A single bolt of lightning can carry more than 30 million volts of electricity. A lightning strike to an unprotected home can be disastrous.
According to State Farm Insurance, the company each year has about 307,000 lightning related claims nationwide amounting to $332 million. For homeowners who don’t want to play the odds and take their chances, a lightning protection system makes good sense. Unfortunately, homeowners and un-trained contractors, who attempt to install their own systems, could reportedly be doing more harm than good.
“It’s important to have an experienced professional install the lightning protection system,” says Bud VanSickle, executive director of the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). “Improper installation can lead to serious consequences and in severe cases may be worse than not having protection at all.”
The LPI is a not-for-profit nationwide group founded in 1955 to promote lightning safety, awareness and protection education. Scientists, engineers, architects, installers and manufacturers are included in the organization’s membership.
Recent reports of two devastating lightning fires to south Florida homes equipped with improperly-installed lightning protection systems reiterate the importance of experience, industry affiliation and certification when hiring a lightning protection contractor.
“I recently examined digital photos of a home fire in Altamonte Springs where a do-it-yourself lightning protection system caused the homeowner a big headache,” said Guy Maxwell, president of the Lightning Safety Alliance (LSA), a non-profit, national league of lightning protection professionals and consumers dedicated to the promotion of lightning protection and safety. “The lightning protection system on the Altamonte Springs home revealed a variety of problems, like the absence of air terminals for the chimneys, improper downleads and incorrect grounding — in a nutshell the system did not comply with installation safety standards,” explains Maxwell.
“A situation such as the Altamonte Springs fire does not happen to a structure equipped with a lightning protection system that meets national safety standards for installation,” said VanSickle. “Lightning protection is a specialty discipline. We can’t stress enough, how important expertise and certification are in terms of proper system design.”
A professionally installed lightning protection system which meets U.S. Safety Standards (LPI, NFPA and UL) will reportedly prevent lightning damage by providing a safe electrical path into the earth for lightning’s destructive energy. Only experienced and reputable UL-listed and LPI-certified lightning protection contractors should install lightning protection systems.
“Specifying compliance with UL or NFPA standards is key to safe and effective lightning system performance,” added Karl Keip, lightning protection service manager for Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL). “Lightning protection systems that have received the UL Master Label Certificate indicate that a system has been inspected for conformance with these national standards for system installation.”
The LSA is currently sponsoring lightning protection tests at the University of Florida’s International Center for Lightning Research and Testing. The two-year test involves triggering natural lightning to strike a full scale test home equipped with a lightning protection system that has been installed in accordance with NFPA and UL standards.
“To date the test house has been struck four times,” reported Mark Morgan, research coordinator for the LSA. “In each instance the lightning protection system performed as expected. The lightning has safely traveled through the lightning protection system with no damage whatsoever to the structure or its contents.”
The Lightning Protection Institute offers a list of certified contractors across the U.S. Visit the LPI Web site at http://www.lightning.org for more information about lightning protection and the LPI certification program.
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