Storms and lightning are both exciting and frightening meteorological phenomena, there are many myths and confusion about elements that attract lightning, in previous days I saw myself inside my house in the middle of a thunderstorm, while I was listening to how lightning was falling quite close to where I was, I asked myself, what elements in my environment can attract lightning?
As an architect, I always had the concept that very tall and sharp-shaped elements can easily attract lightning.
I was also especially concerned that using the phone or the Wireless connection could attract lightning strikes.
I decided to make this research as detailed as possible, analyzing each element and verifying each myth about elements that attract lightning in a house.
Lightning is an element of nature that we have to live with, it is important to know how to act during a thunderstorm.
The electricity of a traveling lightning will always look for the fastest way to reach the ground, that is why tall and pointed objects that protrude above the horizontal surface attract lightning with higher frequencies.
For example, trees, towers, cable poles and other tall pointed objects that protrude above the others.
Here are some tips on how to protect your home and family from lightning strikes.
Briefly, which elements inside the house attract lightning?
Actually, no element inside your house attracts lightning, neither the WiFi signal, jewelry, the TV, nor the radio, lightning is attracted by elements on the outside that protrude vertically since lightning looks for the closest element to reach the ground.
Lightning is attracted to elements that are high, pointed, and insulated.
But special caution should be taken on the propagation of lightning outside through cables and materials that may be related to the house, that and other details I will explain below.
If your house has stuff like antennas, satellite dishes, or even tall trees nearby, it’s like adding blinking neon signs saying “Land here!” to lightning.
These things don’t exactly “attract” lightning in the way a magnet attracts metal, but they do make a more convenient path.
That’s why you hear all this advice about lightning rods and surge protectors. A lightning rod says, “Alright, if you’re going to strike, strike me and I’ll safely guide you to the ground without blowing up the TV.” It takes one for the team, so to speak.
At the same time, there are many myths regarding elements that attract lightning, for example, metals, mirrors, jewelry, and radio signals, none of these elements attract lightning as popularly believed.
Although metal is obviously an electrically propagating material, this does not specifically mean that it attracts it.
What are lightning strikes and how do they propagate?
Before understanding what hazards lightning represents and how it interacts with other materials, it is necessary to understand what lightning is and how it propagates.
I do not intend to make a super complicated description, basically lightning is a phenomenon of intense electrical discharge between the clouds and the ground, or between various parts of the cloud body.
Normally, storm clouds (cumulonimbus) generate electric charges, the lower layer is negative electricity, the upper layer is positive electricity, and it also generates positive charges on the ground, which moves with the cloud as a shadow.
Positive and negative charges attract, but the air is not a good conductor. The positive charge rushes towards the tops of trees, hills, tall buildings, and even the human body, trying to meet the negatively charged clouds.
Finally, the positive and negative charges overcome the air barrier and connect. A huge electric current surges directly from the ground into the clouds along a conductive airway, producing a bright, striking flash.
This concept of lightning propagation and creation explains why lightning is always more frequent in high and pointed places.
Which materials inside a house are more conductive?
When you walk into your house, you’re surrounded by a whole array of materials, some of which are more like electric superhighways and others that are more like bumpy back roads.
Take metals, for example. Things like copper wiring in your electrical system or the pipes in your plumbing are really good at conducting electricity.
Aluminum is another metal you might find around, especially in some kitchen appliances. It’s not quite the star conductor that copper is, but it’s still pretty darn good.
So, you could say metals like copper and aluminum are the VIPs in the house when it comes to welcoming electricity.
Now, what about water? You’d think, “Ah, it’s a liquid; it can’t be that great at conducting electricity,” but you’d be surprised! Especially if there are minerals in it, water can be a decent conductor.
That’s why you hear those horror stories about toasters falling into bathtubs, it’s not just an urban myth. Water plus electricity can be a dangerous combo.
But let’s not forget things like your electronics. They have circuit boards with all sorts of materials designed to control electricity in very specific ways.
These materials aren’t conductive in the way a straight-up piece of copper wire is, but within the context of the device, they help electricity get to where it needs to go.
On the flip side, you’ve got materials like rubber, wood, and most plastics. They’re like the grumpy old men of electrical conductance, resisting electricity’s attempts to flow.
That’s why you’ll find rubber or plastic insulation around wires. They act as barriers.
Is grounding necessary for homes?
Think of grounding like the chaperone at a high school dance. It’s there to make sure that if things start getting out of hand, like, say, an electrical surge, the situation is diffused safely, keeping everything and everyone in check.
So, what’s the deal with grounding? Basically, it gives electricity an alternative path to travel down if something goes wrong. Imagine you’ve got a bunch of kids playing tag, and suddenly they all decide to run in the same direction, causing chaos.
Grounding is like that open door they can divert to, so they don’t crash into a wall or knock over a vase.
In electrical terms, this “open door” is often a ground wire that directs excess electricity into the earth, where it can dissipate safely. It’s a bit like the electrical system’s safety valve.
Without grounding, if there’s a fault or a surge, that extra electricity has nowhere to go except maybe into your appliances, your wiring, or even you, none of which is a good option.
Now, you might be wondering, “Do all homes have this?” Most modern homes do, and it’s pretty much a standard feature in current building codes.
But older homes? Well, they’re a mixed bag. Some might not have a proper grounding, and that can be a bit like playing with fire, but, you know, with electricity.
If you’re unsure about your home, it’s definitely worth getting an electrician to take a look. They can tell you if your electrical system is grounded and even update it for you if needed.
And while it might sound like a hassle, it’s one of those things that you’re super grateful for if anything ever does go wrong.
So, is grounding necessary? I’d say it’s like having airbags in your car. Sure, you could drive around without them, but why take the risk when the stakes are so high? It’s all about making your home as safe as it can be, and grounding plays a key role in that.
What are the statistical odds of a house being hit by lightning?
The thing is, it’s not super common, but it’s also not like winning the lottery. It’s somewhere in between.
Now, experts do throw around some numbers. You might hear that the average odds are something like 1 in 200 per year for a house to get hit.
But before you start fretting and thinking you should turn your home into a lightning-proof fortress, it’s important to remember that this is a really rough estimate.
And those odds can swing wildly depending on a bunch of factors, like where you live and what your house is made of.
If you’re living on a flat plain with no other structures around, and your house is the tallest thing for miles, well, your odds might be a bit higher.
It’s like being the tallest person in a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose”, you’re just easier to spot! On the other hand, if you’re tucked away in a neighborhood with taller buildings or you’re in an area that barely gets thunderstorms, your house might never experience a lightning strike in its entire “lifetime.”
Also, the year-to-year odds might make it seem more common than it really is. Over the span of 30 or 40 years, those odds stack up, making it more likely that a bolt might eventually find its way to your rooftop.
Consider it like wearing a seatbelt, you hope you’ll never need it, but it’s good to have just in case.
Here are 6 tips to keep your home safe from lightning during a thunderstorm:
1- Avoid using the telephone
As previously mentioned, sites located at a height and with a pointed shape are more likely to be struck by lightning, this shape corresponds to some poles or antennas for telephone signals.
It is possible that a lightning strike on an outdoor telephone line can cause overloads through the telephone lines.
A lightning strike on a telephone line can cause an electrical surge that travels through the wires and into the telephone handset.
During a thunderstorm, my biggest fear was using a cell phone with a WiFi signal, but, lightning does not really propagate through a wireless signal such as WiFi, rather, the danger is that lightning could travel through the outside wiring, cordless and cell phones are generally safe.
2-Avoid having very tall trees near your house
Having tall trees is a beautiful thing and sometimes it is something that simply cannot be avoided, but in some special cases, you should avoid having tall trees and plants near your house.
A specific case that I have seen a lot in the country where I live, is that many people like to have palm trees in their courtyards, near areas where there are swimming pools. This is simply a very dangerous combination.
Palms project a Caribbean ambiance, but what many people don’t know is that palms are susceptible to lightning strikes because they can grow very tall and many palms have a pointed shape at their apex.
In combination with swimming pool water nearby, we all know that water conducts electricity very well.
According to the concepts we explained previously about why lightning is attracted to tall objects, you should keep in mind that trees are prone to attract lightning.
That is why one of the tips to protect yourself from lightning is to mistakenly think that being under a lightning bolt can protect you, when in fact it is the opposite.
3-Use a lightning arrester system in your home
Increasingly, electronic devices are being used in households and are extremely vulnerable to lightning strikes causing transient overvoltages.
These devices can be protected by the installation of a lightning arrester system, adequate grounding, and surge arresters. Also, use surge protectors for the entire house.
Lightning arresters are instruments whose purpose is to prevent ionized lightning from the air from causing damage to people or buildings by attracting the discharge to the ground, thus preventing it from striking them directly.
4-Close doors and windows and avoid standing in front of them
If you are wondering if lightning can enter through doors and windows in your home, the answer is yes, although it is very difficult and unlikely, it can happen.
Lightning not only travels vertically, but it has also been shown to travel horizontally, and lightning that strikes vertically could also have horizontal branches.
This occurs because the airstream produces friction that ionizes the air and that is a highway for lightning discharge.
You will be safe inside your house if you have doors and windows closed, Houses act as Faraday boxes, almost all of them are composed of a metallic frame and the electrical installation also surrounds the houses, Electricity has a much easier path to ground than entering through a window.
5-Do not use plugged-in electrical equipment
It is not wise to use electrical appliances such as hair dryers, power brushes, or electric shavers during a thunderstorm.
Although these electronic devices do not attract lightning, they are susceptible to damage from electrical surges coming from outside.
6-Do not use a chimney if you have one at home
Since lightning looks for the highest point where it can make contact, usually the most vulnerable point in your house will be the chimney, a lightning strike could strike the top of the chimney or even go down the chimney although that is unlikely.
You should be cautious during a thunderstorm not to use the chimney, nor stand too close to it, even though inside your home you are safe, the chimney is a structure that connects to the outside, especially to higher parts of the house.