Lightning rods are an effective mechanism against structural damage caused by lightning strikes. However, since they are made of metal, the popular notion is that lightning rods attract lightning, which can understandably scare people off.

However, this conception is entirely false. Lightning rods do not attract lightning or even save the surrounding structures from lightning strikes. Instead, they simply divert the lightning into the ground by providing an easier pathway.

Keep reading below for more information.

Do I Need a Lightning Rod System?

In the United States, lightning is responsible for an estimated 50 deaths and hundreds of additional injuries annually. And lightning strikes are responsible for millions in damage since they frequently cause fires, harm electrical systems, and destroy the home’s mechanical components (electric, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning). 

Hence, lightning is a significant, if not underreported, issue throughout the Midwest and particularly the South in areas like Florida.

The air terminals can be installed on the roof, in nearby trees, or in both, and the ground conductor, which is often a strong, heavy copper or aluminum wire, connects the air terminals to the ground rod. A copper rod, at least 10 feet long, is buried several feet below near the house’s foundation to act as a ground rod.

When lightning strikes an air terminal or the area around it, the terminal provides the quickest and most direct route for the electricity to reach its final destination, the ground. The electricity is safely discharged into the soil through a ground rod and a thick ground conductor.

Materials that don’t provide a decent path to the earth can be struck by lightning, causing a huge shock wave, a discharge of heat, and often a fire if a lightning protection system isn’t in place. The house can be protected from lightning strikes even if they don’t directly hit any of the air terminals. To reach the air terminals, ground conductor, or ground rod, it can hit close and then jump around.

Although parts for lightning protection systems can be purchased online, installing one is typically not a chore best left to the average homeowner.

Nevertheless, not all system-installing businesses adhere to the guidelines established by UL or the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) (NFPA). So, make sure to choose the right one.

How Do Lightning Rods Work?

Benjamin Franklin proposed two ideas that form the basis of the lightning rod. These were the lightning dissipation theory and the lightning diversion theory.

Lightning Dissipation Theory

According to this concept, you can drain some of the energy from a polarized cloud by pointing a sharp metal object toward it. As a result, a lightning strike can be avoided. With a Van de Graaff generator and a nail, it is possible to prove this idea. 

While this may be true on a microscale, it has been demonstrated to be ineffective at dissipating the massive amounts of energy that build up during a storm. Thankfully, the lightning rod’s design also makes it an effective diversion mechanism.

Lightning Diversion Theory

According to the theory of lightning diversion, when you offer a more favorable path for the energy to move along, it will most certainly take up that path.

The purpose of a lightning rod is to serve as the tallest structure in the area. This decreases the distance the lightning has to travel through the air by bringing it closer to the polarized cloud. In addition to being constructed from conductive materials, they also make use of highly conductive materials to link up with the ground. 

Lightning is more likely to go down this route because of the minimal resistance it presents on its way to the ground.

While both ideas survive laboratory testing, only the diversion theory provides a workable method of lightning protection.

For more information on how commonly lightning rods are used, watch this video below:

Why aren’t lightning rods more widely used?

Do Lightning Rods Attract or Repel Lightning?

The myth that lightning is attracted to metal rods is completely false. They also do little to protect a home or other building from being struck by lightning.

In the field of lightning protection, lightning rods are referred to as “air terminals” because they create a low-resistance pathway for lightning to follow as it discharges to the ground surrounding a building.

If lightning were to strike a house or other object, the lightning protection system would safely direct and disperse the energy, which may be as high as several million volts. You should probably have that installed at your home if it is elevated and exposed.

Experts may disagree on some details of lightning’s origins and production. Still, they can all agree on the importance of having a lightning protection system that is both well-designed and well-installed to prevent property damage.

How to Protect Yourself from Lightning

If you are stuck inside during a storm, you can take several easy steps to protect yourself against lightning strikes.

  • First and foremost, you should avoid using any corded phones. Even though lightning strikes are unlikely to harm a cordless phone, a surge of electricity from a nearby strike could damage the device. If you’re using a corded phone at the time, you could get seriously hurt by the electricity.
  • Similarly, avoid contact with any pipes or faucets. If lightning strikes the house or the area, the electricity will flow through the pipes.
  • Avoid going near any windows, too.
  • If you find yourself caught outside during a sudden storm, it is preferable to crouch (rather than lie) down in a low place, far from any trees or other tall structures. During a thunderstorm, the interior of a hard-top car is typically the safest place to be.
  • Before a storm hits, unplug all of your electronics to ensure their safety. This includes your television, computer, fax machine, printer, VCR, DVD player, and electrical components on your stove.
  • Plug-in surge protectors are not reliable in protecting electrical equipment from lightning. They work better (relatively speaking) on modest surges from the power provider than on massive ones from nature.


Now you know the mechanism through which lightning rods divert lightning. So, if you’re thinking of installing a lightning rod at your house, do not worry about other lightning strikes attracting the one attached to your house.