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Religious Buildings and Lightning Protection Systems

Special Risk Factors:

In addition to the lightning risk typical of all structures, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other houses of worship are especially vulnerable to lightning damage due to:

  • HEIGHT: Steeples, crosses, minarets, and other symbols of faith are frequently the tallest structures in a neighborhood. Their height increases the likelihood of being struck by lightning.
  • OCCUPANCY: Sanctuaries and community halls are places of assembly that require additional protection against lightning. The daycares, schools, and shelters found in many religious facilities also warrant extra protection.
  • ELECTRONICS: The expensive A/V and other electronic gear many congregations use in worship and ministry can be damaged by power surges caused by lightning.
  • RESILIENCE: Religious buildings play an important role in their communities. Many are landmarks or historic buildings that anchor neighborhoods. Others are places of refuge that must remain open in times of crises.

Examples: The National Fire Protection Association estimates that lightning is responsible for an alarming 20 percent of fire damage to religious buildings.

Lightning destroys this church in Wakefield, MA.

church spire struck by lightning

 

 

Shove Memorial Chapel, Colorado Springs, CO was damaged by a lightning strike. Falling masonry could have injured pedestrians passing below.

Photo: Mr. Lightning

 

 

 

 

Design and Installation Considerations:

It is not enough to put just one lightning rod on top of the steeple; a complete lightning protection system must protect the entire building.

The system should comply with nationally-recognized standards, including LPI 175, NFPA 780, and UL 96.

The standards require strategically located air terminals (lightning rods) at high points and on the roof, ground electrodes designed for the intense surges caused by lightning, and a network of heavy-duty lightning conductors to safely conduct current between them.

To equalize electrical potential throughout the building, the building’s plumbing, HVAC, structure, and other systems must be bonded to the lightning protection system, and the lightning protection grounding must be interconnected to the building’s groundings for the electrical and other systems. In addition, surge protective devices must be added to telephone, power, and other services entering the building, and filters

Design and installation should be performed by individuals certified by the Lightning Protection Institute. For added assurance, installations should be certified by the LPI-Inspection Program to assure it functions as required. To make sure your lightning protection system remains in working order, have it inspected by a qualified lightning protection specialist every two to five years.

 

Case Studies:

Church Lightning RiskNational CathedralBoston Church

 

 

 

 

 

Left: The large footprint of a megachurch like the First Baptist Church of Dallas increases the risk of a lightning strike. Credit: Hicks Lightning Protection

Middle: A new lightning protection system was installed during the renovation of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  Credit: Dillon Lightning Protection

Right: Lighting protection is integrated seamlessly into the architecture of Our Lady of Good Voyage near the Boston, MA, harbor. Credit: Boston Lightning Rod, Co. Inc.

 

Final Thought:

“While some church boards have faith that their building will be divinely protected from lightning, they should heed the words of St. Augustine: “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.”  Read more in this ECLE blog post

 

Further Information:

Lightning Protection Basics: ecle.biz/lightning-protection.

Lightning Protection Risk Assessment: ecle.biz/lightning-risk-assessment-guide.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 909 — Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties – Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship.

“Lightning Protection Systems for Churches and Houses of Worship” Brochure from Lightning Protection Institute

“Are Churches Attracting More Lightning than Sinners? How lightning protection systems can prevent losses!” Article from Lightning Protection Institute

“A Tale of Two Churches: Lightning protection and robust grounding essential for steeples, roof structures.” Case studies from Copper Development Association