What Happens if Lightning Strikes a House?

lightning striking in the distance behind a house

If you are far away and safe from danger, lightning may seem like a very beautiful and impressive phenomenon to you. However, most people know lightning bolts are extremely lethal.

With a billion volts of electrical charge running through it, lightning bolts are one of the most dangerous natural forces on earth. So, it’s not a joking matter if lightning strikes your house.

What Happens If Lightning Strikes A House?

A cloud-to-ground lightning bolt has the main goal of following the path of least resistance to reach the ground in the fastest way possible.

When a lightning bolt strikes a house, you will hear a very powerful boom of thunder. Many homes have structures that can minimize the damage by lightning, like lightning rods, which facilitate the fastest journey for lightning to reach the ground. Houses are also filled with numerous channels through which lightning can surge, like your wirings and cable, plumbing system, gutters, downspouts, metal window frames, and even your telephone lines.

Here’s what can happen if lightning strikes your house:

  1. Power Surges: Lightning doesn’t really need conductors to reach the ground. It has traveled miles from the cloud without any object in its path and the structures in your house are just “fair game” for it. When lightning strikes a house, it will force its way through the wiring and plumbing system. Even if most of the electricity currents find another path to the ground, your home’s electrical system will experience a surge of power that can fry up all your electrical appliances. Make sure to unplug all of your expensive electronics if you are expecting a thunderstorm and do it way before the storm reaches you. Also, anyone who is using running water, electrical equipment, or a landline phone will be at risk of being electrocuted during the storm.
  2. Fire: The biggest danger from lightning falling on your home is a fire. Lightning can reach a temperature of over 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hotter than the surface of the sun. The most common place for a fire to erupt during a thunderstorm is in your attic or the roof of the house.  These areas are made of wood and completely exposed to the elements. Lightning can also cause fire by short-circuiting your electrical system and burning up your wires.

What To Do If Lightning Strikes Your House

If your home is hit directly, check for any fires. Lightning can start fires on your roof but they can arise everywhere the lightning has traveled, including inside your walls. If you notice any traces of fire, call the 911 department at once, whether you see smoke or not. Also, watch out for falling ceiling debris or shingles.

Although it is not very common, people can be shocked or burned inside the house if they are in direct contact with the lightning’s path to the ground. These paths include using a landline phone or leaning out a metal frame window. If someone has been hurt, it is safe to immediately check on them because human bodies do not retain lightning charges. Call 911 so they can get medical treatment.

Note: Small structures, like camping cabins without any electrical systems, do not provide adequate protection from lightning. On the contrary, lightning might just barrel through the middle of the house if it finds no electrical conductors.

If you are caught in a thunderstorm, stay in a hard-topped, closed vehicle, which has rubber tires, and can provide better safety.

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