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Protecting Your Home and Chimney from Lightning Strikes

I don’t know if the weather that we’ve been experiencing over the last few days is part of the system that blew through the Northeast last week, but the owner of a home Wisteria Lane in Doylestown was woken up at 3am by a lightning strike that blew apart a chimney on top of the home. Luckily, the fire did not spread to other areas of the home but not many other homeowners can say the same thing.

This event got me to thinking about how the average homeowner can take steps to prevent this from ever happening to him. And to find out the answer to that one, I had to go back into history. One of our nation’s founding father’s Benjamin Franklin performed his kite-key-and-cloud experiment in the 18th century. Little did he know at the time but his findings on the nature of lightning and electricity would still be relevant today.

According to the National Weather Service, there are 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. And the costs keep climbing as expensive big screen TV’s, refrigerators and computers take on the full brunt of the lightning strikes. A properly installed lightning protection system that includes cables, connectors, air terminals or rooftop or chimney mounted lightning rods and at least two grounding rods sunk deep into the earth, can save your chimney and your house from damage. Lightning is formed when an invisible channel of negatively charged air moves from the cloud toward the positively charged earth. The target of the channel could be anything from your home to a golf cart.

A lightning protection system gives the lightning bolt an alternative destination to strike by providing a network of low-resistance paths for the lightning current to follow. A lightning protection system is made from copper or aluminum components, joined together to form a continuous and highly conductive path from the high points on a house to copper rods or metal rings buried deep in the earth. In the case of the lightning bolt that hit that hit the owner of the home in Doylestown, Pennsylvania last week, had it hit the chimney-mounted lightning rods instead, it would have been directed from the rod to a braided copper cable along the ridge, and before ending its trip safely into an underground copper rod or ring.

In order to be completely protected, you’ll also have to install lightning arrestors on all incoming electric, cable, and telephone lines which will protect lightning from destroying your electronics via power lines. For more information on the standards that your lightning protection system must meet, visit Underwriters Laboratories at http://www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/. You can’t stop lightning from striking but you can control the damage that it causes.

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