The National Weather Service estimates that 25 million lightning strikes occur in the U.S. annually, and many of these strikes damage homes.
According to the Insurance Information Institute (III) there were more than 71,000 lightning-related claims that totaled more than $2.1 billion in 2020. Most of the claims were connected to electricity surges caused by nearby lightning strikes.
The chances of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are very low — about 1 in 15,300, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). However, one ground strike can generate between 100 million and 1 billion volts of electricity.
Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors during the summer months, mostly in the afternoon and early evening. Lightning seeks the path of least resistance. If you are taller than your surroundings or are standing next to a tall object (such as a tree), you are a prime target for a lightning strike.
You can also protect your home from lightning in multiple ways. Start by installing a lightning protection system and using stabilizers for electronic equipment. And while you can’t completely protect your home from lightning, a standard homeowners insurance policy will cover lightning-related damage.
How to protect yourself from lightning
Following basic safety guidelines will greatly reduce your chances of injury or death from lightning.
NOAA suggests keeping an eye out for warning signs like high winds, rain and darkening clouds. While many lightning deaths happen at the beginning of an approaching storm, more than 50 percent of lightning deaths occur after the thunderstorm has passed, according to NOAA.
That’s why the III offers the “30/30 Rule” for personal safety: If it takes less than 30 seconds after you see lightning to hear thunder, you should get indoors immediately and stay there for 30 minutes.
The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) has other recommendations to stay safe when lightning strikes:
- Stand clear from windows, doors and electrical appliances.
- Don’t attempt to unplug televisions, stereos or computers during the storm — unplug them before the storm arrives.
- Avoid contact with piping, including sinks, baths and faucets.
- Don’t use the telephone, except for emergencies.
- Never use a tree for shelter.
- Go to an area of lower elevation.
- Keep away from metal objects, such as bikes, golf carts, fencing and machinery.
- Immediately move away from solitary trees, open areas, hilltops, pools, lakes and other wet areas.
- Look for the nearest shelter. A car, with the windows rolled up, is an excellent shelter. If lightning strikes the car, it will travel along the outside surface and into the ground.
- If you feel a tingling sensation, your hair stands on end or you smell sulfur, lightning might be about to strike. Immediately crouch down and cover your ears. Don’t lie down or place your hands on the ground because a lightning strike might momentarily electrify the ground beneath you.
How to protect your home from lightning
You can protect your home by buying a lightning protection system. Lightning protection systems cost anywhere from $2,000 to $4,500 to protect a private home and up to $70,000 to protect a high-rise building. They need to be installed by specially trained professionals. Lightning protection systems provide a designated path for the lightning current to travel. It neither attracts nor repels a lightning strike, but simply intercepts it and guides it harmlessly to the ground.
According to the LPI, a certified lightning protection system is made up of several components:
- Air terminals, also known as lightning rods: Slender rods installed on the roof at regular intervals.
- Conductors: Aluminum or copper cables that interconnect the air terminals and the other system components.
- Ground terminations: Metal rods driven into the earth to guide the lightning current to the ground.
- Surge arrestors and suppressors: Devices installed in conjunction with a lightning protection system to protect electrical wiring and electronic equipment.
According to the LPI, whether you need a professionally designed and installed lightning protection system certainly depends on many factors, including where you live. For example, a homeowner in a lower-risk region like Alaska may need one less than a homeowner in Florida.
Does homeowners insurance cover lightning strikes?
Property and casualty insurers take lightning seriously. It has the power to tear through roofs, explode walls of brick and concrete, start fires and destroy valuable electronic components.
Standard homeowners insurance covers homeowners for lightning-related losses. If you live in a lightning-prone region, you may be entitled to a home insurance discount if you install a lightning protection system. Lightning damage to your car is covered if you carry comprehensive your auto insurance.
There’s no way to completely protect yourself and your home from lightning. However, by taking these steps, you can better protect your property and your family from getting hit by lightning.
If your home was hit by lightning, check out what to do in order to make a lightning claim with your home insurer.