New strategies forming to protect smart homes from lightning strikes

New strategies forming to protect smart homes from lightning strikes

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As homes come to incorporate more smart and connected technology, lightning strikes pose a threat to electronic systems.

The continued growth of sustainable energy technology, eco-friendly building materials and smart structure automation has necessitated upgrades and complex improvements to the electrical infrastructure of today's homes and buildings.

Smart structures, which are characterized by a high degree of automation and various interconnected systems, typically rely on sophisticated energy collection methods.

While design models have included upgrades to increase resiliency from disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding, lightning is often overlooked as a significant weather threat--even though lightning hits the earth over 100 times a second.

A typical bolt of lightning can generate up to 200 kA of electrical energy, making the threat of fire from a direct strike or an indirect electrical surge to homes and businesses very real, and making lightning protection an important consideration for inclusion in the smart structure building design process.

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"Even though these automated systems are grounded, they are still highly vulnerable to lightning, since a direct strike can spark a fire and an indirect surge of current can pass through the wiring of a structure in any direction," said Bud VanSickle, executive director for the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI).  "Lightning can initiate a domino effect path of transient overvoltage which can disrupt, degrade and damage multiple electronic systems and connected equipment, making lightning protection systems significantly important for smart structures."

"As buildings become smarter, with intelligent systems, the need for lightning protection becomes more critical," said Illya Azaroff, AIA, architect with +LAB Architects PLLC in Brooklyn, NY.

Azaroff, his job captain Erik Jester Assoc. AIA and a coalition of national nonprofits are partnering to rebuild a home destroyed by Hurricane Sandy three years ago in the Breezy Point community of Long Island. The "resilient rebuild" project was recently launched by the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes with the help of +LAB and partners from the disaster safety movement, including Portland Cement Association, Kohler Generators, the Insurance Information Institute and LPI.

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)®, a consumer advocate for strengthening homes and safeguarding families from natural and man-made disasters, is planning to document every aspect of the project construction to compile a comprehensive manual for rebuilding a resilient home which can then be shared with construction planners nationwide. A first of its kind, the partnership rebuild project will incorporate all aspects of storm-resiliency; including lightning protection, into the new home's design.

"It's important that designers perform an all-hazard assessment and build for everyday weather, not just the high impact disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes," explained Azaroff.  "And with critical facilities, the need for lightning protection is even more profound, as many more lives and systems could be at risk."

Recognizing the risk of lightning associated with the growth of sustainable energy technology, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has initiated the addition of new technical provisions to the upcoming edition of the NFPA 780 Safety Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems. The 2017 Standard edition will address lightning protection applications for smart structures and their interconnected systems that can be especially vulnerable to power surge failures sparked by lightning. The new provisions will also emphasize the importance of coordinating efforts of the various building trades to ensure a comprehensive lightning protection approach and help eliminate what the NFPA 780 Technical Committee cites as a "lack of potential equalization (isolated grounding and lack of bonding) stemming from piecemeal or uncoordinated installations of the electric service, telecommunications, antennas and other electronics" often seen in smart structure building applications.

"Ideally, a prime contractor, architect, designer or engineer will consider lightning protection in the initial design plan to ensure close coordination with the installation of the electrical service, alarm systems, and other amenities," said VanSickle. "Ultimately, coordination with a LPI-certified lightning protection expert is the best plan of action to ensure the complex design and installation practices described in NFPA are followed," explained VanSickle.

Read more about smart and connected homes.

Topics: Appliances, Connected Homes / Smart Homes, Home Design & Plans, Maintenance & Repair, Sustainability Trends & Statistics

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