Lightning Storm Safety: Know how to protect your family, home and belongings before lightning strikes

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Thunder and lightning storms are fairly common occurrences in the U.S. With the impressive show they put on, it can be easy to forget their dangers and the damage they do.
Every year around 25 million storm-associated cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in this country and they're second only to floods among weather-related threats to life and limb. Lightning is also responsible for about $5 billion in annual economic impact resulting from the property

Thunder and lightning storms are fairly common occurrences in the U.S. With the impressive show they put on, it can be easy to forget their dangers and the damage they do.

Every year around 25 million storm-associated cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in this country and they're second only to floods among weather-related threats to life and limb. Lightning is also responsible for about $5 billion in annual economic impact resulting from the property and systems damage it causes.

Getting to a safe, grounded shelter is the best way to protect yourself as a thunderstorm approaches, but the danger can continue once you're inside. To protect your family, home and belongings, here are the steps you can take now to make your home a damage and danger-proof zone.

Whole-home protection systems

Founding father and inventor Ben Franklin can be credited for the beginnings of modern Lightning Protection Systems (LPS). Franklin observed that lightning tends to strike elevated objects, and that a network of conductors and grounding electrodes can carry lightning currents safely away from structures and into the earth to dissipate. Over 200 years later, such systems still do the job, and are all the more vital since contemporary structures contain far more conductive material than those built in Ben's day.

The three main LPS components are air terminals, conductors, and ground electrodes. Air terminals, also known as lightning rods, are placed at intervals on a home's roof and any high points projecting from it, and are designed so that lightning strikes them instead of the building. Conductors are the cables that run from among the air terminals to the ground electrodes, where lightning's charge is sent safely into the earth.

For thorough lightning protection, you'll also need a complete network of connections which could include vent fans, gutters, water pipes, home electrical systems, phone lines and other vital connections. Between this and the tricky rooftop LPS installation requirements, it's best to get the help of an experienced installer to set up your system.

Pros are also needed to install surge arrestors, which protect your wiring and electrical equipment should a lightning-induced power surge travel down a power line toward your home. Surge arrestors are installed either outside where the electric service enters a building or at the inside service entrance, supplying a ground so that a power surge can't enter the structure.

Indoor safety during a storm

Once you've got a lightning protection system in place, you may think you're safely indoors ahead of the storm. Well, you're not. Lightning can still impact home systems and your use of them, so the following precautions should be taken:

• Shut down your air conditioner, as a lightning-induced power surge can overload and damage its compressor.

• Avoid using the telephone (especially the corded variety) unless it's an emergency.

• Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords, and unplug any equipment possible before the thunderstorm arrives (if you're going to be away from home during thunderstorm weather, unplug all unnecessary equipment before you go).

• Avoid any tasks that involve contact with pipes or running water─that means no use of sinks or showers, and no laundry chores.

• Don't lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls.

• Stay off of your porch or deck, and steer clear of windows and doors while you're inside the house.

• Draw blinds and shades over windows so that if windblown objects hit and break them, shattering glass won't scatter into your home.

• Remember that outdoor dog houses aren't usually lightning-safe shelters; bring all pets indoors to safety before a storm.

Make sure you're covered

Homeowners insurance is meant to protect you when disaster strikes, but the kind of natural phenomena covered can vary depending on the policy you have. The most common policy type is homeowners-3 (a.k.a. form HO-3), and it usually covers damage to both structures and personal property as a result of lightning. Take time now to confirm your coverage and get reacquainted with its inclusions and exclusions so that you're in the know before the next storm arrives.

Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show’s podcast or sign-up for Tom’s free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program’s website.

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