Lightning rods – as important today as they were in 1752

The story goes that Benjamin Franklin was flying a kite in an experiment to see if lightning and static electricity were the same thing. It may or may not have happened, but Mr. Franklin certainly did a lot of work about electricity leading to his invention of the modern lightning rod in 1749. There were other metal tips on buildings before this, but this was the first time that a metal rod with a wire running to the ground was used as a safety device.

Lightning rods are as important today as they ever have been. For most of the last century, every home had a lightning rod in the form of an over-the-air antenna, but even new construction generally has some sort of lightning arrestor or lightning rod in the form of a chimney cap or grounded vent in the roof.

Lightning isn’t smart, and it’s actually lazy. Lightning happens when static electricity formed by cloud movement becomes so great that a spark is generated. This spark travels through the air in the easiest possible way and is attracted to the highest point where it can safely travel. A metal rod at the highest point in the home is an easy target for lightning and if that rod is attached to a grounding wire, a lightning strike goes from being a house-destroying fire to an annoyance that might short out a few things in the home.

We’ve talked before about how proper grounding is essential to any installation, especially if you’re putting a metal object like an antenna or satellite dish near the highest point in your home. Don’t neglect this step. Grounding blocks are inexpensive and copper wire is easy to get. Take a few minutes and be safe!

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.