Lightning doesn’t seem like a big problem to most people, but with nearly 300,000 lightning strikes each year in the UK, it could be a major issue. The vast majority of those strikes don’t do any real damage, striking the sea or perhaps a beach, however, there are cases where lightning causes severe problems.
What Is Lightning?
Lightning is the energy produced when electricity discharges from a cloud to the ground. It moves through the air and you usually see a flash of light, plus hear thunder.
This phenomenon usually occurs when warm air is below cooler air in the atmosphere. The warm air rises, which causes it to cool and create condensation or water droplets. The higher this rapidly cooling air goes, the more water droplets it creates. They can end up freezing and begin to fall as hail.
These small frozen droplets fall down, but as they fall, they rub against positively charged ice crystals and this creates a negative charge at the lower parts of the cloud. The negative charge will eventually discharge, leaping to the ground, trees, or a building. It produces the bright, jagged streak of light that we’re all so familiar with.
Keep in mind that only 25% of the lightning in the UK is cloud to ground. The rest of the lightning moves between clouds and may not even be fully visible. You’ll just notice the sky flashing lighter now and then with sheet lightning. This never reaches the ground, so it’s not a problem.
Electricity always tries to take the most direct route to the ground, so you’ll find that taller structures are more likely to be hit first. If your building is tall, it could be a prime target. However, even if a nearby building or structure is likely to be hit, that can still affect your space and your electronics.
Why Lightning is Bad for Business
Imagine a direct lightning strike on your building. It hits with force and starts a fire, which is burning through your business space, even after shorting out all your computers and appliances. Your staff will need to look for jobs elsewhere or stay at home while they wait for repairs to be made and equipment to be replaced.
The simple cost of replacing everything can be substantial, even without a fire. You will need to replace computers, as well as appliances. Unfortunately, even with insurance, this can be costly and take time. During this time, you may have to close your business temporarily. That means you lose money even as you’re putting out more money to replace equipment. Employees will also need to be taken care of while they’re out of work. It all costs money and that can ruin your business if you aren’t expecting it.
A single lightning strike can destroy an entire building full of equipment, so you will definitely want to protect yourself and your business.
Is Lightning Dangerous to People?
If lightning actually hits you, it can be dangerous. Throughout the UK, two people die every year, while 30 people are injured by the electrical discharge. There are a few ways to protect yourself, however.
First, don’t go outdoors when there is lightning. You can listen to the weather ahead of time so you know if there are likely to be storms and then prepare for that. If you are already out, it’s a good idea to get in the car and stay there until you are sure the storm has moved a safe distance away.
Should you end up stuck outside, you can crouch as low as possible, with as little of your body touching the ground as possible. Crouching on your tiptoes is a good way to go about this. It’s important to prevent electricity that may be skimming the ground from touching you. Present the smallest target possible and you will be in a better position to avoid being hit or badly hurt.
You should avoid using electronics and water during the storm if the lightning is close, even indoors. This is because the lightning can rush through plumbing or electronic equipment, even if it has hit several meters away from your building. Remember that electricity can travel and even though it does drop in intensity over time, it can still be dangerous.
Lightning and Your Equipment
Whether you live in a house or run an office, electrical discharges can be a danger to your equipment, particularly electronics. There are two main ways that lightning can damage your property.
First, a direct strike is when lightning hits your building. While this doesn’t happen very often, the results can be devastating. This type of strike usually causes a fire and structural damage to the area hit. It will also result in electrical system damage and any electronics plugged in will likely be destroyed. A direct hit will be quite damaging, often melting key components and completely ruining electronics and appliances beyond repair. Fortunately, this is quite rare.
The more common problem is when lightning strikes near your building and travels via pipes or wires to your building. This can also cause issues with your electronics, though it won’t be as severe. If electronics such as gaming consoles and televisions are plugged into surge protectors, this may help. Ideally, you’ll have a surge protector set up in the electrical panel, which can prevent more damage.
How to Prevent Lightning Strike Damage
How can you stop lightning from doing so much damage? The fact is, you can’t actually stop lightning, but you can redirect it. Remember that the lightning will go for the quickest route to the ground. That means the tallest building or structure is likely to be hit first and you can give it a route by providing a conductive metal spike with a path to the ground.
One of the simplest methods of preventing electrical damage due to a lightning storm is to install lightning protection. This comes in many forms, but a common method is to install lightning protection spikes on the roof of a tall building. Copper tape is connected and runs down to the ground, where the lightning and electricity can safely dissipate. The lightning will hit the highly conductive metal first and then it can be taken directly to the ground.
Even if your home or building is shorter than those around it, adding lightning protection can be wise. Remember that if the electrical impulse hits nearby, it can spread to your home, so if you can direct it exactly where it needs to be, you can save yourself quite a bit of difficulty.
Redirecting the massive amount of energy is the best option, but even if you have this sort of protection, you should consider installing a surge protector in the electrical box. It’s also a good idea to include surge protectors throughout your home, especially for large appliances like the refrigerator and cooker.
What to Look for in a Lightning Protection Company
If you want to install lightning protection on your building, it’s best to hire a company to do this for you. This ensures the job will be done properly and securely. However, you do want to be sure you’re reaching the right people.
The lightning protection installation should be done by someone who is professional and willing to explain what they’re doing. The company should have plenty of experience with installing this type of system.
It can also help if the workers are accustomed to working higher up in the building and have rope access experience. With the right scaffolding skills or hoists, they can work on the roof safely. This also means they’ll be able to recommend the right lightning prevention system for your needs.
The more experience the company has, the better off you’ll be. However, it’s important that you start looking now, because the longer you wait, the more time there is for lightning to strike. Remember that even if it strikes nearby, you can still suffer the after-effects.
Are you looking for lightning protection for your home or business? At Rodells, we have the experience needed to give you lightning protection. Contact us today.