Lightning displays can be exciting to watch from afar, but can cause some serious damage to homes and expensive electronics. Electrical currents flow through the home at 120 volts; however, lightning can deliver several hundred thousand to a million volts of electricity into the home, says Bill Burke, the division manager of electrical engineering for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). That amount of juice can fry electronics, damage the exterior of the home, and even start a fire.
While current building and electrical codes do not require lightning protection systems, lightning rods can potentially save homeowners a hefty sum in damage repairs should lighting find its way to the home, he says. Lightning rods attract lightning and offer a direct path to the ground, usually via copper wire. Since these rods are not connected to the home's electrical system, a licensed electrician is not necessary for installation and handy homeowners might be able to install on their own, provided they carefully follow the manufacturers instructions, Mr. Burke says.
Lightning that strikes the ground near the home can also cause problems for residents with expensive electronics. When lightning hits the ground, its electricity dissipates in unpredictable ways, Burke says. Frequently, a surge will pass through the home's electrical system. While appliances like refrigerators and toasters will probably remain unharmed, computers, flat screen televisions, smart phones, and other electronics are particularly susceptible to power surges. Surge arrestors, sometimes called surge protectors or spike boxes, can save electronics from sudden bursts of power. However, not all surge protectors are created equal, Burke cautions, so check the ratings listed on the package. The NFPA website offers additional safety recommendations related to lighting.