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Struck by Lightning

by Tyler

During one of the storms last week, a particularly close lightning strike took out our cheap, walmart-purchased inverter. With a resounding POP, it pushed its final electrons into a low-voltage alarm squeal that warbled for a moment, then dropped in pitch with a sickening death-rattle: PEEEEeeeewwwwwwww. And then, our off-grid internet connection went dark.

The deceased inverter had been responsible for powering our cable modem, wireless router, and power over ethernet adapters. With a groan, I pulled out my multimeter to inspect the damage, but it too, was dead. In my irrational and dejected state, I was briefly convinced that a lighting-induced EMP blast had destroyed all of our electronics. Thankfully, the multimeter just needed a new set of batteries.

After trudging up and down our muddy road in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain, my fears were confirmed: everything connected to the inverter was fried. With so few amenities on our homestead, the loss of one I'd just finished building was hard to take. I honestly don't remember the last time I felt so deflated. It's incredible, and a little scary, how fast we can assimilate conveniences into our lives.

Tyler Fixing Broken Electronics in Messy Camper

A few days later, after talking over the incident with my electronics-wizard-friend Dan (thanks for the help, Dan!), we concluded what should have been obvious to me: both the camper and our generator need to be grounded. We're back up and running now. Fingers crossed lightning will prefer an 8 foot copper grounding rod over our sensitive electronics in the future!

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Our house in the Eastern Townships (at my dad's) was struck by lightning when it was first being built, and burnt so badly to the ground that we had to pour a new foundation for the rebuilt. My dad got grounds from the start of built 2, and just kept moving them up as the house went up. We now have 8 grounds on the house - a bit much, but better safe than sorry!
Posted by Magalie on June 16th, 2013 at 2:03 PM
Grounding will not fix the problem. It is simple electronics theory. When the lightening hits anything connected to that grounding, which it is most likely to do, as it will be attracted to it due to the grounding, it will create a massive potential difference between the grounding and the devices. Having a whole lot of MOV's (metal oxide varistors) inline will help to a degree (basically what a lightening surge protector is). But whatever you use and whatever the sales people try to tell you, the simple truth is that there is absolutely nothing that can stop a direct lightning hit to electronics. What may be a lot more effective is to try redirect the lightening to hit another location instead. Try creating a tower structure or similar with a higher grounded point a short distance away from the central location. Or a lightening rod above the equipment that is very well and separately earthed. You will probably find that at your location the ground / rock underneath are probably stone that has high metal content, making it the perfect attraction for the lightning. Having a tall lightning rod that is grounded separately may just bypass enough of the lightening energy to give the equipment a fighting chance. But if there is any sign of anything resembling a storm, stay clear away from the lightning rod and the ground near it.
Posted by cyberdog on October 25th, 2015 at 5:53 PM
Thanks for sharing cyberdog! You are indeed correct--we've had a fair few more lightning-induced failures over the years, grounding or no.

I've considered setting up a lightning rod but have not yet done so. At the moment, we're disconnecting our modem and network equipment during storms.
Posted by Tyler on October 26th, 2015 at 3:44 PM