How Lightning Rods Can Save Your Home

By W.L. Lloyd, A High Voltage Engineer from the Laboratory of General Electric Company

They say that lightning never strikes twice. However, if you ever witnessed the destruction wrought by this natural phenomenon, you would know that once is enough.

The truth is, lightning can, and does, strike more than once if the conditions are right. Is your house vulnerable to the dangers of lightning? If so, what can you do to prevent unnecessary damage or injury?

At General Electric, we've been studying the effects of lightning since the earliest days of electric power transmission. In order to design and build electrical equipment better able to resist the harmful effects of lightning, we have attempted to duplicate lightning on a smaller scale in the lab, under constant conditions. Based on our studies we know a great deal more about lightning today than was known just a few years ago.

To get a better idea of the awesome power of lightning, consider that a voltage of approximately 100,000 volts is required to make electricity jump one foot. If you were to multiply that by the length of a flash of lightning from a cloud 1000 feet high, it would require a voltage of a hundred million volts!

How Does Lightning Work

Contrary to popular belief, lightning does not always start a fire in wood. Since lightning is instantaneous the discharge often splits wood but does not ignite it. Still, what looks like a single lightning discharge may be in fact, twenty to forty discharges all coming down to the earth through the same lightning path within a second's time. These are the types of strokes which are much more apt to cause fires, for with each successive discharge, wood and other flammable materials are more likely to become ignited.

Barns in particular are often fired by a lightning stroke because hay is so easily ignited. (Underwriters Laboratories reports lightning to be the greatest single cause of barn fires, and second only to defective flues in farm houses.)

In the laboratory we can produce the same rate of voltage rise and current rise and the same order of current magnitude as in the natural lightning strokes. With our laboratory lightning we can melt and vaporize metal conductors, split wood, burst bricks and stone, and shatter concrete, just as natural lightning does.

The Tally of Destruction To Homes and Buildings

Each year lightning damage results in losses of up to 20 million dollars!

Apart from the damage to property, lightning is responsible for nearly 500 deaths and more than 2000 injuries yearly in the United States alone. Most of these injuries and deaths occur within the east and central parts of the country. Practically all these losses could be prevented by lightning rods.

Lightning Rods Are Proven Effective

During our studies we have examined the protection offered by lightning rods. Although General Electric does not make or sell lightning rods, we have studied their operation in detail and are convinced of their effectiveness.

Based on our tests and field experience, we have included that when properly designed, installed and grounded there is nothing more effective than a lightning rod system in the protection of a residence or building from devastating effects of lightning. A proper lightning rod system can provide immunity from damage to any structure regardless of its size, location or construction.

How Lightning Rods Work

A lightning rod will not prevent your house from being struck by lightning, however they do prevent damage in the event that a stroke does occur.

The principle is simple: lightning rods are made of material that conducts electricity easily. a lightning rod works by receiving the stroke and discharging it quickly and harmlessly to conducting earth. So effective are lightning rods at conducting the stroke to the ground, that occupants in the protected building are often unaware that the building has been struck.

Is Your Home At Risk?

Buildings that stand alone are at greater risk than ones surrounded by larger buildings, which offer protection.

Some people believe that being surrounded by trees offers protection. This is false. Trees are very poor conductors of electricity and cannot be counted on to act like a lightning rod. If a tree near your house were struck by lightning it could very well pass from the tree into your house.

A steel skyscraper or modern apartment house, is immune from damage by lighting if the steel work is carried to the top of the structure; or if a lightning rod system is attached to the steel framework and the steel is grounded properly. Otherwise, almost any other structure is subject to damage by lightning if not protected by properly installed lightning rods.

Statistics indicate that nine-tenths of all lightning casualties occur in rural districts, including villages and towns.

Today's Lightning Rods Are Almost Undetectable

To be effective, lightning rods need not be unsightly. Traditional glass balls and other ornaments are not necessary. The modern, inconspicuous lightning rod system can be installed to blend in with the structure on which it is located, making it practically invisible from the ground.

Proper Installation Is Critical

A good ground for a radio or T.V. may be absolutely worthless as a lightning rod ground because of the enormous magnitude of current which flows in the event of a lightning stroke.

Since lightning is a unique form of electricity, only an expert should install a lightning rod. The tiniest spark from lightning can cause injury or death. Do not attempt to do it yourself or permit a neighbor or a friend.

Take advantage of the vast amount of research in lightning which has been conducted, and have your building protected. Enjoy the great feeling of security which a properly installed lightning rod system has to offer you.