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Financial Resource Center

Housing


When Lightning Strikes

by Marty Kelly / June 4th, 2021


We often compare our chances of getting struck by lightning with the odds of winning the lottery. The reality is that you will probably experience a lightning strike before a gambling windfall. More than 100,000 thunderstorms occur in the U.S. each year, with lightning striking more than 30 million points on the ground during that same period. Individuals are--on the whole--relatively safe if they take simple precautions. Your home may not be so lucky. Because lightning damage is largely unreported, statistics vary considerably. In 2019, there were 76,860 homeowner insurance claims for losses due to lightning. Many modern homes are equipped to withstand and even absorb a lightning strike. What happens after the strike is typically cause for concern.

Fire

A typical bolt of lightning can result in heat of up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Naturally, the odds of a resulting fire are great. Often such fires may not be immediately noticeable, emanating in attic space or within the walls of the home. Even if there is no visible flame, firefighters quickly can determine whether there is an immediate danger. Keep in mind, however, that your fire department only can address the current situation. Have a qualified electrician diagnose frayed wiring and other potential hazards as soon as possible.

Firefighters only will assess the present existence of fire.

Power surges

The average home has thousands of surges each year, most caused by everyday devices. Power tools, refrigerators, and hair dryers are among the usual surge suspects. While a typical household normally will experience everyday flows of up to 220 volts, lightning voltage measures in the tens of millions. The severe power surges following a lightning strike create electrical chaos in your home. This can be particularly damaging to Smart Homes where many of its systems are interconnected.

The good news is you're not completely at risk. Virtually all houses are equipped with some level of surge protection. The National Electric Code requires home electric systems to be grounded, meaning there is an alternative path around the electrical system that is connected to the earth. If you suspect inadequate grounding in your home, a licensed electrician can perform an evaluation.

When lightning strikes, proper surge protection and grounding usually will spare a home's electrical system from complete destruction. Many of the residing appliances won't be so lucky. The speed and sheer magnitude of a strike can and will render many electrical systems useless, burning out circuit boards in less than a second.

Appliances lost

Like other natural disasters, lightning carries a sense of inconsistency and mystery. Just as a tornado leaves a single house standing in a neighborhood of devastation, a lightning-induced surge seems to randomly choose victims among the dozens of appliances in your home.

The best defense is to remove such appliances from the path of the surge. Unplug computers, TVs, and gaming devices from electrical outlets during a thunderstorm. Don't rely on surge protectors to keep such appliances out of harm's way. More important, make sure the occupants of the home follow a similar rule. The warnings you recall from childhood are true--when a storm is in the air, avoid contact with electrical appliances. Lightning may strike nearby electric and phone lines, traveling to your home from there. For added safety, avoid water and stay clear of doors and windows.

Exterior damage

One would imagine that a lightning strike could cause considerable exterior damage, particularly at the point where the bolt hits the home. But the strike contact often causes little or no damage to the home. A typical lightning bolt is about 0.5 to 1 inch wide, and damage done at the point of contact may not be much larger.

After the strike

If your house is struck:

1) Get out of the house. Due to the high potential for fire, leave the premises and go to a neighbor's home.

2) Call the fire department immediately.

3) After firefighters complete their task, call a qualified electrician for an emergency evaluation.

Remember, firefighters only will assess the present existence of fire. An electrician will assess and prevent future potential fire. Your electrician also will begin to catalog damaged appliances.

Your next call

Once your home is deemed safe, call your insurance agent. Chances are good that your homeowner's policy will cover lightning strikes and most resulting fire or electrical damage. Your agent can provide tips and suggestions, and should immediately begin the process of filing your claim.

A lightning strike lasts only a fraction of a second, but a comprehensive damage assessment can take months. Give yourself time to evaluate your unique situation. Only then will you ensure that you've addressed any lasting effects of the strike, even after the initial storm has passed.

 

 

 

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