12 Lessons I Learned When My House Got Struck by Lightning

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by S. G.

Many times in my life I have been surprised at how things can change in an instant.  Usually that moment is completely unexpected.  Disbelief and shock paralyze, numb, or both, depending on the person.  Sometimes these events rock your world, leaving you rebuilding everything you believed you had.  Sometimes they just devastate a slice of your life, leaving most intact.  And sometimes, though the event is powerful, the effects materialize over time like slow-moving cancer.  No matter the pattern, change is the inevitable result.  For our lightning strike, the pattern was more the latter.

Sitting around the table a friend of mine, her daughter, and my son were talking during yet another storm that was becoming increasingly, and worryingly, more common.  Suddenly, a BOOM—so loud and strong I felt it pulsate through my chest—filled our kitchen and even pushed me slightly backward into my chair.  This was instantly followed by an intense flash of light so bright my eyes were forced to shut.  The lights around us increased their shine beyond anything I thought possible then popped out.  A whining noise moved through the houses speakers with some popping in undetermined locations.

My first thought was “North Korea bombed us!”  My second was “Can’t be.  If it was a nuke I wouldn’t be alive thinking this.”  That took about .001 seconds.  Running through the options in my mind, I realized it was a lightning strike—and it had to be either a direct hit on my house or very close.

As I thought about “what do I do now” it dawned upon me that I had not thought of this possibility in any way whatsoever.   Our security system along with the internet was immediately gone so Googling the answer was not going to happen.  My choice was to do nothing or to try and “common sense” it.  Seemed reasonable to me that a lightning strike to a house could cause a fire so I grabbed my fire extinguishers and walked the interior.  Fortunately, nothing was burning.

Next, I checked the breaker boxes and hallelujah!!!  The surge protectors I had installed hoping for some EMP protection had saved our bacon!  They were lit up like Christmas trees—but the circuits inside seemed to be unharmed.  Our security system needed a reset and the internet had a switch fried.  A simple replace and we were back in business—at least for the moment.  With a change of a few light bulbs and a couple of hours of minor repairs we believed we had defeated the lightning.  Self congratulation was enthusiastically engaged.

We celebrated too soon.

Time proved this premature and events humbled my arrogance.

Over the next several weeks I watched our repairs fail.  I was unable to reliably text, send/receive emails, use the internet, or even place simple calls as pieces of our system would sputter and die.

I learned about a phenomenon I think of as “the Cascade Effect.”  After a lightening strike, it is unusual for everything to just sizzle in an instant.  Often, some parts will be instantly melted—but portions down the line have been impacted and weakened.  Over time, one of those parts will fail and the next one down the line is further strained.  This leads to a slow, cascading death of a system over weeks or more as one portion fails after another.  Further, it is the smaller wires, numerous ones that I didn’t even know existed, that are the most vulnerable and the hardest to protect.

After the ability to communicate from our home was lost, we lost our TV’s, some computers, security system, our thermostats were blown (no fun sweating in high heat without AC) and all power to my greenhouse was lost.  Fuses and GFI outlets were blown or tripped all over the place. I discovered the scorched and burnt remnants of the hit in our detached garage.  The walls were charred up and into the attic space.  Wires were burnt and snapped in half.  How the building didn’t catch fire is a blessing I can only be grateful for.

We didn’t learn of the worst loss until an electrician came to inspect the damage.  Our generator—the main reason I had insisted upon surge protectors—was also damaged.  The “guts” still worked; but, the electrical components—including the manual override switch– were fried.  Despite the crushing disappointment at learning its fate, I am glad I had it checked before the next storm.  At least I was able to have repairs done before needing it again.

The lengthy journey to get it all repaired

Several weeks were devoted to making trips to find WiFi in order to make calls, send emails, and arrange a progression of repairmen.  Estimates needed to be secured, insurance navigated, and my prepping plans updated with new knowledge.

Often we would schedule someone to fix something only to learn they could only do a part of it.  An example was the electrician that could change some fuses—but could not replace the snapped and burnt wiring in the detached garage because the wiring was for our garage door openers.  I have to have a garage door installer come to do that.  He also couldn’t fix the generator because he was not “licensed for that generator.”  I had to google the manufacturer to then call the dealers the website referred me to.

As a blessing or a curse, dependent upon the issue, our insurance prefers to treat entire electrical systems as a “loss” rather than deal with multiple parts over months.  It is a blessing to have systems covered.  And though I am grateful that once repaired there shouldn’t be additional failures, it is difficult to have entire systems replaced.

Many important ones still have not been repaired and will likely take several more weeks.  As I write this now—two months after—we are still waiting to get things fixed and dealing with the lack of service in our home.

But we learned a LOT.

So what lessons were learned?

  • Knowledge is Power.  There are far more disasters than one can anticipate.  In this situation, I had a theoretical awareness that lightening could strike near me—but never really thought it would.  As I result, I never prepared for it.  But knowledge for any disaster can be applied to all.
  • Always act. I made a mental decision to accept and act rather than sit confused.  As strange as it may sound—preparing the mind to do this, even if it was in anticipation of another challenge helped in this one.  Knowledge of what to do for a potential fire came in handy.  I figured out to check for damage, check breakers, our well for power, etc.
  • Equipment for one is equipment for all. What was intended for one “oh crap” situation can be used for another you never thought of.  Fire extinguishers were purchased for “normal fires.”  I didn’t think of one starting from lightening.  Our surge protectors for EMP didn’t protect half of what I had intended; but, they did protect some things– including our all important water source for example.  Despite everything, our well pump still worked, our hot water still flowed, our oven blowers still allowed me to bake, lights still worked, and though our communication was significantly unreliable—we still did have spotty internet/phone/etc.
  • After any disaster, don’t always expect it to be “over” when it is “over.” It is better emotionally to accept that this may need to be dealt with for awhile; and, normalcy may not be restored as fast as you like.  Just expect and understand that tomorrow something else may cease working.  You will survive—but you may not be comfortable for awhile.

Here’s what you need to know to prepare for a lightning strike.

  • Get the highest quality of Type 2 surge protectors you can afford at the input and outputs of your home.  I had Eaton and they didn’t protect everything—but they did protect a lot for a direct hit.  If you can get Type 1 do so—but this is pretty hard for most as the majority of people need the power company’s approval.  Also, it is a good idea to have those inexpensive “back up” protectors on every appliance that really matters to you.
  • ALWAYS have fire extinguishers AND make sure they are fully charged/not expired.  Also, it is a good idea to regularly review the instructions so if the time comes you need to use it you can instead of fumbling around trying to figure out how.
  • If you have a generator make sure it is grounded.  Professional installers should do this but sometimes they don’t.  Ours didn’t.  Thankfully, I had this fixed before we got hit and it helped.
  • Unplug computers, appliances, TV’s, gaming systems, etc if there is a threat of lightning.  One electrician told us it could be dangerous to shower/bath if lightening hits while doing so.  GFI is supposed to prevent shocks but doesn’t always work.  I haven’t researched this thoroughly—just passing along what he shared.
  • If ever hit by lightening, check all buildings (within the context of safety) for damage and all circuits to see if they work. Check anywhere there are GFI circuits. Low voltage lighting on deck, air conditioner/heat (thermostats, our system itself was fine), generator, greenhouse, were all DOA but I wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t checked.  Had this happened in spring/fall I may not have even noticed the thermostats were toast.  If there is a next time, these may work and something else be fried so it is wise to check EVERYTHING.
  • Keep all receipts to show the type and cost of all components for everything electrical. I mean everything.  TV’s, computers, security systems, heating/cooling systems, etc.  These are important when filing a claim with insurance to prove and show each element you have.  Check your insurance policy to see exactly what is covered.  When components become outdated or discontinued some policies will cover the cost of what is currently available.  Some will not and will only cover a depreciated value for your original purchase.  That can amount to thousands of dollars of loss.  It is better to know before hand and to make an informed choice as to the value of full coverage vs the risk of a strike. Filing for insurance coverage is another reason why you want to check everything there possibly is.  It is far better to be able to submit all damage at once than try to argue with insurance 6 months later how X was broken in the lightening strike and you just figured out it was damaged.
  • Don’t count on these preps saving your system. Most likely, something or several somethings will not work after a hit.  It is wise to prepare back up for all the important items just in case.  I realized I had been overconfident in my generator, its surge protectors, and all the individual ferrite wraps.  Now, I am strongly emphasizing preps for water, my fridge for medication, heating/cooling, freezers, communications, etc. to use in case I lost all power for an extended time.  The best that I could do didn’t protect everything—so I am now adapting.
  • The idea that a generator or other system will save you from an EMP is highly overrated. Personally, I am going to stock up on repair parts for the generator and bring a family member in to teach me “off the record” how to switch out if it’s a long term emergency.  BUT, I am no longer looking at this as “Plan A” and how to live without power as “Plan B.”  This has reversed– my plan A has become to learn how to survive if I have no power whatsoever.  If anything is “saved” with my attempts that is a bonus.

Have you ever dealt with a lightning strike?

What kind of damage did your home sustain? I’m curious how you made out. Share your stories in the comments below.

Good luck and keep prepping!

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Guest Contributor

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  • Thank you so much for this post!! Wow! Did I learn a lot!!

    I’m going to begin to implement the things you suggest ASAP. I’m also going to put changing my insurance on the Hot list because during a storm last year I lost a building and what my insurance paid was a pittance. Even though my policy reads “full replacement value” after the “depreciation” it cost me thousands. State Farm did also not give me any allowance for the labor involved in the work. I have postponed changing far too long.

  • Yes, my house took a direct hit. The initial results were about the same it felt like a bomb went off, it hit a few feet above my head. You checked for fires, but I bet you did not check inside your attic, that’s where a lot of them start and they can slow burn for a few hours until your house is cooked. My wall receptacles pretty much exploded, pieces of the plastic of the plug in part could be found embedded in the wallboard on the wall across from it about 12 feet away. The fire department had to use one of those battering rams because my front door was welded shut. Anything plugged in was destroyed.

    Here’s another tip for you, communications. GONE! Phone cooked, no calling the fire department, internet down, no I net calls either. Phones are dead, they plug into the house. Cell phone, if it was in my hand may have worked, but since it was plugged into the wall getting recharged, gone. I could not call for help. I ran over to the neighbors house and asked her to call 911 for me, their phone and stuff was cooked too, luckily her cell was not plugged in and she could call. From that day on, I vowed NEVER To be unable to call for help again, that feeling of total helplessness was very un nerving. I got a ham radio license and I have a hand held radio that runs on batteries. (a lot more radio equip too fwiw) but now i can at least hop onto a local network and dial into a phone patch and call for help. Or worse, just call out on the radio someone please call 911 for me and the other ham’s in the area would take care of that.

    Oh and to qualify this as a ‘prepper post’ 🙂 They are old, they are finiky and need tinkering to tweek in just right but, old Tube Amplifiers fed by big honking old transformers on a grid plate are going to survive the EMP from your NK nuke tons better than all this fancy solid state stuff ever could hope to. Unless you store your stuff in a Faraday cage, which is not that hard to build but let’s not kill the comments section.

  • Is Peak canned, dry milk a long term survivor? Since it is canned I am hoping that even though it is full fat powdered milk, it will be good for years.

  • We’ve been directly hit in 3 different homes. My ears are still ringing! Appliances sometimes take a month to die, so don’t be in a huge hurry to file that final insurance claim. USAA is miles better to work with than either Farmers or State Farm. Have the fire department come out to check for wires sizzling in the walls, rather than relying on seeing flames somewhere. We ended up replacing every appliance large and small, every bit of electronics, and the garage door opener after one hit. Another one just affected electonics. The freakiest thing was how the lightning turned on the tv, opened the garage doors, and lit and blew out every light.

  • When I was a kid, our cottage was struck by lightning in 1961. It happened about 0300 while I was lying in bed. I could hear the rain banging on the roof like crazy and the lightning flashes and thunderclaps occurred every few seconds one after the other. Then boom. I felt myself fly up in the air, I could feel intense heat, and dirt and splitters of wood were flying all around with most landing on me. Two of my brothers were also in the room and other than the continuous lightning flashes and claps of thunder it was dead silent in the room. Finally, my oldest brother took a head count. My mother was in an adjacent room and responded she was OK, as well. We all went into my mother’s room which was shared with my little brother and we sat on his bed and started saying the rosary. There was a smell of smoke in the air. My oldest brother went for help, as we had no phone. The smoke kept getting thicker and my mother finally had us all abandoned ship, but not before I found my shoes, of course. My second oldest brother was drafted to remain and find the location of the fire and the rest of us left the house. Turns out he found it. It was the mattress we had all been sitting on, praying for our lives. My oldest brother got help from a neighbor about a mile away and the fire department was called. They arrived about 30 minutes later. In the meantime, my second oldest brother had been filling pans with water from the kitchen sink and trying to put out the fire. When the firemen with their axes ready finally showed up, one of them grabbed the mattress and ran outside with it. As soon as he got outside with the mattress it literally blew up in flames nearly hurting the firefighter.
    Later, in the morning light after the storm, I saw the after effects of the lightning strike. The interior of the house was a mess and the East wall of the house was almost gone. I assumed that is where the lightning hit.
    That afternoon the fire chief showed up and showed us where the lightning actually had struck the house. It first hit a big pine tree about 30 feet to the rear of the house, followed the water running down the hill from house leaving a trench about a foot wide and about six inches deep, started following the water pouring off the roof, veered off through the floor under my bed, hit under my bed continued into my mother bedroom came up through her double bed leaving a round hole about six inches in diameter on my fathers side (my father was away on a truck driving trip, lucky for him!), shot across the room setting my little brothers bed on fire, and finally followed an extension cord to a receptacle on the east wall blowing the whole wall out on its way down to our pond.
    Not too much electronics to be damaged back then. The insurance turned out to be a Godsend, paying for a new car and many extras. I remember all this like it was yesterday.

  • Our home took a direct lightning hit as well. It is common in our area. It truly felt like a bomb hit our house. We fully expected to have no roof when we went upstairs to check for damage. The scary thing is that we did not find the damage until months later in our unfinished storage space. It travelled along the hurricane tie down cables that secure our home and roof to our foundation in the event of a hurricane. We are blessed that a fire did not smolder unnoticed.
    We lost our TVs, garage door opener, some appliances, phone’s and some of our lighting. It could have been worse. We had our electrician install a whole house surge protector after and we hope that mitigates any potential loss if this happens in the future. Although it really can’t help with a direct strike.
    Our friends home was also hit on the same day and it travelled into the main outdoor water line and cracked it. She had flooding and no water for days.
    Great article as always. Thanks!

  • Good luck on getting spares for the generator. When I looked into it I realized for the price of the spares I could buy a second generator. Markup on parts is criminal (or should be).

  • We had a lightning strike run into our hose from a nearby tree. It hit the tree, ran down a large limb that crashed into the roof and brought the lightening with it. It blew a hole in the roof and took a large part of the ceiling. The electricity ran OUT the wires until it hit the transformer and it blew that apart. The only damage to wiring in the house itself was the wiring in the ceiling where it came in and a single light switch that it blew up. I was in the kitchen at the time and it literally blew the switch out of the wall. that was a little scary. We had disconnected all the computers as the storm came in, but that did not save the router from being fried from the pulse. As you say, the power in a lightning strike can even be felt as pressure. We were very fortunate not to have more damage than we did, and that we do not rely on central heat and air like most.

  • S.G., thanks for the article. Good to read you adapted well. I printed the article out and will read it over and over, especially since I live in one of the many “Lighting Capitals” of the world. Like ‘Hurricane Alley’ they exist.

    My two cents: Combined with tall pine trees, a surface watershed and colliding convection cloud currents you can always tell what time of it day where I live by the approaching thunderstorms. Due to the coriolis force of the Earth’s rotation and Moon’s influence it’s roughly ten minutes later each day. Add in flammable pithy turpentine Pine trees that I have a hunch attracts lighting, not just as an adaptable survival mechanism, to burn out competitive trees species and you’re just asking for lighting strikes.

    Sorry for the GeoClimate/Botany lesson but my point is … the point.

    Bring back Lighting Rods. They still work. Any pointed object will attract lighting, the exchange of static positive cloud and negative grounds sparks. The thing is to direct that energy, with a chain, cable, to the ground and not you or your house. It needs to be the high point of the area to divert lighting away. Water saturated soil will let electricity travel to your house so build on dry ground if possible. Needless to say, prune any tree branches over your roof especially the flammable trees and scrubs close to your house, Check if your fire extinguishers are rated for electrical fires.

    Turn off the use of any electrical appliances, HVAC, during a thunderstorm as I believe from experience it will attract lighting. The storm can be miles away, it doesn’t matter. Even further, unplug any appliance or surge protective all the time when not in use. The lighting’s voltage will easily jump the most expensive surge protective gap. It’s interesting to witness Jacob’s Ladder sparks between wires until because of the “Cascade Effect” fifteen percent or more of your computer is now defunct.

    Lighting will strike twice. Last week lighting, a whole lot of white white light, took a branch and a chunk of the main stem of a one hundred foot plus tree in my backyard in addition to a large hole in the trunk. Then on the weekend another storm took out the rest of the tree. Same for people. (It’s rare but some people attract “fire balls” resulting in spontaneous human combustion. Just when you thought it was safe to go outside.).

    Thanks again, appreciate the info S.G.

    Ps. Just to be balanced, the ions after a thunderstorm does feel good and White Lighting is a type of moonshine (heah, dere’s Slow Burn, Slow Slow Burn and so on …).

    • When I lived in Florida I had lightning protection installed on my new house. My neighbors all laughed at me and told me I was crazy for spending $2000 for protection. They told me their houses were taller (2-levels) and lightning would strike their houses before it would it my one-level house.

      Four months later a one-level house on the street was struck by lightning and the attic caught fire. A month later another house was hit and started a fire. Both houses had to be completely rewired. A year after I installed the lightning protection, my house was hit and while it scared the day lights out of us, we had no damage to anything.

      Now I live in another state and I can’t even find a company to install lightning protection at any cost.

  • When my first child was about one, we were in my bedroom, close to the closet. I was holding her. Suddenly, the dogs and cats tore into the room! Immediately, there was this loud sound, which came through the air conditioning ductwork above our heads! I felt the sound at the same time. Then, BOOM! I ran over to the window, but saw nothing in the yard. I went around the house, looking out the windows and saw nothing. I smelled carefully for smoke. None. We continued with our day and evening. The next morning, there was no hot water for our shower. Then I went outside. I found the landscaping irrigation timer box blown off the wall, parts scattered all over the side yard. I called the electrician to come replace the box and check out the wiring. Got the destroyed top element in the hot water heater replaced (that is when I learned they had two heating elements). I also discovered that the lightning traveled from the timer box backwards through the wiring and tore through several bushes and the roots of a beautiful large banyan tree. Grass, the bushes and tree died. It was quite an experience!
    Later that summer, a tall tree in the next lot was hit. The lightning raced down the trunk and carved a path into our yard.
    Back when we had landlines, we were told to hang up if a storm started. I had a friend who was on the phone during a storm. Her house was hit, and part of the strike went through the phone with a loud noise! She lost her hearing in the ear she was listenening with for about a week.
    I agree about unplugging, but how do we unplug the appliances and electric items when the plugs are hard to or impossible to reach, such as a wall-mounted microwave? My toaster and coffeemaker are unplugged when not in use.
    Daisy, thank you for all your posts. You have great, practical content! Also, thanks to the courteous commenters who share their experiences.

  • We took a direct hit on Thursday night to our 1 year old home that was newly built. What you described from your direct hit, was much like ours. But my wife and I both talked about an intense, almost blue, light “explode” in our kitchen. First thing we did was call the fire department (based off of experience from my parents going through it YEARS before) as we knew wiring could take time to ignite a fire and to ensure we were completely safe with our 16 month old baby in the house. The fire department could not find where we took the hit at (so luckily no fire) but in the kitchen one of our GFIs was flashing. We were told not to reset it until the electrician could get to us in the morning. An hour after they left, our garage door would not work to close. Located under our circuit breaker, another GFI was flashing. A few hours later, our AC stopped working (not fun in August in September). I went outside to see if something tripped on our circuit breaker, and now a third GFI was flashing. We were still thankful for no fire. We couldn’t get our WiFi to work to research anything, so we just had to wait until the morning. The electrician came out first thing in the morning and assessed the damage. All three GFI sockets had to be completely replaced, we lost the motor to our garage, our puck lights under our cabinets were now not working, tons of ceiling lights were blown and we lost our brand new 65” 4K TV. Still, we were hopeful… and told by the electrician that is spending extra money during the build to have our foundation wired and a lightning rod in place, saved us from what could have been a massive loss. So we were feeling pretty good until the HVAC company came to look at our AC Unit. The surge put a hole through the copper piping which caused the fluids to leak and burn out our compressor. In short, we need a brand new AC Unit. Which in happens to be on back order during Texas summers for the next week. Yay! Fast forward now two days later and we’ve discovered that our bed with adjustable bases is fried, along with other appliances plugged into the wall. Every hour we discover something new is fried and it’s like the WORST Christmas present that you keep waking up to. Can’t speak to how the insurance process is quite yet because they’re due to arrive after the weekend. And now tonight as I write this up, we have the prediction of more storms tonight.

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