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Lightning hit my house!

Susan Elliott was sitting in her Texas living room when she heard a huge boom and felt a jolt that knocked her out of her chair. Her computer shut down and the central air in her house ground to a halt. Her home had just been struck by lightning. "It sounded like a bomb going off and the house shook a little bit," she remembers.

In addition to the computer and the central air, numerous other electronic devices were destroyed. Unfortunately, this would not be the only lightning strike that she would experience, but more on that later.

Lightning insurance claims

According to the National Weather Service, from 2006 to 2015, an average of 31 people died each year from lightning strikes. 

The Insurance Information Institute reports that there were 99,423 lightning claims in 2015, which represents an approximately 47 percent drop since 2011. And though there had been a steady decline, the cost per claim has risen nearly 56 percent. These claims totaled $790 million with the average claim over $7,947. The majority of damage caused by lightning strikes is due to the huge surge of electricity that runs through a home.

Fire in the walls

A bolt of lightning can reach temperatures of up to 50,000 degrees, which puts your house at risk for a fire. According to Mike Mullane, a captain with the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority in Denver, lightning looks for the quickest way to reach the ground, which often is through your home's wiring or plumbing. "The intense heat and surge through the wiring can result in a fire. In some cases, a fire will not be immediately apparent; it can slowly burn inside your walls."

Recommended actions

If your home has been hit by lightning, Mullane recommends taking the following actions:

  • Make sure everyone is accounted for and immediately evacuate the house.
  • Use your cell phone to call 911. The fire department is dispatched in all cases of  lightning strikes.
  • The fire department will assess the damage and use thermal imaging cameras to make sure there are no fires within the walls.
  • Only return to your house after the fire department has given you the “all clear.”
  • Your insurance company will need to be notified.
  • An electrician should come out to access the damage to your wiring.

Home insurance coverage

Susan Elliott experienced another lightning strike at her home just a few years later. "This one was worse; all of the power went out and there was a lot of damage," says Elliott, who had moved from Texas to New York. Luckily, she was insured.

A standard home insurance policy covers damage caused by lightning, including fires and fried electronics.

The destruction can be extensive yet random. While your computer may be zapped, your TV may be spared. If you have a lightning strike at home, you should check any electronics that were plugged in at the time for damage.

It can take weeks to discover all of the damage. In the case of Elliott’s second strike, she lost two out three TVs but only one of three computers. The doorbell was blown and she says “to this day we have outlets that don't work and the garage door opener doesn't function correctly."

Installing a lightning protection system

A recent report by the Insurance Information Institute states that professionally installed lightning protection systems are the best way to reduce the likelihood of a lightning-caused fire. These systems work by providing a network of low resistance paths that intercept and direct the lightning to the ground. It is best to have these systems installed by a professional. Improper installation can cause serious damage and actually increase your risk of lightning strikes.

Many of the best home insurance companies will offer discounts after you have one of these systems installed.

Tips for filing a lightning strike claim

If you have the bad luck of being involved in a lightning strike, Dick Luedke, a spokesperson for State Farm, offers the following tips to make sure filing a claim goes smoothly:

  • Keep detailed records of all big-ticket purchases such as TVs, laptops and other expensive electronics. The insurance company will want to see proof of ownership.
  • Report a lightning strike to your agent as soon as possible.
  • Keep accurate records of how much you spend repairing or replacing items.
  • Review your policy for specific coverage information.
  • Check with your claim representative before you discard any items you plan to claim as damaged.

As Elliott learned in two instances, lightning strikes can be damaging and disruptive. However, a home insurance policy and an accurate record of damaged items can help you put your house back in order.

More from Mark Vallet here

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