Each year thousands of home and other properties are destroyed by lightning strikes. The first step to protecting your home is contacting a professional who is qualified to design and install a certified lightning protection system. It will be designed to control or force the discharge onto a specified path, thereby eliminating the chance of fire or explosion within non-conductive parts of the house such as those made of wood, brick and tile.
Mathias Omona, an engineer, says a lightning conductor should be installed in the electrical wiring of the building in order to save on the cost of later installation.
“The lightning conductor to be used should suit the size and height of the house and also be able to protect the building from any lightning strikes that may occur at any point in the construction,” says Omona.
The cost and types
Omona says usually, the type of lightning conductor to buy depends on individual preferences and what someone can afford. “The prices are favourable for everyone since their prices vary. The price of the conductor does not determine its efficiency but size does,” says Omona.
He says most stores in downtown Kampala will sell earth rods at Shs90,000, copper at Shs10,000 and the lightning arrestors at Shs180,000. The copper tape costs Shs70,000 per metre and the copper mat costs Shs230,000 at warehouses.
Noel Etyang of Etyang Property Consultants, says installation costs range between Shs650,000 and Shs2,000,000 depending on the number of strips to be used, size and height of the building. Etyang emphsises the need to hire a professional to do the job.
Reasons to install
Etyang says: “When a house is safe from lightning, electrical damages and fires can be avoided. This is the reason all commercial buildings should have one installed to avoid future cost of replacing properties,” says Etyang.
He further says apart from protecting the house from damage, lightning conductors also save data from being swiped off the computer system and when this happens, it cannot be recovered.
Omona says lightning conductors also save lives. “It is not a myth that most people who are struck by lightning are found inside buildings that do not have lightning conductors or in buildings where the conductors were not installed properly,” says Omona.
Sometimes when your house or building is insured and lightning happens to strike it, the insurance company will have to establish the reason as to why it happened before the compensation is done. But when they find it without a lightning conductor then there will be some issues with the compensation.
Where you can place it
Etyang says before installing lightning conductors, you should seek professional help to avoid making avoidable blunders that may cost you more.
“This is the reason most people use consultancy firms to build their homes and other buildings because these have the expertise needed and incase of anything, the companies will pay for the damage caused by their negligence or poor services,” says Etyang.
Scientists and professional environmentalists say the uncontrolled environmental destruction in the country is the major cause of many lightning incidents in some parts of the country. In July 2016, Daily Monitor reported that at least 31 people had died following sporadic bolts of lightning.
Despite myths surrounding it, the rampant occurrences in various parts of the country have been attributed to increasing environmental degradation coupled with energy connects.
A typical lightning protection system
A complete system is made up of the following components:
Air terminals: Also referred to as lightning rods, these inconspicuous copper or aluminum rods are vertically mounted on the roof at regular intervals. The air terminals serve as strike receptors, designed to intercept the lightning strike.
Main conductors: Constructed of aluminum or copper, these braided cables connect the air terminals to the other system components and the grounds.
Grounds: A minimum of two ground rods, driven at least 10 feet deep in the earth are required for all structures. The ground terminations direct the dangerous current into the ground, to eliminate the chance of injury or damage to the structure.
Bonds: Bonding joins metallic bodies (roof components) and grounded building systems to the main conductor to ensure conductivity and prevent side flashing (lightning jumping between two objects).
Surge arresters and suppressors: A surge is an increase in electrical current due to a lightning strike on or near a power line or utility service. Surge suppression is installed at the electrical panel(s) to prevent the entrance of overvoltages which can cause a fire. Arresters installed at electrical panels help protect heavy appliances and prevent fires at service panel entrances. Additional devices may be needed to protect other in-house electronics. Surge protection devices are typically installed in conjunction with a lightning protection system.
Tree protection: The Lightning Protection Institute recommends that any tree taller than a home or within 10 feet of the structure be equipped with a lightning protection system. Trees do not offer protection and many homeowners choose to have trees protected for their own value. An unprotected tree in close proximity to a structure can also create a side-flash hazard to the nearby home.
How rods work
A lightning rod is a pointed metal rod attached to the roof of a building. The rod might be an inch (two centimetres) in diameter. It connects to a huge piece of copper or aluminum wire that is also an inch or so in diameter. The wire is connected to a conductive grid buried in the ground nearby.
Many people believe that lightning rods “attract” lightning. However, lightning rods provide a low-resistance path to ground that can be used to conduct the enormous electrical currents when lightning strikes occur. If lightning strikes, the system attempts to carry the harmful electrical current away from the structure and safely to ground. The system has the ability to handle the enormous electrical current associated with the strike. If the strike contacts a material that is not a good conductor, the material will suffer massive heat damage.