Spring is the season for thunderstorms, which can involve rain, hail, and lightning. Lightning can do substantial damage to your home. While you never expect a disaster, you can be prepared. 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.
What happens when lightning strikes a house?
If your home gets struck by lightning, you will hear a very loud, powerful boom that might shake your entire house. Many homes are built to withstand lightning strikes without succumbing to major damage. This is the purpose of lightning rods; lightning wants to get from the cloud to the ground as quickly as possible, and lightning rods facilitate that journey, providing the fastest route.
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.
Damage can also be caused by the shock waves that lightning creates, which are audible like 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 dangerous speeds around structures.
What should 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. 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, first, make sure everyone is okay. If you see fire or smell smoke, evacuate your home immediately. Call 911, and tell them your home was struck by lightning. Do this regardless of whether or not you detect a fire hazard. The fire department will come out to your property and assess the area for damage, including using thermal imaging cameras to search inside walls for heat that could or already has started a fire. Once your home is assessed and found to be safe, you will be able to return inside. Call your insurance company and explain what has happened. Finally, call a trustworthy electrician to come out and inspect your home wiring.
What should i Do If Lightning Damaged my Roof?
If lightning strikes your home directly, it may damage roofing materials and/or your attic. 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. If you need an emergency roofing repair after a big storm, contact a roofing contractor right away. The sooner you act, the better. Whether it’s a small hole in the roof, damaged shingles, or major fire damage, the problem will need to be addressed by a professional quickly.
Hedrick Construction provides expert roofing services for residential and commercial properties throughout Ames, Ankeny, Huxley, and other surrounding areas in Iowa. For regular updates on roofing and other home maintenance topics, subscribe to our blog!