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Understanding Lightning Protection

A lightning protection system does not attract, repel, or prevent a lightning strike. Rather, it provides specified pathways on which lightning can travel, carrying the destructive power of the lightning strike safely into the ground. When a structure is equipped with a properly installed lightning protection system, a lightning strike will not harm the structure, its contents, or its occupants.

Understanding Lightning Protection

Commerical & Residential Lightning Protection Resources

ECLE is known in the lightning protection industry as the best resource for accurate information on best practices for lightning protection systems.  Below you will find resources on a variety of lightning protection topics.

Please browse our collection of information and if you still have questions please call 888.680.9462 for guidance.

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frequently asked questions

Answers to common questions about lightning protection systems and lightning safety.

Yes. In fact, more lightning protection systems are installed now than ever before. Today’s lightning protection systems are inconspicuous. Since buildings today are equipped with many sensitive electronic systems, planners tend to include lightning protection systems not only to protect the structure but also to help protect the electronic systems that keep buildings up and running.

No. This common misconception dates back to Ben Franklin’s day. Lightning rods simply intercept a lightning strike and provide adequate pathways to safely conduct the lightning to the ground. If lightning is zeroed in on a particular location, it will strike that location, whether there is lightning protection in place or not. It is helpful to remember that lightning travels several miles to reach the earth. Tiny objects on the ground have no influence on controlling the path lightning takes through the air.

In most cases, unless you are looking for the lightning rods you can’t notice them. Lightning rods are typically just 12 inches tall and 3/8” in diameter. That’s not much bigger than a pencil. Placed on a roof that is 30–50 feet high and 18 inches in from the roof edge, the rods are barely visible from the ground.

There are a number of measures that can be taken to make lightning protection even less noticeable. There are different materials that can be chosen to blend with the architectural features, style, and materials. For instance, tin-plated copper can be chosen to blend with gray stonework, or copper blends well with dark materials.

When designed during construction all of the lightning protection systems, except the rooftop terminals, can be concealed and run inside the structure. There are also ways to avoid the use of air terminals, such as substituting thick-walled metal railings for the lightning rods. Decorative finials can also be used as air terminals, making the lightning protection an architectural accent.

Cost varies greatly depending on the location of the structure, its size, its construction, the complexity of the roof-line and the ground conditions. Costs are lower when the system is designed and installed during construction. Retrofitting a system, is very common, but tends to be slightly more expensive. In comparison with other building systems, such as security or plumbing, the lightning protection is usually less costly.

There are satellites that monitor lightning activity all over the world. This activity is charted and provides statistics that tell just how often lightning strikes any given area. At any given moment, there are 2000 thunderstorms happening somewhere in the world. The earth experiences 100 lightning flashes per second. The US alone has more than 40 million lightning strikes each year. Any given square mile in the US can expect approximately 40 strikes per year.

Some statistics regarding lightning damage include:

  • Between 1992 – 1996, it is estimated that 1.7 billion dollars were paid out by insurance companies in lightning related commercial claims.
  • The Insurance Information Institute reports that approximately 5% of all commercial claims are lightning related.
  • In 1996 a Federal judge upheld a judgment levied by OSHA against a Pennsylvania firm for failure to provide adequate lightning protection after two workers were killed by a lightning-caused explosion.
  • The US Fire Administration reported in 2002 that it estimates 17,400 structural fires are caused by lightning each year. Dollar losses per lightning fire are nearly twice that of fires started by other means.

Yes. The NFPA has maintained a standard for lightning protection for over 100 years. The standard is continually updated and edited to incorporate new findings. For example, in the last few years, sharp-tipped lightning rods have been replaced by blunt or round-tipped rods in NFPA requirements. This is the result of field research at New Mexico Tech that proved that blunt tipped rods are more successful in capturing a lightning discharge than a sharp tipped rod. The NFPA’s standard is based on the same practices and principles employed in recognized standards for lightning protection all over the world.

The FAA, NASA, Dept of Energy, and DoD typically do not build any structures without lightning protection systems. In fact, there was a federal report issued in 2004 that reviewed the technical validity of lightning protection and concluded that lightning protection systems are critical to protecting our national infrastructure. The American Meteorological Society issued a similar paper in early 2003.

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