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Avoid financial shocks with lightning protection gear
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You can place a buffer between the lightning energy and your wired possessions with surge protectors. In most cases, the standard power strips sold at home and hardware stores will work. But if you're concerned about sophisticated electronics, Roux says "we're not talking about just a little Home Depot module anymore."

In these cases, you'll want a company that specializes in larger electrical components to install a system. Make sure it's sized appropriately to the power coming into the building. And remember that all voltage protection systems eventually will wear out.

"I've heard it described as a bar of soap, protecting your sink in the bathroom and sitting in the sink with water dripping on it ever so slowly," says Roux. "It still protects, but every drop etches away a part of the soap and in time there will be a hole in the bar."

To guarantee that your surge system hasn't been compromised, Roux suggests replacing the units whenever there's any lightning activity in your immediate area. "They're not expensive, and certainly less expensive than replacing your complete collection of electronic equipment."

That's the very advice Stewart and Pam Sherman got from their insurance agent. Unfortunately, the recommendation came after the Wellington, Fla., couple called State Farm to report their home had been hit by lightning.

After spending the night with relatives, the Shermans returned home that Saturday in 2003 to find their garage door opener wouldn't work.

"I figured the power must be out," says Sherman. But when he got to the back of the house he says, "There were fragments of roof tile all over the backyard. They were 60 to 70 feet from where we ultimately determined the bolt struck," he says. A closer look at his second story roof revealed a two-foot chunk of tile at the corner was gone.

Meanwhile, his wife had discovered their phones also weren't working, and they began comparing notes. Automatic garage door, no. Lights and air conditioner, yes. Computer, OK. Assorted televisions, not OK. Cable was out, as were the phones, including one phone outlet that was charred. But not a single circuit breaker had flipped.

A visit with the next-door neighbor confirmed what they already suspected: Their home had taken a direct lightning hit the night before. All things considered, the Shermans were lucky. The strike didn't ignite a fire and the only structural damage was confined to a few barrel tiles. A roofer replaced them and a collection of technicians fixed the various interior components that were damaged (or in the electrician's case, assured them that their wiring escaped unscathed).

Pam, however, still wonders what their cat must have thought when the bolt hit. And she admits that to this day, the strike can affect something as routine as walking to the curb to pick up the mail, especially on a cloudy day.

"You think it's not going to happen to me. It's 30 seconds and I'll be back in," she says. "But it's a little scary."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: Oct. 24, 2005
 
 
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