Spring is the season for thunderstorms, which can involve rain, hail, or even lightning. Do you know what to do if your house gets struck by lightning?
How Does Lightning Work?
Lightning is a discharge of static electricity. As air currents and moisture move around in clouds during a storm, the cloud’s particles become charged. Negatively charged air interacts with positively charged air from the ground; when they connect, a spark forms – just like connecting the positive and negative terminals of a battery. This discharges the buildup of energy, creating a lot of heat; lightning strikes are almost 20,000 degrees Celsius.
Lightning can travel directly from clouds to the ground without a conduit and will form wherever it can make a connection. Anything that conducts electricity, including gas and water pipes, electric lines, phone lines, cable TV or internet lines, gutters, downspouts, and metal window frames, makes it easier for the charge to travel to the ground. Once it finds a conductor, it can also branch out through others, electrifying many parts of a home at the same time in its journey towards the earth. Sometimes, it will jump or “arc” through the air from one conductive path to another, a phenomenon called “side flash.” For example, lightning may first connect to gutters on a home’s roof then jump to window frames or better-grounded water pipes.
How Can It Hurt My Home?
Lightning can cause serious damage if it strikes your home. The risk of fire is very high; lightning commonly ignites flammable material in and outside of buildings. Strikes can cause fires directly, or materials can ignite when current passes through them and heats them to the point of ignition. If your home has gas piping, lightning strikes may damage valves, regulators, or appliance connectors, causing leakage of flammable gas.
When a lightning charge travels through electrical wiring, it can cause an explosive surge. This may cause a fire and almost certainly will destroy the wires. The surge can also damage any appliances (particularly electronics like computers and entertainment centers) that are connected to the electrical system. Surge protectors can protect against small surges but are unlikely to prevent damage from a direct lightning strike.
If lightning strikes a home’s gutters, jumps to the attic windows, and then travels into the electrical system, flammable materials in the attic might ignite; there would also be a risk of fire in any of the home’s walls because of the surge through the wiring.
Damage can also be caused by the shock waves that lightning creates, which are audible as thunder. At close range, these waves can be destructive, causing structural degradation and cracking in concrete, brick, cinderblock, and stone. Brick and stone chimneys are particularly susceptible to lightning damage. Shock waves can also fracture objects and create shrapnel, flying debris that can be propelled at a dangerous rate around structures.
What Do I Do If Lightning Strikes My Home?
Unless you live in an area where lighting poses a significant and regular risk, you probably don’t have a fully grounded professional lightning prevention system. There are some simple things you can do to stay safe during a storm and minimize the risk to your family and your home.
During a lightning storm, stay away from wiring and pipes. Do not take a bath or shower or otherwise use running water, and unplug electronic devices like computers, video game consoles, and televisions until the storm passes. Since lightning current can travel through soil and across moist concrete, wear shoes if walking in a basement, garage, or patio.
If your home or property is hit by lightning, call emergency services immediately, especially if you see a fire or smell smoke. Check for any visible fires or scorching, especially in the attic. Fires inside the walls and in the attic spaces can smolder for hours undetected; the fire department will be able to use specialized equipment like thermal imaging cameras to detect hidden fires. Especially immediately after a strike, do not touch metal window frames, pipes, or electric cords.
Once the storm has passed, contact your insurance company. You will likely need to have a professional roofing contractor perform an inspection. Make sure that you examine chimneys, roof shingles, siding, gutters, and walls for damage as well. Replace or repair damaged shingles, siding, insulation, or windows. Contact an electrician to perform an inspection of your wiring.
If you need emergency roofing repair after a big storm this spring or summer, give us a call! Whether it’s a small hole in the roof, damaged shingles, or major fire damage, Hedrick Construction can take care of your emergency roofing needs promptly and skillfully.
If your home has suffered lightning damage and you need a professional inspection or repairs, call the roofing professionals at Hedrick Construction. We provide expert roofing services for residential and commercial properties throughout Ames, Ankeny, Huxley, and the rest of Story County.