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When lightning hits your home, the sound is deafening.   The odds of a lightning strike to your home are greater than you think.  About 6.5% of all property insurance claims are lightning strikes.   More than 100,000 thunderstorms occur in the U.S. each year, with lightning striking more than 30 million points on the ground during that same period.

Many modern homes are equipped to withstand and even absorb a lightning strike. What happens after the strike is typically cause for concern.

Fire

A typical bolt of lightning can result in heat of up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Naturally, the odds of a resulting fire are great. Often such fires may not be immediately noticeable, emanating in attic space or within the walls of the home. Even if there is no visible flame, if you smell smoke, call emergency services for firefighters to determine whether there is an immediate hidden danger.

Keep in mind, however, that your fire department only can address the current situation. Have a qualified electrician diagnose frayed wiring and other potential hazards as soon as possible.

Power surges

Perhaps even more common than fire damage is the electrical chaos resulting from severe power surges following a lightning strike. While a typical household normally will experience everyday flows of up to 220 volts, lightning voltage measures in the tens of millions.

Firefighters only will assess the present existence of fire.

The good news is you're not completely at risk. Virtually all houses are equipped with some level of surge protection. Surprisingly, the average home has thousands of surges each year, most caused by everyday devices. Power tools, refrigerators, and hair dryers are among the usual surge suspects.

This "whole house" protection is different from the devices you may have connected to various appliances within the home. The surge protector used with a personal computer, for example, is simply an added level of precaution.

Your home also should be grounded, meaning there is an alternative path around the electrical system that is intentionally connected to the earth. The National Electric Code requires home electric systems to be grounded. If you suspect inadequate grounding in your home, a licensed electrician can perform an evaluation.

When lightning strikes, proper surge protection and grounding usually will spare a home's electrical system from complete destruction. Many of the residing appliances won't be so lucky. The speed and sheer magnitude of a strike can and will render many electrical systems useless, burning out circuit boards in less than a second.

Appliances lost

Like other natural disasters, lightning carries with it a sense of inconsistency and mystery. Just as a tornado leaves a single house standing in a neighborhood of devastation, a lightning-induced surge seems to randomly choose victims among the dozens of appliances in your home.

Among the most common to fall prey to a strike are telephones and personal computers, likely due to their multiple outlets. Both are connected to potential strike paths through electrical outlets and phone lines.

Therefore, the best defense is to remove such appliances from the path of the surge. Unplug computers and telephones from electrical outlets and phone lines during a thunderstorm. Don't rely on any surge protector to keep such appliances out of harm's way.

More important, make sure the occupants of the home follow a similar rule. The warnings you recall from childhood are true--when a storm is in the air, avoid contact with electrical appliances. Lightning may strike nearby electric and phone lines, traveling to your home from there. For added safety, avoid water and stay clear of doors and windows.

Exterior damage

One would imagine that the force of a lightning strike would cause considerable exterior and possibly even structural damage, particularly at the point where the bolt hits the home. While such blows can and do result in some level of disrepair, the strike contact often causes little or no damage to the home. A typical lightning bolt is only about as wide as a half-dollar, and damage done at the point of contact may not be much larger.    

After the strike

Once the realization sets in, the steps are simple:

    1) Get out of the house.
    2) Call the fire department immediately.
    3) After firefighters complete their task, call a qualified electrician for an emergency evaluation.

Due to the high potential for fire, your first move should be to vacate the premises, opting for the safety of a neighbor's home. And for the same reason, your first call should be to your local fire department.

The best defense is to remove appliances from the path of the surge.

Even if fire is minimal or not found, your next call is to schedule emergency service from a qualified and licensed electrician. Remember, firefighters only will assess the present existence of fire. An electrician will assess and prevent future potential fire. Your electrician also will begin to catalog damaged appliances.

Your next call

Once your home is deemed safe, begin the process of damage assessment and reconstruction. Your next call is to call us your insurance agent.   We can provide tips and suggestions, and immediately should begin the process of filing your claim for your Houston home insurance.

A lightning strike lasts only a fraction of a second, but a comprehensive damage assessment can take months. Give yourself time to evaluate your unique situation. Only then will you ensure that you've addressed any lasting effects of the strike, even after the initial storm has passed.

A flash of light and a loud explosive sound. A tree comes crashing down and suddenly there is no electricity in the house. A few seconds is all it takes.

If you would like to obtain home insurance coverages to protect you from lightning strikes, please contact us at suzanne@suzannebrownagency.com or call our office 713-899-4651.


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