A lightning protection system (LPS) is made of highly conductive materials such as copper or aluminum that will safely intercept the lightning and conduct the electricity to the ground without damaging the structure, its contents or the occupants. A properly designed system that complies with the Installation Code for Lightning Protection Systems (CAN/CSA-B72 M87) will include lightning rods or air terminals, conductors (cables), bonding, surge protection, and grounding.
How does it work?
An LPS system does not attract lightning during a storm. Instead, it diverts the lightning to the air terminals if it is already going to strike the building. The electrical charge is channeled from the air terminals to the ground through a series of highly conductive cables. Using multiple cables allows the energy to be distributed and move faster through the system.
Because our planet is an excellent conductor it is used to safely dissipate any excess electrical charges. As the electricity can move through the soil, it can affect underground service conduits, water pipes or gas lines. Therefore, the LPS will be designed to bond to these utility structures providing them with the same electrical potential as the ground, thus preventing the electricity from entering and damaging them.
Surge protection is used to help prevent any excess voltage from flowing to an electric device by either diverting or grounding the charge. This protection is extremely important to prevent damage to circuit boards found in most of today’s electronics.
Why you would want to install an LPS?
The result of a lightning strike on a structure can range from damaged wiring and electronics to the structure being set on fire.
When a structure is struck by lightning, the high voltage electricity will travel through the building looking for the path of least resistance to the ground. In the absence of a lightning protection system, even materials that are normally considered insulators can be used to conduct the electricity to the ground, which will create heat due to the resistance and potentially result in fire or other damage to the structure. This may also result in side flashes or arcing, in which electricity jumps from one location to another, either within or outside the structure, often jumping to wiring or any metal in the vicinity.
Lightning protection systems are more important now than ever before due to the volume of electric systems we use every day. Many of our essential daily tools can be damaged by a surge in electricity. Everything from basic lighting and computer systems to medical and communications systems can be damaged or destroyed by the power contained in a lightning strike if not properly protected.
Who should have an LPS?
In Alberta having a lightning protection system is voluntary. It is however recommended for critical public buildings such as hospitals, sports centers, or buildings which house data centers and other important electrical infrastructure. Other buildings such as office towers, residential high rises, and buildings over 10 meters in height can install a system on a volunteer basis to protect their occupants, structure, and content.