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Incorporating Lightning Protection Into Building Designs

Design of the lightning protection system can usually be delegated to a specialty contractor by specifying accepted industry standards and requiring shop drawings prepared by an LPI-certified Master Installer or Master Installer/Designer.

Incorporating Lightning Protection in Your Designs

Design of the lightning protection system can usually be delegated to a specialty contractor by specifying accepted industry standards and requiring shop drawings prepared by an LPI-certified Master Installer or Master Installer/Designer.

A lightning protection specification should require compliance with NFPA 780 and UL96A.  Lightning protection schemes that fail to comply with these standards or claim to be "better" than standard-compliant systems should be excluded.

Contact ECLE for recommendations to qualified firms in a particular region. For projects with especially complex structures or performance requirements, ECLE can also suggest engineering firms that can assist you.

Lightning strike over a city.

Design professional responsibility and potential liability

Licensed design professionals are required to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public, a duty that includes designing for meteorological events such as lightning storms. See “Lightning Protection: The Architect’s Standard of Care,” by Michael Chusid, RA, FCSI, Architectural Products, March 2016 for a discussion of your exposure and professional obligations.


Evaluate the Structure's Lightning Risk

The design professional's first step should be to conduct a lightning risk assessment. A simplified risk assessment complying with NFPA 780 can be conducted online, without cost, in just a few minutes.  The results of the risk assessment can then be presented to the project principals so they can start incorporating lightning protection in your designs.

NFPA 780 Lightning Risk Assessment Tool

Third-Party Inspection for Compliance

Lightning protection systems fall outside the scope of typical building inspection requirements. To ensure that the installed system complies with recognized US consensus standards, ECLE recommends that specifiers require that individual lightning protection systems be inspected and certified by a third-party inspection authority, such as Lightning Protection Institute Inspection Program (LPI-IP). To be eligible for inspection, the system must be installed by an installation contractor that is listed with UL and a member of the Lightning Protection Institute.

Specifications should call for:

• Lightning Protection Institute Inspection Program (LPI-IP) Master Installation Certificate

For a CSI-format guide specification, click here.

Diagram for a lightning protection system inspection.

How will a lightning protection system affect my building’s appearance?

Lightning protection systems sometimes get blamed for negatively affecting the aesthetics of a building.

The reality is that in a properly designed lightning protection system, the only visible portion of the system should be on the rooftop.  Air terminals (also referred to as lightning rods) have only minimal visual impact when seen from ordinary viewing distances; they are slender, located on a building’s high points, and can be set back up to 24 inches from the edges of a roof.

Air terminals can sometimes be eliminated through the creative use of using permanent metal fabrications such as railings, overhead canopies, and metal decorative elements as strike termination devices. To be used in place of lightning protection components, metal objects must be electrically continuous and at least 3/16 inch thick (1/8 inch for railings). Creative strike termination fabrications can be especially useful on occupied roofs.

Will Lightning Protection Add Visible Wiring All Over My Building?

Conductors can be installed in conduit and concealed within building cavities during construction or renovation work. When it is necessary to run conductors on exterior walls, thoughtful design can help to minimze the visual impact in prominent locations.   For example, appearance can be minimized by hiding cables behind items like downspouts, locating them along corner boards or aligned with building features. 

Exposed-to-view components of the lightning protection system can be specified in aluminum, copper, and plated copper to match or complement other facade materials and as required for corrosion resistance. 

Lightning Protection Continuing Education for Professionals

ECLE plays a prominent role in the management of the Lightning Safety Alliance, a Registered Provider with the American Institute of Architects Continuing Education System. ECLE representatives are trained and authorized to present the LSA's continuing education program, LSA101 Lightning Protection Basics 101.  The face-to-face classroom style presentation lasts one hour and earns one AIA Learning Unit.

To schedule a presentation, contact us.

American Institute of Architects continuing education system logo.

Additional Resources

Selected articles from professional publications. These are just a few of the professional resources you can download. Explore All Resources.

  • Not All Lightning Protection Is Created Equal

    Not All Lightning Protection Is Created Equal

    “…alternative products do not provide the advantages claimed”. Learn the facts about early streamer emission and charge transfer devices.

  • The Construction Specifier

    The Construction Specifier

    After explaining fundamentals of lightning protection, this article provides best practices for coordinating lightning protection with architectural design.

  • Roofer's Guide to Lightning Protection

    Roofer's Guide to Lightning Protection

    Your roof is not only a weather barrier, it is a work platform for lightning protection installers. The article explains how to simplify job-site coordination.

  • Lightning Protection and the Building Envelope

    Lightning Protection and the Building Envelope

    High-performance building enclosures must protect against wind, blast, fire, heat, moisture… and lightning.

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