Watch out, southwestern Ontario: you’re more likely to face lightning strikes than most other parts of the country. Communities like Windsor, Chatham-Kent, London and Sarnia each saw about 150,000 lightning strikes between 1999 and 2013, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada. Compare that to 60,000 in Ottawa, 12,000 in Saint John, 2,000 in Vancouver and zero in Iqaluit.
Standard home insurance policies cover home and contents damage from lightning strikes and any resulting fires or explosions. They often also include some living expense costs if you need to move out while your home is being repaired.
What may not always be covered is damage from a power surge, which can stem from a lightning strike. These surges won’t destroy your home but may fry your television, computer and other pricey electronics. They occur when power is briefly cut — it may last just a fraction of a second – and then resumes at a higher than normal voltage, thereby damaging appliances’ electronic circuit boards. You can experience a power surge if lightning hits your satellite dish, power lines or telephone wires or, to a lesser degree, because of your hydro company’s operations or even your fridge turning on and off.
Even if your policy covers this kind of damage, it might replace your possessions rather than repairing them because that can be cheaper for the insurer. And that’s great if your flat screen has been looking a little grimy, but it could mean you get a shiny new MacBook and have no hope of recovering your files.
Lightning is most likely to strike in July, followed by August and June. Other than moving to parts of the country that experience fewer lightning strikes (hello, Nunavut!), you can take steps to reduce the risk of power surges. It’s a good idea to put in a whole home surge suppressor, which is installed between your hydro meter and electrical panel and which keeps extra voltage from entering your power lines.
You can also invest in point-of-use suppressors. These look like power bars, and offer protection to the individual appliances or electronics that you plug into it. But on their own, suppressors aren’t enough to protect against lightning-caused power surges, according to Manitoba Hydro.
A complete lightning protection system also includes a series of copper or aluminum rods on the roof that are designed to intercept lightning strikes. These are connected to rods buried at least 10 feet into the ground, which direct the electric current into the earth and minimize risk of damage to the house. Any tree that’s more than 10 feet tall should also have its own protection system to reduce the risk of lightning jumping from the tree to the house.
If, despite your precautions, lightning hits your home, report the damage to your insurance provider as soon as possible. Make sure you have proof of ownership for all the big-ticket items you’re claiming, whether as receipts, warranties or photos of serial numbers. Check with your insurer before discarding any damaged items, and finally, keep detailed records of everything you spend on repairing your home and replacing your belongings.
To estimate your costs, get a home insurance quote.
Flickr: Steven Worster