By Catherine Powell
Image courtesy Pixabay
It’s that time of year again in Florida when just about every afternoon you can expect a passing thunderstorm to make an appearance. As well as the gusty winds and torrential showers, thunderheads also pack a wallop every time they unleash a lightning bolt that can discharge up to a billion volts n an earsplitting instant. Like it or not, lightning isn’t only a hazard to life and limb. It can also do some serious damage to home. Lightning strikes in the US cause more than $1 billion in property damage every year. To help you understand the kinds of hazards an electrical storm presents to your home and how to mitigate the danger, I’ve created a top-10 list of lightning hazards.
- A roof strike can unleash a bolt from the blue that’s up to five times hotter than the surface of the sun. If a lightning bolt scores a direct hit on your roof, chances are you’ll be forced to call the fire department to put out a roof fire. But that’s not the only damage you can expect from a direct hit. The electrical current generated by a strike is likely to follow your home’s plumbing to the ground. This can cause a huge power surge that is sure to knock out the power to your home, as well as damaging or destroying anything plugged in at the time.
- A strike to a powerline or power pole. – While not likely to set fire to your property, should the current flow down a power line to your property, it can cause sparks to fly and electronics to short out. Your home’s electrical systems is designed to only handle a limited amount of current and amperage. Anything above the limit is likely to generate heat that can cause wiring and electronic components to overheat to the point where they start to short or even melt.
- Signs your house was hit by lightning. – While a direct hit is something that’s hard to miss if you happen to be sitting in your living room when the flash bang of a thunderbolt occurs, sometimes a strike is a little harder to detect. Should you hear a boom only to have all the lights go out a split second later, it’s up to you to detect the secondary effects of a direct hit. Did you see sparks flying from electrical outlets or have several lightbulbs explode at the moment you heard the thunderclap? Did you hear a loud humming or buzzing sound a split second after the strike? Can you smell smoke or burning plastic? After the power comes back on are any of your appliances or electronic components inoperable? Any or all of these signs point to the fact that your home was hit.
- What happens if your home is hit while you are away? – Unless you find a fire truck parked in your driveway, it isn’t always obvious that your home was struck by lightning. That being said, if you come home from work only to find that some of your appliances and electronics no longer function, it’s possible that your home was hit while you were away. It’s even possible that appliances and electronics such as TVs and computers may seem to work fine only to fail within a day or two of a strike.
- What should you do if your home gets hit by lightning? – Depending on the severity of the strike, you may need to call 911 and evacuate the premises if your home takes a direct hit. A roof fire can quickly spread to other parts of your home. Even if there isn’t a fire, the damage done to your home by a direct hit is enough to fuse wiring in the walls which could cause a fire when the power comes back on. If your home is hit by a bolt from the blue, you need to call an electrician to perform a detailed inspection of your home’s electrical system.
- How can you mitigate the damage that can be caused by a lightning strike? – As Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The three best things you can do to mitigate the damage caused by a lightning strike is to install a roof lightning protection system, add a whole-house surge suppression system, and unplug expensive electronics during thunderstorm season. I once lost an expensive pasta maker because I failed to unplug it, only to find after a thunderstorm passed by that the motor was fried. Even if you can’t afford a whole-house system, point-of-use surge suppressors can save your appliances. After having to replace my garage door opener after a lighting storm, I attached a high-quality point-of-use suppressor that was later fried by a near miss. While I lost the $20 suppressor, it saved the $200 garage door opener.
- Don’t have a false sense of security. – Even if your home has never been hit by a lightning bolt, don’t think it can’t happen to you. The same goes for power surges. Any time the power to an area is interrupted for more than a minute or two, the resulting power surge when the grid is restored can cause serious damage to electronic components. That’s one of the reasons it’s advisable to turn off the power main if your block loses power during a hurricane. If your home’s electrical system was damaged by a lightning strike, it’s even more important that you shut the main off and unplug all electronic devices before you try to restore power.
- Can your car be affected by a lightning strike? – Absolutely. I’ve seen vehicles that had holes drilled in their roof and/or had all four tires blown out by a lightning strike. A thunderstorm can also unleash wind and microbursts that can topple trees and snap off limbs. If you don’t want your car to wind up trashed by a thunderstorm, your best bet is to store it in the garage when storms are predicted for your area.
- Does homeowner’s insurance cover lightning strikes? – Most homeowner’s policies provide coverage for damage done to your home due to lightning or power surges. However, the coverage is only valid to damage done at the time of the incident. If your appliances or electronics give up the ghost weeks or months after a storm passes through your area, you may find it hard to get compensated for the loss.
- Find out what’s covered under your policy. – The military calls it collateral damage. Insurers call them uninsured perils. What I’m talking about are uninsured structures such as garden sheds and decks which may be struck by lightning and may not be covered by your existing homeowner’s policy. Before a storm wipes out your gazebo or trashes all the landscaping equipment in your shed or detached garage, call your agent to find out what is and isn’t covered under your existing policy. For a few dollars more you may be able to add a rider to protect these items.
Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida. To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at http://aplusallfloridainsuranceinc.com/