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What to do when lightning hits your house

There are millions of lightning strikes every year. Many of those strikes hit home and property and resulted in home insurance and car insurance claims. 

Susan Elliott is one person who experienced a lightning strike. She 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.

"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. 

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.

Lightning insurance claims

The National Weather Service estimates 25 million lightning strikes in the U.S. each year. Lightning kills an average of nearly 50 people annually. 

The Insurance Information Institute says the number of lightning strike claims grew in 2016. There were more than 109,000 lightning-related claims that totaled more than $825 million. Most of the claims are not directly caused by strikes. Instead, most of the incidents involve electricity surges as a result of nearby lightning. 

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."

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 after lightning

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.”
  • Notify your insurance company.
  • An electrician should come out to access the damage to your wiring

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 to file an insurance claim after an 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.

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