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Lightning strikes twice? Not quite, but it's hitting homes more often.

Consumer Reports News: July 23, 2009 06:08 AM

[ Photo courtesy of vimages ]

Now that thunderstorm season is here, you’ve probably already been home when a streak of lightning seemed especially bright, the following thunder shook your house, and you thought, “Wow, that must have been close.”

For an increasing number of us, those strikes are direct hits. Homeowner claims for damage due to lightning strikes have increased dramatically, up nearly 45 percent from 2004 to 2008, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). The III blames the increase in hits on an usually large number of storms last year, including a record season for tornadoes, which are usually accompanied by severe thunderstorms.

The average claim has risen 64 percent over that same time period. Last year about 177,000 homeowners had damages that totaled more than $1 billion (well, that’s the amount insurers covered, anyway). Claims averaged $4,329, although some losses were much higher, the result of fire or electrical surges that wiped out a home’s appliances and electronics.

So how do you protect yourself from lightning-quick losses? Damage caused by strikes, such as fire, is covered by standard homeowners insurance policies. Check your policy to see if you are also covered for damage caused by power surges.

The III suggests ways you can reduce the risk that lightning will wreak havoc in your home:

•Install a whole-house surge protector, which can protect the electrical, telephone, and cable or satellite TV lines entering your house. An electrician and your utility company can help you pick the best unit for your home. Expect to pay at least $100 to $300, plus the cost of installation if you’re not a DIY-er.

•Bond all utilities to the same grounding point. They should enter your home within 10 feet of your electrical service entrance ground wire.

For more details, as well as tips on staying safe in lightning storms, check out this advice from the Institute for Business and Home Safety.

And, for help on getting the best homeowners insurance coverage without skimping, read our article on  shoring up your coverage from Consumer Reports Money Adviser.–Amanda Walker

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