FAQ: What is the difference between lightning & power surge?
Updated: Oct 31
Unfortunately, no magical device tells the user if lightning damaged the claimed electronic item, appliance, or air conditioning system. If there were, these claims would be a lot easier to handle! Thankfully, a thorough investigation utilizing the proper tools and talent can assist in cause of loss verification.
Distinguishing between lightning and power surge can be challenging. Both loss types involve surges of electricity and can result in significant damage to electronics, appliances, and air conditioning systems.
When evaluating losses from a potential surge, it is imperative to fully investigate the claimed damages and circumstances of the event in order to determine the cause of the loss and, just as importantly, the cost of restoring the insured’s property to pre-loss condition.
What is a lightning-induced surge?
Lightning is a naturally occurring discharge of electricity in the atmosphere caused by an imbalance of positive and negative charges. While most lightning occurs between clouds, strikes to the ground can result in significant damage to electronic items.
A lightning-induced surge may travel through the electrical wiring in a home or business or through cable equipment like phone and internet lines. Common damages from lightning-induced surges include:
Physical damage like melting and scorching
Fracturing from a combustive reaction
Main control board failure
Motor failure (pool pumps, well pumps)
As the old adage goes, lightning follows the path of least resistance, which is true; however, lightning damage is often not this simplistic. Have you ever wondered why lightning strikes do not appear to be a straight line? This is because the path of least resistance in nature can be jagged and unpredictable. Similarly, when a lightning-induced surge impacts an electronic, appliance, or air conditioning system, one component may be affected, such as a control board or motor, OR multiple systems can fail due to the volatility of the surge.
The unpredictable nature of a lightning-induced surge supports the need for a thorough on-site investigation of the claimed items. Based on the confirmed damage, would repair attempts be possible? Would repair attempts be cost-effective? Are there indications of further damage from the surge? These questions from policyholders and claims professionals may be answered following a comprehensive damage assessment.
What is an electrical power surge?
Unlike surges from lightning, electrical power surges may occur under a greater variety of conditions. Most appliances and consumer electronics are built to withstand daily fluctuations in voltage, such as those from powering the device off and on; however, a more powerful surge, or influx of electricity through a circuit, may damage sensitive internal electronics.
For example, when power is restored following an outage from a hurricane, the surge of electricity may cause damage to any electronic item or appliance connected to power at the time of restoration. Even in fair weather conditions, power restoration following an outage can result in damage. Common causes of electrical power surges include:
Animal-related power outage (squirrels damage transformer/power lines)
Old or damaged wiring
When evaluating an electrical power surge claim, it is important to contact the power company for the loss location to determine if an outage was reported by the policyholder OR if any power outages or power irregularities were recorded or reflected in the power meter readings. Electrical power surges will not always be supported by data from the insured's power company for a variety of reasons; however, you may save yourself a lot of time and money if the provider is able to offer insight into any documented power outages or voltage irregularities.
Lightning vs Power Surge
Both lightning and power surges can cause catastrophic damage to electronics, appliances, and air conditioning systems; however, a key difference is the volatility and intensity of lightning versus other causes of surges.
A typical lightning flash is about 300 million Volts and about 30,000 Amps. In comparison, household current is 120 Volts and 15 Amps.
The intensity of a lightning-induced surge can result in more significant physical damage to an item compared to other causes of surges. A lightning-induced surge may cause scorching, melting, carbon staining, fracturing, and the presence of burnt odors.
Physical damages can certainly occur due to damage from an electrical power surge; however, lightning often produces more significant visible degradation. This is due in part to the intense heat associated with lightning. Electrical power surge damage can produce scorching from electrical arcing as well as the presence of burnt odors.
Lightning and electrical power surge can cause damage to the loss location property; however, we see site damage more commonly with lightning claims.