First time in 2017 I’ll nag you about grounding

Yeah, I know, I won’t let it go. About every three months I write yet another article like this one, just begging you to make sure the stuff on your roof is properly grounded. You think it’s any fun for me either? Look, do me a favor and read the article and I’ll try to have a better attitude next time.

I’ve said it before, grounding is the most important thing you’re not doing. It protects you, your home, and everything in it. Ye, most of us don’t do it, because it doesn’t actually help us get better TV, satellite, or cellular reception. We aim the antenna and then we think we’re done. You know who you are, and you know you’ve done this.

Maybe it would help a little bit if I explained what grounding does. Let’s start with a misconception. People think of a lightning strike as coming down from the sky. That’s not really true. When clouds rub together, they create static electricity, just the same way your shoes generate static in a dry room with a carpet. When the electrical field is strong enough, a bolt of lightning shoots upward to connect to it. I know it doesn’t look like that. I understand. But hey, this is the science involved here. It’s not my fault.

This massive bolt of electricity is going to connect to the sky at the easiest possible point. Often times that’s the highest point it can reach, which may be a tree, but is more likely to be the highest point in your house. If there’s a point on your house that’s made of metal, the lightning will probably shoot up from there, even if it’s not the absolute highest point. For most of us, that’s a TV antenna, cellular antenna, or satellite dish.

By the way…
Even if your antenna is sheathed in plastic, there’s still a metal part inside. Antennas are always made of metal, even when they don’t look like it, and they always need to be grounded.

You can’t really prevent lightning, and you can’t really control it. But what you can do is try to guide it. That means creating a really attractive path from ground level to your roof that doesn’t go into your home. We start with copper wire attached to a water pipe, breaker box, or something else that we know is grounded. You’ll have to consult local ordinances, because they’re all different. The most important thing is making sure there’s a copper wire that somehow, some way, touches the actual planet, not just your house or something.

Then, you use a ground block to let that copper wire connect to your coaxial cable, so electricity is directed to the grounding wire and not into your home. Coaxial cables are great ways for electricity to flow, after all that’s how they’re designed. They can also be lethal death-rockets if you don’t give excess electricity somewhere to escape to. That’s why the ground block is so important. It directs electricity to the ground wire while letting signals go into the house. Pretty impressive for something that doesn’t cost a lot.

There’s not a lot more to it than that. Proper grounding means going to every antenna, every dish, everything metal on your house and making sure it’s connected to the actual dirt somewhere. We have a whole white paper to tell you how you can do it, and it’s not even that hard.

Now, before one of the commenters says it…
I’m totally aware that a thin bit of copper isn’t going to totally shield you from a massive lightning strike. If your home does get hit by lightning, the chances are there’s going to be some damage. But grounding wires can deal with smaller strikes and they can stop bigger strikes from causing deadly house fires. The bottom line is that you are absolutely safer when you ground your devices than when you don’t. There’s no doubt about that.

So, look. you know I’m going to write another one of these articles in about three months. If you’re a longtime reader you’ve seen several of them. I also know that for a lot of our readers, going outside and getting up on the roof could be just as risky as a lightning strike. So don’t risk your life if it’s snowy and icy, but if you live somewhere a little further south, please take the time to properly ground your equipment. If you think it’s already properly grounded, check the connections and make sure the wire actually is connected to something. Do a little research and who knows, it could actually save your life.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.