A Bolt From the Blue

To many, lightning is little more than Mother Nature’s fireworks display, often followed by a window-rattling rumble of thunder that chases golfers from the fairways and sends the dog scampering for cover.

But lightning is also one of the most frequent and widespread causes of insured losses for homeowners.

The average cost per paid homeowners claim due to lightning continues to rise, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The Institute attributes the increased claims costs to the proliferation of expensive home electronics, such as widescreen TVs, home theaters, computers, game systems and “smart homes.” But other factors also contribute to homeowner losses caused by lightning.

For example, the larger size of many newer homes, especially those with few large trees around them, makes them easy targets for a fiery bolt from a cumulonimbus cloud. A direct strike can ignite a house fire or send a surge of electricity through house wires, zapping electronic devices throughout the home. Even less sophisticated electronics are vulnerable, such as garage door openers, security systems, well pumps, sump pumps and hot tub pumps and heaters.

Often, lightning needs only to strike near a home to cause damage. Some homeowners have reported that household appliances and electronics were “fried” during a thunderstorm, even though no physical evidence of a lightning strike could be found. In addition, underground irrigation systems and utilities and on-site wells can act as a conductor for electrical charges to reach the home.

Homeowners can take steps to protect their homes and contents in a variety of ways. A lightning protection system, made up of a series of grounded lightning rods, can help direct the ferocious energy of lightning safely to the ground. To help protect sensitive electronic equipment in the home, UL-listed surge protectors can be installed on electrical service panels as well as incoming phone, cable, satellite and data lines. Also, homeowners should unplug expensive electronics, such as TVs and computers, when they know a thunderstorm is approaching or when they are going to be away for a period.

A home surrounded by large, mature trees may also be at risk. The tallest tree in the neighborhood may be the most attractive target for a thundercloud ready to unleash its destructive energy. A lightning strike could split a large tree in half, sending splintered limbs though the rooftops below.



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