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Lightning Protection for Trees

Frequently Asked Questions about Tree Lightning Protection

The following sheet is prepared for cities, parks, golf course personnel, business owners and homeowners with regard to the installation of lightning protection systems for trees.


I didn't know lightning protection was available for trees. How long have these systems been used?

Lightning protection for trees has been used as far back as the 1800's. Years ago when trees were more plentiful, it did not seem as important to protect them from one of nature's most destructive forces — lightning.


Why aren't more trees protected?

It is basically a matter of education and public awareness. Many owners who have had valuable trees struck and damaged or destroyed by lightning were basically not aware of lightning protection systems for trees. "I didn't know I could protect them — why didn't someone tell me?" is a common remark. Unfortunately, many arboricultural and tree expert firms have not aggressively added lightning protection to their established business.


What trees should I protect?

The trees which you value most for historical or sentimental reasons or trees near a valuable building or residence that aesthetically adds value to your property.


How does a lightning protection system for trees work?

The same principle as a lightning protection system on a building. A tree lightning protection system does not attract lightning nor does it prevent a lightning strike from occurring. A tree system intercepts the lightning bolt between the cloud and the earth and harmlessly conducts it to ground without damage to the tree.


Will a system in my tree also protect my house?

No. A tree system will protect the tree only. If someone is interested in protection on a nearby house or out building, one should consider a separate system for this structure. If the tree is near the house, then the two systems should be interconnected to provide a common ground.


Who is qualified to install a system in my trees?

Your local arborist or tree expert firm, the same firm which has been trimming, feeding and taking care of your trees and landscaping needs.


How many years will a lightning protection system for trees last?

10, 20 or 30 years or more! With periodic checks and inspection, the system should last as long as you own the property. Many systems in trees surrounding historic landmarks or in recreational areas, i.e. Mount Vernon, Washington's home; Monticello, Jefferson's home; and the Hermitage, Jackson's home have all been in service from 50-100 years. In some instances, the tree growth has encompassed the copper down-lead cables and conductors and the systems are now concealed. This does not impair the efficiency of the system and the stately trees.

For new installations, IPC recommends that periodic maintenance checks be done every 3-5 years. You should check the system for broken cable and/or connections and make additional runs of cable or install additional air terminals if growth has taken place. It is also good to have the cable exposed and not overgrown by growth from the tree. Drive fasteners can be pulled out to eliminate this type of condition. Another good check is to make sure no damage has occurred to the downlead cable at the base of the tree from lawnmowers or weed trimmers. A maintenance check on the system is much easier to do if the entire system is exposed and visible.


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