doesn’t warrant installing a lightning protection system, you should have enough house insurance coverage for structural damage whether it’s from a lightning strike or some other cause. On the other hand, electrical surge damage to your home electronics is very possible over the course of years of exposure to Florida’s frequent lightning storms. Diligently unplugging your electronics before a storm hits isn’t always possible. Sometimes the demands of life may cause you to forget before leaving your home.
House insurance covers your home’s structure, your belongings, and liability. With lightning damage, the coverage of your home’s structure (in case of direct lightning strike) and of your belongings (when a surge current or a direct strike destroys your electronics) apply. If you have questions or need assistance in deciding how much coverage is right for your situation, Oyer, Macoviak and Associates is here to help you. Feel free to contact us.
Rob Macoviak is the President of Oyer, Macoviak and Associates. Oyer, Macoviak and Associates is the oldest independent insurance agency in Boynton Beach and has been in business since 1953.