Antenna manufacturers are always asked, “Is this antenna lightning proof?” However, it is an ambiguous question that doesn’t exactly have a straight forward answer. Lightning is unpredictable and direct strikes aren’t the only threat. Even if a strike doesn’t hit your antenna head-on it could still cause considerable damage to both your interior and exterior electronics.
Put simply, it’s impossible to completely protect your satellite from lightning. Worldwide there’s an incredible 3.6 trillion lightning strikes a year, so it’s odds on you’ll be due to a strike sometime during your lifetime.
However, there are a few steps you can follow to minimise the risks of damage to the satellite and associated hardware. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, satellite dishes won’t attract lightning.
Antenna Placement and Mounting
It’s common knowledge that lightning typically strikes the highest electrical conductor in an area. Antennas are often mounted in high places, making them highly susceptible to strikes. Benjamin Franklin first discovered that lightning is electricity and is often credited for designing an early version of the ball discharger. Over time various discharges have been developed such as spline balls, static dischargers and wicks. While their effectiveness is controversial, users often claim to experience a significant decrease in direct strikes after installing them.
Try not to install your mount at the highest possible location. If possible, place it a few feet below. This could prevent a direct strike from discharging through the antenna.
A lightning conductor is a tapered rod that is placed on top of a building and earthed by one or more conductors. They are used to reduce the chance of lighting actually hitting a satellite or dish and causing damage to electronic equipment such as Freeview boxes and televisions.
Most lightning conductors are made up of five components: a rod that intercepts the strike; a cable that conducts the electrical charge to the ground; a connector that provides a safe path to the ground; a connection between the first three components to prevent side flashes; and a surge protector which guards the device against damage from other nearby conductors.
The easiest way to prevent damage is to unplug your television and satellite box during a storm. Damage from electrical surges can destroy your computer, phones and television, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Of course, if you are out or away when bad weather strikes that advice can’t help you, but buying surge protective plug sockets can keep your electrical equipment safer by absorbing large surges before they reach your sensitive equipment. However, they are by no means a guaranteed solution and overloading sockets with plugs and extensions lessen their effectiveness.
An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is a sound investment, though, providing a good level of protection for a computer.
Outdoor TV antennas and satellite dishes should be grounded, which is a basic requirement of most municipal building codes. In addition to the TV antenna, the mast and transmission wires going into your home should also be grounded. While the process is simple to conduct yourself, you should always arrange an inspection with an electrical professional when you have finished.
Lightning strikes will splash out and find many different paths to the ground before they disperse, and several of these paths may be through your home. Almost 35% of all computer, television and phone damage is due to electrical surges. Buying surge protective plug sockets can keep your electrical equipment safer as they will absorb surprisingly large surges before they reach your sensitive equipment. However, they are by no means a guaranteed solution. Fundamentally, the most effective preventative measure (and the most tedious!) is to simply disconnect all of your antenna connections in the event of a storm.
Truth be told, no amount of protection will make your property completely immune to lightning strikes. While lightning rods, lower placement and grounding will help bleed off the charge and reduce the likelihood of a strike, they are by no means a guaranteed defence.