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Avoid financial shocks with lightning protection gear
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When exterior lightning protection is installed in your home, it ties into one of the existing grounding systems. "We physically bond it into the grounded systems in your home so that it hits the lightning rod and stays on that least restrictive path," says Schoenthal.

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The lightning-protection system doesn't use your home's existing wires as its pathway. Instead, a series of rods connects to special cabling that encases your home and leads to a grounded terminus. In essence, you place your house in a conductive enclosure. The technical term is Faraday's Cage, named after the physicist whose application revealed that a charge on a surrounding conductor stayed on the outside, not affecting anything enclosed within.

"Institutes test this stuff," Schoenthal says. "It's not just some old wives tale. We're not like those Old West traveling shows selling some elixir."

Still the idea of a lightning cage, he acknowledges, does cause some consternation for us nonscientific types. He says it's not unusual for customers, upon seeing the design, to exclaim, "Oh my god, I've got all these wires running all over the house that are just going to pull lightning down on me! You tied onto my gas line and you're going to make lightning hit and blow it up!"

In reality, though, without a specifically grounded dispersal route, a bolt could jump from one existing path in your home (such as your phone line) to another (your electrical wires). And that usually causes more damage, says Schoenthal.

If you can get beyond any cosmetic issues and grasp the underlying science, then you have to overcome one other hurdle: the cost of a comprehensive exterior system.

Schoenthal is hesitant to offer a specific dollar amount. "It's hard to budget this because you need to see the roof lines; every house has different roof lines and chimney lines. But a basic budget type number, a broad ballpark figure, is 1 percent to 2 percent of the value of the home."

What about trying to save some money and putting in a partial system? As Roux notes, homeowners aren't forced to install lightning mitigation systems, so the degree of protection is left up to the individual. Schoenthal, however, doesn't recommend a minimalist approach.

"In order to protect the structure properly, it's all or nothing," he says. "If you put one lightning rod on the chimney, you have just protected that chimney and that's it."

And both men say that an external system is just half the job.

Bringing protection indoors
"The other portion that gets real involved is transient voltage surge protection," says Schoenthal. "A lot of homes have home entertainment systems, and the surge protection is a viable thing, because even with a lightning rod system, lightning can hit a power line or the ground and still tear up everything electrical in your house."

The bolt doesn't even have to hit near your house to do damage. The energy of a strike is dissipated by arcing, imposing itself on any nearby wires and traveling through them for miles, says Roux. Whatever is attached to those wires all along the way is a target. "If you have a building and it has wires coming into it, it is susceptible."

Next: "You think it's not going to happen to me. ..."
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