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Don’t make lightning a rod for your own back

It is common knowledge that tall buildings attract lightning and for centuries, the spires of religious buildings have dominated the skylines making British Churches particularly vulnerable to lightning strikes.

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Take a look at our quick video for more tips and advice on lightning and insurance

How lightning causes damage

A single bolt of lightning can contain up to one billion volts of electricity* which can cause considerable structural damage if the bolt strikes a building.

Lightning damage comes in two forms:

1. Structural damage to the fabric of the church, which is usually minor but can result in fires or falling masonry
2. Indirect damage to electrical systems and equipment.

The resultant voltage surge can cause malfunctions and shutdowns and burn out wiring. Telephones, computers, electric organs and alarm systems are all at risk.

Approximately six-out-of-ten insurance claims for lightning damage to churches are for electrical wiring and equipment rather than structural damage.

Lightning conductors

Of course, there is no way to predict or prevent lightning strikes. The traditional defence for most Anglican churches has been a lightning conductor – a single Franklin rod leading from the top of the spire or tower to an earth stake buried in the ground. A more modern approach to protection would be what is known as a Faraday Cage system, comprising a mesh of conductors laid at intervals over the roof and down the walls of the church, and connected to the ground by earth electrodes.

Recent estimates suggest that around 80% of Anglican churches have some form of lightning protection installed. Perhaps counter-intuitively, churches with lightning conductors are actually more likely to be struck, but the energy will be directed harmlessly away from the building and into the ground. Churches without protection are five times more likely to suffer structural damage as the result of a strike.

Advice on lightning and insurance

When it comes to lightning, the team at Ecclesiastical offers the following advice:

tick image Ecclesiastical’s Parishguard and Hallguard policies provide protection against damage caused by lightning

tick image A lightning conductor is not a condition of cover but Ecclesiastical does advise having one fitted if the risk assessment indicates one is required

tick image Lightning conductors should be properly maintained and inspected at least every four years – ideally every two-and-a-half years

tick image Older lightning protection systems do not have to be upgraded unless the upgrade has been identified during one of Ecclesiastical’s risk assessments of the church

tick image Installing surge protection equipment can prevent damaging electrical power surges

tick image Any work on a church’s lightning protection system should be conducted by a competent contractor such as a member of ATLAS (Association of Technical Lightning and Access Specialists)

Lightning damage at St Andrew's Church, Greater Manchester

A direct strike left a gaping hole in the roof directly above where the congregation sits. Church warden Ian Ashworth told the BBC it was ‘like a scene from the Second World War’ with pieces of masonry scattered up to 40 meters away. "Part of it's come through the roof and other parts have exploded," he said. "Thankfully, the school next door is on holiday because there are great lumps of stone in the school grounds that have been thrown there by the lightning strike. The electrics have blown off the wall, half the pews have gone and there's an inch of dust everywhere."

Ecclesiasical’s loss adjusters visited the church within hours of the strike to begin weatherproofing the roof and initially estimated repairs at a cost of at least £250,000.

Ecclesiastical Insurance Group plc (EIG) Reg No 1718196. Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc (EIO) Reg No 24869. Ecclesiastical Life Ltd (ELL) Reg No 243111. Ecclesiastical Financial Advisory Services Ltd (EFAS) Reg No 2046087. Ecclesiastical Underwriting Management Ltd (EUML) Reg No 2368571. E.I.O. Trustees Ltd Reg No 941199. EdenTree Investment Management Ltd (EIM) Reg No 2519319. All companies are registered in England at Beaufort House, Brunswick Road, Gloucester GL1 1JZ. EIO and ELL are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 113848 (EIO) and 110318 (ELL). EFAS and EIM are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Firm Reference Number 126123 (EFAS) and 527473 (EIM). EUML is an appointed representative of EIO who is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 402228.