Lightning protection | Living the Country Life

Lightning protection

Don't let your buildings get zapped

A flash of lightning that strikes a building on the farm can cause a lot of damage. One volt can pack up to 300-million volts of electricity. In comparison, your household current handles 120-volts.

Kim Loehr is the communications director for the Lightning Protection Institute. She says a lightning bolt is just looking for a path to the ground. If there isn’t a lightning protection system in place to direct that massive energy without interruption, you’re asking for trouble.

"Say lightning hits something like a weather vane, or a rooftop apparatus. Well that might be a conductive metal, but then when it travels on its way to try to meet ground and hits brick or wood which is not conductive, that’s where you see the resistance and that’s where you end up seeing fire or damage," says Loehr.

At points along that path, the electricity from a strike might jump from wiring to plumbing, with the current side-flashing to objects such as appliances, water lines, or even people and animals.

Loehr says a lightning protection system will keep your property safe.

"Lightning rods, which are actually called strike termination devices, conductors that take the lightning to the ground. Fittings, bonding, which reduces potential differences, and grounding which is super important," says Loehr. "That’s where it directs the current safely underground where it won’t impact the structure. And then, you also need surge protection devices."
Loehr says a team of experts meets every three-years to review lightning protection safety standards. In recent years, they’ve addressed lightning protection for new technologies such as wind turbines and “smart” structures.

Learn more about lightning protection for farms

Listen here to the radio mp3

Radio interview source: Kim Loehr, marketing communications consultant, Lightning Protection Institute

Every thunderstorm, I worry about our barn getting struck by lightning because it's full of hay. We have two lightning rods on top, though, and it's never been hit. I used to worry about lightning zapping the big old hollow hackberry tree next to our house and having it fall on my sons' rooms, so I had it cut down.

The majority of lightning fires happen between June and August. Lightning crackles with approximately 30 million volts of electricity, so without the proper precautions, a strike to your home or outbuildings might mean disaster.

Kim Loehr is the communications consultant for the nonprofit Lightning Protection Institute. She says lightning fires are a tragedy you can avoid if you rig your structures with a full lightning protection system.

"The full system includes air terminals -- they're the rods -- down conductors, bonding, grounding, and then surge arresters for the panel box, and sometimes surge suppression for your appliances," Loehr says. "But, all of that needs to follow national safety standards, which means you need to have a specialized contractor who's licensed and certified and educated in lightning protection."

So hire an installer certified by Underwriters Laboratories.


A lot of people think that lightning rods attract lightning, but Loehr says that's a myth.

"Lightning rods do not attract lightning," Loehr says. "They just intercept a charge. If it's going to strike, that lightning protection system provides a specified path that the electricity wants to stay on and takes that path to ground."

It's been said that the amount of time between thunderclaps indicates how far away the lightning is. So if you count five seconds between thunderclaps, lightning is a mile away. Ten seconds equals two miles, and so on. But the Lightning Protection Institute wants you remember the easiest method of all: "If the thunder roars, go indoors!"

Learn more:

Nuts and bolts of lightning protection: Here's how a system like the one described here works.

Establishing a storm shelter: Lightning isn't the only thing to worry about when severe weather strikes. Learn how a shelter can protect against dangerous winds and tornadoes.

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