How to protect your home from lightning and power surge damage.
First, here’s the simplest strategy; do the most effective things first.
Protect against the most likely events first and then move on to the least likely:
- Install surge protectors and save your devices from power spikes.
- Install a whole house surge suppressor and protect the entire electrical system.
- Install a lightning rod system on your house and avoid a catastrophic fire.
What Does a Lightning Protection System Cost?
- Surge suppression outlets for your devices range from about $15.00 for minimal protection and up to around $50.00 for a high-quality surge protector that might include cable/ antenna protection and USB ports.
Sometimes you can save money by picking up surge protection outlets in bulk 5 or 10 packs.
- For very critical or sensitive equipment like computers, consider purchasing an uninterruptible power supply. Most UPS units include built-in surge protection. Plug the UPS battery back up into a surge suppression strip and increase your margin of safety! These range in price from around $50.00 to around $200.00.
- Whole house surge protectors range from the $50.00 range and up to around $300.00. It all depends on the type of electrical breaker panel you have, and how much protection you need. Usually, you’ll only need one of these. The main thing that could affect the cost of a whole house surge protector is the installation by an electrician. Installation is pretty easy so it shouldn’t cost you too much, maybe around $100.00 or so.
- Lastly, there is the lightning rod system. The average price for installation on an average house is around $2500.00. You can do it yourself for about half of that. The biggest problem for a DIY installation is establishing a good effective grounding system. Normal depths for grounding electrodes is around 10′ deep, and you’ll probably need multiple grounds.
Why You Need a Lightning Protection System
As you can see, there is no one thing that you can do to protect your home from lightning.
Lightning protection for your home must be looked at as a system; a properly installed lightning rod system will protect your house, but not the things plugged into outlets or equipment vulnerable to EMP surges.
Surge suppression can only go so far; a nearby lightning bolt capable of zapping across thousands of feet of air is not going to be stopped by a switch in a power strip.
So what do you do?
Lightning Protection Methods to do First
If it’s not plugged in, it’s pretty safe. While I have a couple of levels of overvoltage protection installed, I still unplug my computers when there is thunderstorm activity around. The computer my weather station uses is always on, even through storms. After all, isn’t that what it’s for? So far, so good…
Point of use protection
My guess is that you’ve already done this to some extent. Plugging sensitive electronic devices into surge protectors is a smart first line defense against excessive power line or ground voltages.
There are a wide variety of surge protectors available including some with antenna and USB connectors.
Don’t plug too many things into one outlet. While not directly connected to lightning, overloading a circuit creates a fire hazard on its own. Install additional surge suppressors and spread the load around.
Whole House Electrical System Protection
The idea here is to install a surge protector at the electrical service panel on your house. Exactly what you’ll do here depends on the style and type of panel you have.
If you are comfortable and competent with home electrical systems, you can do this, however, the majority of people should call on a local electrician to install the correct device.
Check and See that your Outlets are Wired Correctly.
If your outlets have the hot and neutral wires reversed it will still work, however, any surge protection device will not. A ground wire not connected will also be a big problem.
A simple tool to check for properly connected outlets is widely available.
Don’t freak out if you find an outlet with only one plug working; check the switches on the wall, that outlet might be wired for a lamp.
Are All of Your Wiring Connections Tight all the Way to the Main Panel?
In older homes, the original wiring connections can loosen. In an overvoltage event, loose connections can spark and arc across the connections creating a fire hazard.
What Lightning Safety Steps You can do Yourself
Start at the beginning and work at what is safe for you.
Check outlets for proper functioning by using an outlet checker.
Buy surge suppression power strips and power centers.
Get a weather radio and a lightning detector, or better yet, a weather station with a lightning detection sensor built in.
When to Hire a Lightning Protection Expert
Service entry work and lightning rod installation are for pros.
If you find some loose or burned connections, call an electrician and find out why.
Installing a lightning rod system involves more than meets the eye. Lightning can arc and flash over to another grounded wire or plumbing in your house if they are nearby. Lightning can also jump across to or from a tree or something else in your yard. Be safe, hire a pro!
Do I Need Lightning Protection?
In regards to lightning damage, a lightning bolt directly hitting your house is the least likely thing to happen. This is true even in states known for daily thunderstorms like Florida.
However, lightning damage is possible when lightning strikes anywhere nearby, say within a couple mile radius.
It’s likely that you have already implemented some lightning protection by installing surge protector power outlets here and there. Maybe you were thinking that the additional outlets are convenient, but the surge suppression may have already saved some of your stuff.
I have some experience with this problem. All of my computers and ham radio equipment are plugged into surge protector devices. All but one thing, my radio power supply…
…One day I saw a lightning strike a hilltop about three miles from me and kerblam! –at the exact same time, my power supply flashed and popped and then all the magic smoke came out the top.
Everything protected by the power strips made it fine.
I was affected by a lightning strike either through the ground or over the power lines from miles away.
How Lightning can Cause Damage
A bolt of lightning can have a billion volts with billions of watts of power. Add a 50,000°F air temperature and a very powerful shockwave and you have the potential of serious damage to anything nearby.
Being affected by a lightning-induced EMP is also possible. I think this is why my wireless router often resets to the default settings when there is a thunderstorm around. No damage, but just a pain. Could be worse…
If lightning hits your house or anywhere very nearby, the electrical discharge, the superheated air, and the shock wave from the expanding air could all be experienced. But the raw power of an electrical spark that can arc through thousands of feet of air is the most dominant force.
A lightning strike is going to discharge its power into the earth by any means possible. This means it will travel through the ground until the power is dissipated.
Anything outside that is conductive and connected to your home can be a source of a damaging voltage spike as the lightning strike seeks to find ground.
This would include power lines, phone lines, plumbing, A/C units, antennas, and extended circuits to pools, gazebos, and well pumps. Oh, and also wired personal weather stations too!
Obviously the closer the strike the stronger the spike.
When you protect against lightning you get the benefit of guarding against other sources of voltage surges from things like trees falling onto power lines, cars crashing into poles, and switching problems at the local power substation.
Actually, these other sources of power problems are a lot more common than from thunderstorms.
Now You can go and Enjoy the Thunder Storms!
If you’ve done these simple things you have eliminated more than 90% of the electrical storm and power surge problems people run into.
So it’s time to enjoy one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular shows!
Thanks for reading, I hope you have found something of use here.