Lightning Protection as Building Envelope





A building’s envelope mitigates the effects of meteorological phenomena – including lightning – upon the structure and its occupants and contents. The risk of lightning damage is increasing due to climate change and our growing dependence on electronic devices that can be destroyed by electrical surges. New and underutilized techniques offer improvements to lightning protection systems (LPS) and advance best industry practices. These include risk assessment protocols, use of creative and decorative strike termination devices instead of standard air terminals (lightning rods), compliance with sustainability and resilience standards, lightning monitoring and surveillance systems, testing with triggered lightning, and risks associated with unconventional lightning protection devices. The authors urge design and construction professionals to take proactive measures to improve lightning protection of the built environment.


Critical analysis of lightning protection is missing from most discussions about building facades. This is a dereliction of the design community’s professional responsibility as lightning endangers public health, safety, and

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The basis for reliable and economic LPSs was established in the 18th Century by Ben Franklin and others; since then it has been vetted, refined, and codified. Accepted North American

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Risk Assesment

The standard of care is utilization of NFPA 780’s Annex L – “Lightning Risk Assessment.” It recommends an LPS when a structure’s vulnerability to lightning is greater than its tolerable

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One reason architects cite for not using LPS is that air terminals and conductors cables detract from designers’ aesthetic intent for buildings. Claiming LPS is ugly is, itself, an unattractive

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Sustainability and Resilience

The essence of the linked issues of sustainability and resilience is to assure structures and communities provide sustained serviceability. Thus defined, lightning protection is a core practice in holistic approaches

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Lightning Monitoring and Surveilance

Scientific investigation of lightning is advancing on many fronts and having impact on architecture and facility management.

For example, monitoring of lightning activity has improved dramatically. During 2017 hurricane

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Testing with Triggered Lightning

Seismic-resistant design improved when it became possible to test full-size structures on shake tables instead of via small scale simulations. A similar advance is now available for lightning safety engineering

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Dark Cloud Inside Silver Lining

While lightning protection is advancing on many fronts, designers must remain skeptical about exaggerated claims made for some lightning protection devices. The standards referenced in the Background section of this

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Conclusion and Future Work

Lightning is a threat to HSW and causes a significant and growing amount of damage. Techniques to protect buildings against lightning are proven, readily available, and economical. Yet in U.S

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The authors acknowledge support of East Coast Lightning Equipment, Inc.; Scientific Lightning Solutions, LLC; Lightning Protection Institute; Lightning Protection Institute Inspection Program, Lightning Safety Alliance; and lightning protection designers, installers, and researchers throughout North America who have shared their expertise, photos, and case studies.

Rights and Permissions

1. Lightning protection in the context of architecture, building, and design.

Chusid, Michael.

“Lightning Protection: The Architect’s Standard of Care.” Architectural Products (March 2016).

“Lightning Protection is a Work of Art.” Building Enclosure (Fall 2016).

“Lightning Protection: Tried and True Versus Non-Standard and Non-Accepted.” Electrical Business (September 2016).

“Preventative Care for Medical Buildings.” Medical Construction & Design (July/August 2015).

Morgan, Jennifer and Chusid, Michael.

“Reroofing and Lightning Protection.” Construction Specifier (May 2017).

“When Lightning Strikes.” Modern Steel Construction (October 2016).

“Lightning Protection and the Building Envelope.” Construction Specifier (August 2015).

“Lightning Protection, Roofing and Weather.” Architectural Roofing & Waterproofing (Winter 2016).

“Lightning Protection: Five Concepts you Need to Understand.” Construction Canada (March 2016).

“Lightning Protection and the Building Envelope.” Journal of the National Institute of Building Sciences (August 2016).

“Understanding Lightning Protection Systems.” Consulting-Specifying Engineer (May 2017).

2. General References

Lightning Protection Institute,

Rakov, V, and Uman, M. Lightning: Physics and Effects, Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Uman, M., The Art and Science of Lightning Protection, Cambridge University Press, 2008.