28 Nov 2012
South Africa has one of the highest lightning ground strike densities in the world, which can have major financial repercussions for businesses and local homeowners.
According to the Insurance Information Institute in the US, the cost of damage caused by lightning strikes totalled nearly $1 billion in insured losses in 2011 alone.
Christelle Fourie, Managing Director of MUA Insurance Acceptances, says lightning is one of the most underestimated natural disasters. She says in the summer months, an increase in thunderstorms and lightning is experienced throughout South Africa and can often result in substantial financial losses as a result of damage caused to homes and possessions.
Fourie says due to the high frequency of lightning strike incidents that occur in certain parts of South Africa, some insurance policies restrict cover by imposing an additional excess or in extreme cases even excluding cover altogether.
“It is important, therefore, that homeowners check the terms and conditions of their homeowner’s insurance policy to ensure they have the correct cover in place.”
In addition to this, some insurers may have specific requirements noted on the policy regarding the installation of lightning and surge protection units, specifically in respect to the annual maintenance of items such as lightning conductors, says Fourie.
She says should homeowners fail to adhere to these requirements, they may face a claim being rejected on grounds of non-compliance with policy requirements.
Fourie says a direct lightning strike can ignite a house fire or send a surge of electricity through the electrical wires in a home, causing severe damage to electronic devices such as televisions, computers, gaming devices and home theatre systems. “In addition to this, other electronic systems such as garage doors, security systems, pool pumps and heaters can also be affected.”
She explains that even if lightning strikes close to a home, damage can still be substantial. Some homeowners experience damage caused to electrical appliances following a major lightning storm even if there is no evidence that the lightning hit the home itself, she says.
This, she explains, may be caused by underground irrigation systems, or on-site wells, acting as a conductor for electrical charges to reach the home.
She says there are a number of methods homeowners can use to protect their home and its contents against damage caused by lightning. “Firstly, a lightning protection system which is made up of a series of grounded lightning rods assists to direct the lightning to the ground in the event of the home being struck.”
In order to protect expensive and sensitive electronic devices in the home, UL-listed surge protectors can be installed on electrical service panels as well as phone, cable, satellite and data lines, she says. However, she says the best way to protect expensive electronics such as televisions and computers is to simply unplug them in the event of a storm, or even when the homeowner plans to be away from home for extended periods of time.”
Fourie says homes surrounded by large, mature trees are more at risk, as the tallest tree in the neighbourhood is the most attractive target for a lightning strike, which could cause the tree to split in half, sending wood crashing through the roofs of surrounding homes.
“Prevention is always better than cure, so implementing lightning protection devices and strategies and ensuring the homeowner’s insurance policy is up to date are the best ways consumers can avoid the financial losses suffered as a result of lightning.”
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