Lightning damage is costly and more prevalent than you might think. According to Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL), lightning accounts for more than $1 billion in structural damage in the U.S. each year. Installing lightning protection systems for your clients can prevent this costly damage, while providing your electrical company with new revenue streams.
Lightning Protection and How It Works
A lightning protection system is designed to prevent physical damage to people, structural damage to buildings and to protect against internal system equipment failure. All systems are based on the fundamental principle of providing a low-resistance path for a lightning current to follow as it passes from roof level to underground. The ideal time to install a system is when a building is under construction, but a lightning protection system can be added at any time, says Roy Pombrol, president of Emerald Standard Services, Inc., and a certified Master Installer.
There are five basic elements that need to be in place to provide an effective lightning protection system: strike termination devices, cable conductors, a grounding electrode system, bonding and surge protection devices. These elements always serve a similar function, but the total design of a system is specific to environment, customer requirements and project budget.
The Certification Process
Lightning protection systems are a technical part of the electrical trade, and special training and licensing is required to install them. The Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) and the UL are the two authorities that oversee quality assurance of lightning protection systems. Almost all projects require that system design, installation and inspection meet the high standards set forth by these organizations. Many times, a project also requires the designer or installer to have certain LPI certifications.
Through a series of exams, which cost between $75 and $100 each, the LPI Certification Program ensures participants understand proper installation techniques, know how to provide quality workmanship and can supervise complete system installation. Levels of classifications are: Journeyman Installer, Master Installer, Master Installer/Designer and Designer/Inspector.
Pombrol appreciates what being certified as a Master Installer has done for his business. “We can design and install a system for a customer without contracting a third party,” he says. “By belonging to LPI, we can certify the system to our customers. So to me it was worth the time, effort and money expended to get my certification.”
Through its Master Label Certification inspection program, the UL also issues certificates for system conformance, system components inspections and completed installation checks. This occurs after the lightning protection system is installed and is also usually specified in project requirements.
Value of Lightning Protection
Having the expertise to install lightning protection systems can open up your company to a new niche market and increase company revenue, says Gabriel Grigonis, owner of Friendly Electric, Heating & Air in central New Jersey. Many organizations will only work with LPI certified installers and designers. There is also limited competition so you can establish yourself as the professional in the area.
For clients hesitant about installing lightning protection, Grigonis suggests building value in your company and services. “Offering additional maintenance plans is one way of building value,” he says. “When you position yourself as the professional and are knowledgeable, customers tend to trust you and take your advice.”
It’s also crucial to market your LPI certifications, as many companies take the easy way out with lightning protection. “A lot of contractors say that they do lightning protection, and often it is not the case,” Grigonis says. “Instead, they only do these plug-in units that don’t really do the job that the consumer thinks it will do.” He warns that devices such as panel light suppressors are only going to direct lightning current from the panel into the grounding system once it is in the electrical system. By then it’s too late, and the electrical systems are in jeopardy of catastrophic failure.
Lightning protection system design and installation is still a relatively unknown area of expertise, but learning this nuanced part of the electrical industry can provide additional revenue for your company while improving safety for people, buildings and equipment. “A well-designed lightning protection system will protect property and save lives with a small investment,” Pombrol says.
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