Tall buildings often feature lightning rods to protect them from lightning damage and potential fires, but a lightning rod may be a good addition to your own home as well
There’s nothing like a refreshing thunderstorm at the end of a long, hot summer day. And if you want to add that extra creep factor to your favorite horror movie, you can’t go wrong with a lightning strike or two. But lightning quickly loses its charm if it strikes your home.
That’s why very tall buildings, from high-rise apartment complexes to commercial skyscrapers, often have lightning rods to protect them from lightning damage and prevent potential lightning-induced fires. But do you need a lightning rod to protect your home as well?
How Lightning Rods Work
You may think that only very tall buildings are vulnerable to lightning damage, and, in many cases, you would be right. The taller the building, the greater the risk of a lightning strike.
But it’s not only the building’s height that makes it susceptible; its materials can also increase the risk. Not only are wooden structures vulnerable, but so, too, are the most robust of building materials, including concrete, masonry, and steel. Lightning can easily damage and even destroy building materials, and the large electrical currents can cause fires within the interior or even side flashes.
Side flashes, for example, are small explosions of highly pressurized, super-heated air that occur inside the nooks and crannies of the structure’s materials. These tiny explosions occur because of the huge electrical currents each lightning bolt produces. Side flashes can start fires or shoot pieces of debris at high speeds, causing injuries and other damage.
Lightning rods work by attracting the bolt, diverting it away from other more vulnerable and dangerous surfaces, and safely conducting the current down the side of the building and into the ground. Mounted on the highest point of a structure, lightning rods are electrically bonded to Earth via conductors and electrodes, which allow electricity to pass through or around the building and disperse safely.
Most often designed to resemble decorative finials, lightning rods come in various forms, depending on both the design style of the building and the building’s particular risk for a lightning strike. Lightning rods may be solid poles, hollow poles, flat strips, or even bristle-shaped.
Although copper and copper alloys are the most common materials used in lightning rod construction, several different conductive metals are usable. Aluminum, for instance, is also commonly used in lightning rods.
Does Your Home Need a Lightning Rod?
Most residential homes don’t have lightning rods simply due to the rare occurrence of lightning strikes on small structures. But if you live in an area where lightning storms are frequent, or if you would just like to have a bit of added protection and peace of mind, then it may be a good idea to hire a professional to install one.
A lightning-protection system on a residential home consists of the same materials and is installed in the same way as a larger building. Still, the larger building may have multiple rods and several conductors running to the ground.
In general, you should leave a task like this to the pros, since it involves setting up a grounding system. The cost to install a lightning protection system depends on several factors, including:
The type and number of rods you need
The size of your home
The height and pitch of your roof
Each determines how easy (or difficult) the installation and grounding will be.
In most cases, though, you can expect to pay between $400 at the low end to more than $2,000 at the high end, with $1,500 being the national average. This total includes materials and labor. In many towns, though, you will probably also need a permit for your system to ensure that it meets local safety codes. In that case, you can expect to add between $50 and $500 to your project costs.
If you’re not sure about making the leap, there are things you can do to protect your home from lightning strikes other than installing lightning rods or a full lightning protection system. For example, you can install whole-house surge protectors to safeguard not only your appliances and electronics but also your home’s electrical system. These protectors significantly reduce the risk of lightning-related fires.
Installing a lightning protection system for your home isn’t exactly cheap or easy. But if you live in a strike-prone area, or you’re simply looking for an added layer of protection for your home and family, then installing a lightning rod (or several) can be just what you are looking for.