What Happens When Lightning Strikes a Home Security System?

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When Lightning Strikes Your Security System

When we think about weather damage, we typically think about a storm wreaking havoc on the exterior of homes. Strong winds, heavy rain and lightning are all capable of destroying property outside. However, we don’t usually think about what could happen to the inside of our homes. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for outdoor lightning strikes to affect the inside of a home, especially when a wired alarm system is installed.

Sometimes you may read about these stories in the news. In 2013, a New Jersey newspaper reported that a lightning strike fried the alarm system in a home even though there were no physical signs of damage anywhere outside the house, according to the fire department.

There is a scientific reason why lightning bolts can affect your home security system. We’ll explain what you can do to protect your alarms, and why wireless home security systems are more reliable than wired in a storm.

How Lightning Strikes Affect Home Alarms

Lightning does not have to hit a house directly to affect the things inside it. If there’s something around the house that can conduct electricity, there will be a pathway for the lightning to enter the house. According to the National Weather Service, there are three ways lightning enters a structure:

  • a direct strike through wires that extend outside, like power lines, cable lines or alarm system wires
  • a direct strike through pipes that extend outside
  • through the ground

While lightning may hit your home directly, electricity can also travel inside your home via inductance from a nearby strike. Regardless of how the electric current enters your home, wired home security systems are especially vulnerable because they are each connected by metal wiring. Anything that’s connected by metal wires can be damaged from a lightning strike because metal is a conductor of electricity. If unprotected, the high-voltage electricity from a lightning strike can overload the equipment and permanently damage or destroy it.

Protecting Your Home Alarm From Lightning Strikes

There are two main ways to protect a hard-wired alarm system from being destroyed by lightning: effective grounding, and surge protection.

Grounding is a safety mechanism that connects electrical circuits to the Earth. This protects nearby people who touch an appliance in the electric circuit from being electrocuted, or prevents the appliance from overloading by triggering a fuse or circuit breaker. Most homes are grounded with structural steel beams and a metal rod connected to the home’s electrical panel.

To protect outdoor alarm sensors and security cameras from lightning strikes, avoid mounting them on metal. If they have to be mounted on metal, be sure to use a proper grounding system or a small copper strap.

Inside the home, surge protection is another way to prevent a lightning strike from destroying your security system. Alarm device manufacturers are aware of the threat lightning poses to their systems, and typically build protection methods into their units. Most alarm equipment will have surge protection built-in, typically on the motherboard. This surge protection is limited, however.

Lightning Detectors

If you’re in an area that is prone to lightning strikes, you may want to invest in a portable lightning detector. These devices sense the electromagnetic pulses that lightning bolts give off and alert you if they are within a certain range. Handheld lightning detectors are especially handy if you live on a golf course or ball field, or if you have a pool.

Storms and Wired vs. Wireless Home Security

There are two main types of home security systems: wired and wireless. Most modern systems are wireless and cellular, while most older systems are hard-wired into the home. In the face of a lightning storm, it’s better to have a wireless home security system.

Disadvantages of Wired Home Security When Lightning Strikes

Old-fashioned systems rely on physical wiring—whether it’s a phone line or a broadband connection—making them vulnerable to storms. Lightning will travel through these lines, ultimately reaching the security unit and often destroying it. Wired systems also typically rely on an electrical power source. If the power in your home goes out in a storm, a wired security system will be rendered useless because it cannot send an alarm signal via the internet or phone lines.

Advantages of Wireless Home Security When Lightning Strikes

In comparison, a wireless security system does not require a hardline connection since it sends out its signals through cellular communication. A cell phone works perfectly fine during a storm; a wireless system is exactly the same.

This story from a Frontpoint customer whose home was struck by lightning explains the difference between wired and wireless systems during a storm with a real-life example. She said, “When I bought the house, about 30 years ago now, it already had a wired system installed. I used it for a few years, but this past March I switched over to Frontpoint. One night a bad storm hit and lightning struck our house. I was home alone, so I was freaked out when all of the sirens and alarms from my canceled wired system started going off! I tried everything to disarm them – from pulling out the batteries and yanking on the sensors – but nothing worked! So eventually I just got a pair of wire cutters and ended up cutting the wires to shut them off. Meanwhile, as all of this was going on, the Frontpoint system was on its backup battery and was working just fine.”

Protecting Your Home During a Storm

Though there are merits to a wired home alarm, your home will be safer with a wireless security system during a lightning storm. Rain or shine, lightning or calm, a wireless system is more reliable, which is why Frontpoint uses 100% wireless systems. As a nationwide leader in wireless home security, and among the best-rated home alarm companies in the U.S., Frontpoint is committed to offering you a system that is virtually impossible for lightning to defeat.

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